Quite a catch

Prep an­gler reels in col­lege schol­ar­ship

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOT THE NORM SPORTS - STORY BY MIKE CAPSHAW Mike Capshaw can be reached at mcap­shaw@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWACappy.

PRAIRIE GROVE — Bass fish­ing has changed Dal­ton John­son’s life.

A self-de­scribed “coun­try boy,” the 16-year-old ris­ing ju­nior hadn’t planned on fur­ther­ing his ed­u­ca­tion af­ter grad­u­a­tion from Prairie Grove High School.

But af­ter win­ning $2,600 in schol­ar­ship money from high school fish­ing tour­na­ments, he al­tered those plans. Now he hopes to be­come a diesel me­chanic af­ter at­tend­ing North­west Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute in Spring­dale.

“Win­ning all th­ese schol­ar­ships kind of put me into a po­si­tion where I said, ‘Whelp, looks like I’m go­ing to col­lege,’” Dal­ton said. “I planned on get­ting out of high school and just work­ing hard.”

He is part of a fast ris­ing stream of young fish­er­men in North­west Arkansas. John­son’s mother, Luci John­son, is the tour­na­ment di­rec­tor of the Arkansas Youth An­glers. In the past two years, she’s helped the pro­gram more than quadru­ple in size with nearly 50 mem­bers from high schools in Benton, Madi­son and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties.

The club meets once a month with guest speak­ers who put on sem­i­nars about ev­ery­thing from team­work and sports­man­ship to na­ture study. And, of course, there also are monthly com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ments on reser­voirs in the re­gion where the an­glers re­ceive prizes thanks to her reel­ing in cor­po­rate spon­sors. Those in­ter­ested in join­ing can con­tact Luci John­son through the pro­gram’s Face­book page.

“I wanted to give th­ese high school kids an av­enue,” she said. “Th­ese kids who weren’t foot­ball, who weren’t base­ball, who weren’t bas­ket­ball, th­ese kids who were in­di­vid­u­al­ized and could go hone in on their own skills.”

Team­ing with Reese Jones of Rogers High, Dal­ton is a four-time state cham­pion and fin­ished 11th last month at the B.A.S.S. High School Na­tional Cham­pi­onship on Ken­tucky Lake. The duo each earned a $1,000 schol­ar­ship for that fin­ish, and that’s no fish tale.

Dal­ton is a “third-gen­er­a­tion” fish­er­man, fol­low­ing the path of his grand­fa­ther, Wendell John­son, and fa­ther, Chris John­son.

Chris John­son, a Farm­ing­ton High grad­u­ate who has fished “every lo­cal cir­cuit there has ever been,” said it was sat­is­fy­ing to see his son’s early suc­cess, but that his son wasn’t com­pletely hooked at an early age.

“I started fish­ing with him a lot when he was young and al­most burned him out on it by the time he was 10 or 11,” Chris John­son said. “When we got him into a ju­nior club in the fall when he was 12, it just took off. Big time.

“At that point, fish­ing with kids his own age as op­posed to rid­ing around with me to tour­na­ments, it re­ally took on a whole new thing for him.”

When Dal­ton first won a tour­na­ment with schol­ar­ship money as a re­ward, he won­dered if he could cash the schol­ar­ship checks like cur­rency, Chris John­son said. Be­cause Dal­ton hadn’t planned on at­tend­ing col­lege, the schol­ar­ship was es­sen­tially not worth the pa­per it was printed on, his dad said.

But as more tour­na­ment wins and schol­ar­ship money piled up, the more Dal­ton de­cided it would be a waste not to set the hook on the op­por­tu­nity.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m a sopho­more. I might as well start think­ing about go­ing to col­lege some­where,’” Dal­ton said.

That was like the roar of a 200-horse­power mo­tor to his par­ents’ ears. They know he’s a hard worker — Dal­ton works two jobs now — and still would have got­ten a de­cent job af­ter high school. But they also be­lieve at­tend­ing NTI will set Dal­ton up for a life­time ca­reer.

If he doesn’t be­come a pro­fes­sional fish­er­man first.

Luci John­son said her son has made her a proud mom.

“It’s over­whelm­ing to see his tal­ent at such a young age,” she said. “We tell him the world is in his hands and he can do with it what he wants. He’s got so much tal­ent and such skill, and he goes out there and flies by the seat of his pants. He doesn’t have a plan and still does well.

“And he’s fine if he loses and says, ‘You know what, I’m a win­ner be­cause I showed up.’”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/MIKE CAPSHAW

De­spite fish­ing at reser­voirs all over the re­gion, Prairie Grove’s Dal­ton John­son said Bob Kidd Lake re­mains one of his fa­vorite places to fish.

NWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE/MIKE CAPSHAW

Dal­ton John­son of Prairie Grove holds up a bass he caught Wed­nes­day while flip­ping an Arkie Jig around a stump on Bob Kidd Lake.

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