Fam­ily Fish­ing

The sport that floats the Brownings' boats

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Culture - Story by Re­becca McCormick, pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy of Tammy Brown­ing

When I moved to Hot Springs nearly 13 years ago, I ac­cepted a mar­ket­ing po­si­tion to pro­mote the Pro­fes­sional Bass Fish­ing Hall of Fame, a pro­ject spear­headed at that time by Bill Fletcher, past pres­i­dent of B& F En­gi­neer­ing Inc. But be­cause I was just your ba­sic “I like to fish” gal, the first thing they did was send me to Alabama to at­tend a pro­fes­sional bass fish­ing tour­na­ment near Birm­ing­ham, Ala.

In my mind, I pic­tured a bunch of good old boys hav­ing fun catch­ing fish and com­pet­ing for prizes. What I saw when I got there ab­so­lutely blew me away: a multi-mil­lion dol­lar trade show that cov­ered sev­eral city blocks; boats tricked out like NAS­CAR-equiv­a­lent wa­ter­craft, com­plete with more elec­tronic gad­gets than Best Buy; thou­sands of fren­zied fans car­ry­ing Sharpies to snag au­to­graphs for their logo'd trad­ing cards, ball caps and fish­ing shirts; and spec­tac­u­lar weigh-in cer­e­monies hyped with Olympic-qual­ity the­atri­cal light­ing, rock con­cert-vol­ume sound equip­ment and cham­pi­onship wrestling-style em­cees dol­ing out top prizes near­ing a half-mil­lion dol­lars un­der My­lar con­fetti drops that would make the Milky Way jeal­ous. All of which was broad­cast on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

In one week­end, my fish­ing world view ex­panded from boats hud­dled around cy­press stumps and sunken Christ­mas trees to a na­tion­wide net­work of pro­fes­sional an­glers whose ef­forts have cat­a­pulted the in­dus­try to be­come a prom­i­nent an­chor for tourism and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the Amer­i­can Sport­fish­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, Amer­ica's nearly 60 mil­lion an­glers spend an es­ti­mated $46 bil­lion per year on fish­ing equip­ment, trans­porta­tion, lodg­ing and other ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with their sport. With a to­tal an­nual eco­nomic im­pact of $115 bil­lion, fish­ing sup­ports more than 828,000 jobs and gen­er­ates $35 bil­lion in wages and $15 bil­lion in fed­eral and state taxes.

Other re­ports strongly in­di­cate that fish­ing is iden­ti­fied by Amer­i­can fam­i­lies as one of the best ways to spend qual­ity time to­gether. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Sport­ing Goods As­so­ci­a­tion, fish­ing as a leisure-time ac­tiv­ity ranks higher than play­ing bas­ket­ball or soft­ball, skateboard­ing, jog­ging or hik­ing.

And if you want proof up close and per­sonal, meet Stephen Brown­ing, a pro­fes­sional an­gler who lives in Hot Springs with his wife, Tammy, and 13-year old son, Beau. Brown­ing com­petes in the Bass­mas­ter Elite Se­ries and Bass­mas­ter Open Se­ries tour­na­ments. Since turn­ing pro in 1996, he has com­peted in over 200 pro­fes­sional level events across the United States, qual­i­fy­ing for eight Bass­mas­ter Clas­sics and mem­ber­ship in the ex­clu­sive BASS Mil­lion Dol­lar in Ca­reer Win­nings Club.

“I knew this is what I wanted to do in 1984 when I

vol­un­teered to work the Bass­mas­ter Clas­sic event in Pine Bluff,” he said. “That's all I had ever done — eat, sleep and fish. My dad and grand­dad were out­doorsy peo­ple, and I had a bunch of older friends who could drive. Since I knew where the good fish­ing spots were, it was a win-win sit­u­a­tion. I showed my friends the good places to fish; they drove us there to fish.”

In high school, Brown­ing worked part time at a fit­ness gym.

“I worked a half day and fished the other half,” he said. “The neat thing was I met a lot of older guys who were will­ing to teach me the ropes of fish­ing as well as the tech­niques that worked best in this area. I started fish­ing lo­cal tour­na­ments when I was 14.”

