Hunting and Fishing Day could spawn new generation of anglers

lfabian@macon.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Clayton Batts has been fishing Lake Tobesofkee since he was in diapers.

“It’s a lifelong obsession I’ve always had,” said the 31-year-old, who is embarking on the Forest L. Wood professional sport fishing tour in January.

As a young boy in the shadow of his late great-uncle Arthur Jackson, Batts learned how to bait a hook, cast a line and reel in a fish.

Jackson was an old-school angler with a cane pole and a passion for fishing that was likely passed on from his forefathers.

Batts’ sleek Ranger 70 mph bass boat, thousands of dollars in poles and kaleidoscope of bait are top of the line -- exactly what you’d expect from a pro competing for a $500,000 championship. He can spend 15 hours a day on the water getting ready for a tournament that could land him up to $125,000.

Kalaski Ezell of Fort Valley also would fish every day, if he could.

The 36-year-old learned his skills from his grandmother.

“I still love to go fishing with my grandmother,” Ezell said after backing his boat into Tobesofkee in a light mist falling from Wednesday afternoon’s gray sky.

“To me, it eases your mind and takes the stress away.”

Ezell is passing on his love of fishing to his 12-year-old daughter, but he doesn’t think too many other children are interested.

“To kids these days, it’s too slow for them,” Ezell said. “If you take them to a stocked pond, they’re hooked. But if you have to sit out here, forget it.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is hosting free fishing events and waiving license regulations Saturday in observance of National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Bert Deener, regional supervisor of DNR’s fisheries office in Waycross, said he learned a healthy respect for nature on hunting and fishing trips as a child.

“It seems that the kids are so plugged in now, you can’t get them outdoors,” Deener said.

Saturday, he’ll be at the Paradise Public Fishing Area outside of Tifton, where children 15 and younger will be introduced to archery, BB gun skeet shooting, other firearms and fishing with worms and crickets. A limited number of bass fishing excursions are available for ages 12 to 16, but reservations must be secured by calling 912-285-6094.

Deener’s time in the woods helped put him on the right path.

“It definitely kept me out of trouble and helped me convene with the Lord and his creation,” said Deener, who took his daughter gator hunting Wednesday night.

Roles are reversed in the Batts family when Clayton is in the boat with his father, Tony.

“He’s the one who pretty much teaches Dad,” Tony Batts said as he watched his son cast lines.

On the lake is about the only time you’ll catch the elder Batts away from his cellphone, which is his link to his Battco Office Furniture business in Warner Robins.

Watching Clayton fish has a calming influence on him.

Son supports father at the store and father supports son at the shore.

“It’s a family-oriented sport because if you don’t have the family behind you, you’ll never make it,” Tony Batts said.

Clayton’s Aunt Leila, his mentor’s widow, stays on the phone with her great-nephew for hours as he’s driving alone all night to the next tournament.

Just as Clayton learned from his great-uncle, he continues to help others as an ambassador passing his zest for fishing.

“A true professional on the highest level is one who gives back to all levels,” Tony Batts said.

It took Clayton a little while to sum up his love for fishing in one word.

“Tradition,” he said after spending a few hours on the lake and only catching a few small bass. Tony Batts recognizes the hard work his son has put in to qualify for his dream of being a professional.

“There’s not enough young folks exposed to the outdoors these days,” he said, while noting the determined look on his son’s face when the fish weren’t biting. “There’s some good fish in here. It’s just hero or zero.”

Clayton is competitive, but doesn’t let defeat keep him from staying the course.

If he comes up empty at a tournament, he immediately starts researching conditions at the next contest, his father said.

“There’s always a better tomorrow,” Tony Batts said.

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