Mark Twain once said, “Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.”

When it comes to telling stories, I’ve found that there are two types…There are true stories and then there are fish stories.  And as we all know, there comes a time in every person’s life when you have to face the music and tell the truth…However, that time is NOT during the telling of a proper fish story. You see, fish stories tend to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Or, let’s just say the truth is often exaggerated. Like the way a fish seems to get bigger and bigger every time you hear your friend tell the story of catching it.  We’ve all heard them, and if truth be told, in one way or another, we’re all guilty of telling a fish story or two ourselves.

Well, friends, today’s episode is a fish story...But believe it or not, this one is true. It’s the tale of a pastime and the way it touches so many lives. From young to old, from enthusiast to preservationist, from the “needs practice” to the professional, we’re catching up with them all to tell a few tall tales of fishing in Tennessee.   

Free Fishing Day:
What if I told you that there’s a lake in TN where once a year, there are so many families fishing together you can hardly find an empty spot on the bank.  A place where almost every cast brings in a bite, and by the end of the day, over 3000 lbs of fish will be pulled out of the water.  A place where the joy and laughter are so loud you can hear it halfway across the water.  Would you believe me?  And would you believe that a priceless experience like this is not only possible but that it’s FREE?

The sounds are unmistakable.  The lap of the waves on the bank. The whip of the rod cutting through the air and the zing of the line running off the spool.  The soft plonk as the bait hits the water.  The click of the drag as you reel back in. Again and again, this rhythm repeats until, suddenly, it stops and your bobber begins to dance.  After a silent prayer and a quick snap of your rod, you finally feel the pull on the end of the line that lets you know you’ve got one hooked. In those moments, I’ve found that we catch more than just a fish—we catch a memory. A fragment of time to tell our tale. It’s these moments that fill the pages of our lives and these fish stories that craft the chapters of our journey.

It may not sound like much to some, but those are sounds and feelings I wish everyone could experience.  And fortunately, I’m not the only one that feels that way. Thanks to TWRA and programs like Free Fishing Day, the future of Tennessee is stocked for countless fables and fibs to be formed, pages dog-eared in the book of life.

TTU Student Fishing Association:
In many ways, mother nature is much like a great story. Full of characters and conflict, the purest poetry is formed when the pieces are put together perfectly. In order to make way for stories that are stunning, narratives must be nurtured and stages set.  

For the members of the TN Tech Student Fisheries Association, optimizing management methods for Tennessee’s fish populations plays a critical role in the future of fishing. In fact, you might say the association does its part to author fish fables for years to come. So, from research to volunteer efforts, to community events, these students have turned their passion into a profession, doing their part to protect a pastime and watch over wildlife.

Florida Bass Introduction:
As significant as setting the stage, powerful characters are critical to constructing commanding plotlines. Let’s be honest, I’ve yet to come across a tall tale that touts a tiny trophy. For years, Tennessee has provided premier opportunities for angling, offering not only a wide cast of characters but consistent catches worthy of the starring role in any fish story.

In recent years, TWRA decided to tackle some of the unanswered questions surrounding the traits that turn out trophy fish. The hugely successful Florida Largemouth Bass Stocking Program at Chickamauga Reservoir was the result

They may not look like it now, but the Florida bass is regarded as the heavyweight of the bass world  And over the years, they have naturally navigated their way into native populations. By studying the natural synergy of these strains and modeling management practices that mirror Mother Nature, TWRA has set out to improve what was already regarded as some of the best fishing in the country.

Bass Fishing with Gabe Keen:
Somewhere inside of every self-respecting fisherman is the desire to want to catch big fish.  And being a competitive man by nature, I’m a firm believer that records are made to be broken.  So I thought who could be better at helping me prepare for the strike of a lifetime and get my name in the record books than the man whose name I’m trying to replace.  Meet Gabe Keen, the current largemouth bass record holder for the state of TN.  

Now don’t get my wrong, I’m really good at fishing…It’s the catching that I have a problem with. But with a state record holder in the boat with me, I feel like my odds are pretty good.

Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.  But amongst all the tangled line, errant casts, and lost lures I did learn something today…fishing isn’t easy.

They say that every good story includes struggle. Well, if that’s true, then I’m building up to one heck of a resolution. But, all kidding aside, that really is the truth, isn’t it? Because it’s all of the unproductive outings, the close calls, the maddening mistakes that ultimately make the catch momentous. In fact, I believe that it’s all the heavy work and hard times that paint our victories in picturesque terms, growing in greatness or exaggeration every time we tell them.

In fact, as I look back on this trip, I’ve determined that TV simply doesn’t do it justice. No, I remember it more like…

I’d barely even gotten a bite all day. But just as I was ready to call it , I felt that familiar pull on the end of my line I’d been.  The rod began to bend and the hope in my heart began to riseCould this be the new record I kept asking myself? I mustered all of my might and pulled it from the water.  But in one final act of defiance, the green monster shook, twisted, and spit the lure from its mouth, smiling at me as it hit the water and swam away. By the looks of it, I’d say that it was at least 15lbs. 4 ounces…But sadly, we’ll never know.

C & C Outdoors:  
So far, my look into the many facets of fishing has been fascinating. You might ever say, alluring. In fact, it’s lead me to the fine folks of C&C Outdoors who feel that, in order to be a fine fisherman, you have to get into the mind of the fish. You’ve got to understand their habits, behaviors, likes, and dislikes. A big part of that understanding comes from knowing what they like to eat.  So, today, I’m trying my hand at tying fine flies in order to find the fish of fantasies.

So what does it mean to be a good fisherman?  I’ve learned that there are a lot of answers to this question.  For some, it means a small bite on hand tied bait.  For others, it means reeling in record breakers. And for others stills, it’s seeing the next generation step up and sink in.  

Regardless of what your answer is, in the end, all we are, are our stories. We’ve told a lot of stories on this second season of Tennessee Uncharted and set the stage for much more. And while we may spend countless hours sitting in boats waiting for a bite, or backseats asking “are we there yet”, or in blinds fidgeting so we don’t freeze, we didn’t write a single story by just sitting at home.

To reel in a big whopper, you’ve got to cast your line into the water and to know the wild, you have to get out in it. It’s not going to be easy.  You’re going to have to get up early and stay out late. somehow in the midst of countless sunburns, bug bites, and lost baits, you’ll get hooked.

They say a good fisherman is patient. That even though he can’t see the fish in the water, he has faith that they’re there. I may not have caught a record breaker this trip, but I’m comforted by the fact that I’m a few casts closer.