Stephen grad­u­ated col­lege with a de­gree in wildlife and fish­eries man­age­ment, with which he se­cured a job with the state as a waste­water treat­ment plant in­spec­tor. What­ever time he wasn't work­ing, he fished as a mem­ber of the Stuttgart Bass Club.

“When the Bass­mas­ter tour­na­ment came to Pine Bluff in 1995, I stayed on the phone for two weeks to be able to fish it,” he said. “In 1996, I won the All Amer­i­can ti­tle plus $100,000, which gave me the fi­nan­cial back­ing to pur­sue my dream. In 1997, I left my job with the state and have been fish­ing wide open ever since.”

Beau is fol­low­ing in his dad's foot­steps. Just re­cently, he and his fish­ing part­ner McCoy Vereen (son of Chris and An­gela Vereen) won the Ju­nior Bass Club state cham­pi­onship last month.

Ac­cord­ing to his par­ents, Beau caught his first fish from the bank of Lake Cather­ine when he was only 2.

“That's all I've ever known and that's all I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said con­fi­dently, hav­ing won his first tour­na­ment at 11. “My dad al­ways says even when the go­ing gets tough, you have to keep your head down and keep cast­ing, be­cause it only takes five good casts to win.” The Brownings have al­ways fished to­gether as a fam­ily. “Shortly af­ter a friend in­tro­duced me to Stephen, he took me fish­ing in Stuttgart,” said Tammy. “He has al­ways been a good in­struc­tor – very pa­tient with Beau and me. We trav­eled full time with Stephen un­til Beau started kinder­garten; and once he grad­u­ates from high school, we'll be on the road again, ea­ger to watch Beau qual­ify for the Elite se­ries while he is in col­lege.”

All three of the Brownings de­scribe fish­ing as a fam­ily sport.

“We grew up with other fam­i­lies on the fish­ing cir­cuits,” Tammy said. “Even though our hus­bands com­pete against each other, we have shared life events like baby show­ers. And be­cause a lot of the fam­i­lies camp, get­ting to­gether for a tour­na­ment feels like a fam­ily re­union.”

I've got­ten a taste of the fam­ily fish­ing feel­ing the past few sum­mers when my 8-year-old grand­son has come to visit. Beau has been our ca­pa­ble guide and in­struc­tor, clearly demon­strat­ing the char­ac­ter and skills he has gleaned from his par­ents and his own hard work in the boat. Beau com­petes later this month in the na­tional Ju­nior Bass­mas­ter Cham­pi­onship on the 1,000-acre Car­roll County Lake near McKen­zie, Tenn.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in all three Brownings is their ab­so­lute love for each other and for fish­ing.

“It all started with a dream,” said Stephen, smil­ing. “In fact, I can re­mem­ber talk­ing to imag­i­nary cam­eras. But that's only part of what it takes to make it in this sport, where maybe only 150 guys truly make a liv­ing do­ing it. You have to have a deep, deep pas­sion to com­pete. I credit my dad's ex­am­ple as a base­ball coach for teach­ing me how much it means to suc­ceed, and also for the busi­ness sense he in­stilled in me – which has been a big help in de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with cor­po­rate spon­sors.” “It's a great life,” added Tammy. Beau prob­a­bly summed it up best, say­ing “My par­ents sparked my love for fish­ing, and I've been hooked ever since.”

One of the best in­tro­duc­tions to fish­ing is www.take­me­fish­ing.org, where you can get the lat­est fish­ing and boat­ing in­for­ma­tion, find state-spe­cific li­cense and reg­is­tra­tion re­quire­ments, share fa­vorite hot spots and play fish­ing games.

Tight lines!

Beau Brown­ing, son of pro­fes­sional an­gler Stephen Brown­ing, caught his first fish at age 2 from the bank of Lake Cather­ine.

Fam­ily fish­ing is a great way to con­nect and to ex­pe­ri­ence the out­doors to­gether.

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