FISHING TRADITION

Allen’s Work To Keep Fishing Alive Within Their Family And The African-American Community

story by Ed Pratt, LDWF Press Secretary

Does it get any better than this? You’re 3 years old and sitting in a boat with your dad. Michael Allen of Gonzales says he had no clue what was going on at the time, but what he did know: “I was alone with my dad.”

Those grand occasions were repeated, and each time Allen watched everything his dad did, from baiting hooks to cleaning the fish. Each trip was special.

He recalls his days on Lake Bistineau, Black Lake, Lake D’Arbonne, Toledo Bend, Bayou Dorcheat and Lake Claiborne, all not far from his Minden home in north Louisiana. They were catching blue gill, catfish and white perch (sac-a-lait).

Michael Allen was instantly sold on fishing. Not long after becoming a father, he drew his sons into the sport he loves.

But Allen and sons, Mike and Chris, know they are something special in the African-American community where most studies have shown only a small percentage participate in recreational fishing.

A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing showed that African Americans made up only 8 percent of all fishermen nationally.

“I’m not surprised by that all,” Michael Allen said.

Also what separates the Allens is they have owned fishing boats and have been able to afford all of the better recreational fishing equipment for this sometimes expensive sport. It is also a sport that requires not only money but some free time.

“I know we are blessed to have had this,” said Chris Allen, 28, the youngest of Michael Allen’s two sons. “I feel blessed that we had two parents and that we could afford a boat and all of the gear that we use. I know that is not the case for a lot of families…”

His brother Mike was more succinct: “We had the means and the time.”

Like hunting, fishing is often passed down from parents to their children. Or, they are drawn in by friends. Media is a big magnet for the sport with a variety of fishing shows.

But impressionable young African Americans in medium size and big cities usually don’t find people that look like them as hosts or guests on TV and radio fishing shows. And, there are almost no people of color who are outdoor writers.

Many times, Michael Allen says, when he and his sons were on their boat, there were no other African Americans in the area.

Michael Allen speaks fondly of being on Lake Bistineau with his dad. They would drive to the lake with a 3.5 horsepower boat motor in the bed of their truck. They would pay 50 cents to rent a boat and off they would go all day.

Folks that did not have a boat or motor would pay 50 cents for a boat and the owner would take them out to a spot in the lake, leave and return to get them at an assigned time. As far as he knows, “they all got back safely.”

Many years ago the now retired Entergy New Orleans marketing manager introduced his two sons – then about 4 and 6 years old – to fishing. Mike and Chris jumped into fishing, having fun with their dad.

Chris, now an IT specialist, said he was excited about catching fish and listening to his father give instructions on how to set his hook and eventually cast his line. He loved going out and catching redfish, speckled trout and drum.

Mike was always curious about how the fish arrived at his house.

“When I was little I wondered about where my dad was going when he would leave home early in the morning and then come back home with all kinds of fish. Now, I was with him and I could see how this happened,” he said.

“It was exciting to catch fish…to set the hook and all of that…And, when I caught a fish, it felt awesome,” he said. “Helping to clean the fish I caught was a great feeling, too.”

The 29-year-old computer engineer readily admits that his brother Chris was much better at fishing than he was. “I was a bit of a klutz,” he said.

Michael Allen said he is seeing a slight increase in African Americans in recreational fishing and expects the numbers to rise. He said it is due in part to incomes rising where families can afford boats and have jobs that allow more vacation time that they can devote to fishing.

Michael Allen added that the numbers show growth also as young men like his sons introduce their children to fishing. Both Allen and son Chris said they would readily volunteer to teach young children, especially African-American youth, the sport of fishing.

Mike, who spends more time now on his longtime love of BMX biking, said he would do it.

“Yes, I will teach my children to fish,” Chris said, “I really hope they will develop a love for it.”

 

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