I was born in September of 1986, the youngest of 3 boys (Travis, Matt, and myself in that order) in South Carolina. Throughout my childhood there was one consistency.... change. In a pattern of every 3-4 years we moved throughout my childhood - from South Carolina, to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and back... sometimes different cities within each state. My Dad's career path meant transfers and new opportunities.
Very early on, as early as I can remember - I found myself 'alone' in the sense that I didn't really have big groups of friends and I just didn't seek out big social groups. Rather, I was a child absolutely positively obsessed with wildlife and the thrill of being outside. I had complete tunnel vision - any move, any new home was an opportunity to immerse myself in new outdoor adventure.
Every waking hour of the day I was thinking of animals... and being outside. If I wasnt outside, I was drawing depictions of wildlife - or writing about it. I was so determined to be away from everything unnatural... shirtless and shoeless looking for something I could catch and appreciate.
All the while I was crawling around the bush - my Dad and brothers were already rod in hand fishing. We grew up well, and with our priorities right. Enjoying what we were passionate about - whether it was sports, a social life, or the great outdoors. When we lived in Oklahoma my older brother Matt was especially interested in fishing. When he wasn't busy kicking my ass - sometimes he would invite me to come along... it was around age 11-12 that I actually started paying attention, and catching fish started to catch up to wrangling snakes or some other animal. My brothers would bring me along more and more - on foot, along a railroad track, or seated on the handlebars of their bike I would come along. Going fishing with them was just my vehicle to get outside and seek adventure out of the confines of the next new house.
As time went along - and my brothers peeled off to high school, drivers licenses, or off to college I was more and more alone to seek adventure on my own accord in ways I wanted to do it... but fishing for bass and bluegill just wasn't as fulfilling as dodging a snake or something. For whatever reason I was inherently interested in creatures that most people feared or didn't want anything to do it.
But - logging more hours on the water gave opportunity to see the OTHER things that lived below . The underdogs under the water's surface.. I remember vividly the first time I saw a longnose gar - we were on a family vacation to South Carolina visiting family... we had gone to a pontoon boat rental on Lake Murray and there I saw schools of the huge, reptilian fish swimming around the docks at the marina. The sight of them stimulated the same intrigue and interest I had in reptiles, and meshed it with my new found interest in angling. I HAD to catch one. Something about landing my first gar was like a tipping point for me. While I still loved catching land animals, I really gripped a fishing rod a little harder from that day forward.
A move to Arkansas in middle school only meant more opportunity to explore. Being the new kid isn't fun, I don't like it... I didn't care for reconstructing a new social status or starting over. Too much time wasted that could be spent at the water's edge. All this time, my brother Matt still loved bass fishing - he maintained a "Freshwater Fish's of South Carolina" poster in his room - and I SPECIFICALLY remember how uniquely interested one fish looked - the bowfin. On a poster full of uniquely different fish, the bowfin stood apart - but I didn't know anything at all about them, or if they even lived in Arkansas.
It was at the muddy edge of an old concrete spillway at Lake Columbia that I first encountered a bowfin. It was of course dead - smashed - intentionally killed laying sun baked covered in mud and flies... but I recognized it from the poster, I NEEDED to catch that fish. That same day I hooked my first bowfin on a neon red trick worm - only to have it explode and thrash OFF my hook at the waters edge. I became obsessed with catching one.
I returned to the spillway some time later - dropped off by my mom with one rod and a ziplock bag full of neon red trick worms. I landed several very small bowfin - but this was the fish for me. One look at the reptilian features of the fish and I was hooked. Locals along the bank were quick to note, 'Grinnel' are trash fish, not worth my time. The sentiment echoed the same which was said of the snakes and lizards I grew up loving to catch. Having never been the most social kid coming up - I was not one to take someone else's word or opinion on the matter without drawing my own conclusions. At the time I came across those first few bowfin I think I was really at that critical tipping point we as anglers find where a leisurely pastime becomes a full blown obsession - a passion. The bowfin transformed me into an angler.
Eventually we moved back to South Carolina... where I lived along the Santee Cooper lakes through high school and on into college at The Citadel. I got to the point where I felt like it was my duty to enlighten the masses who had written off some of my favorite species - as gar, carp, suckers and more joined the bowfin as fish I was most passionate about. I would write about them... reach out to the local papers about them... and try my best to promote the species.
Since those days I have continued to develop as an angler - staying humble, enjoying the pastime for what it is as the sport has entered weird new phases in the day in age of social media - where anglers become more intoxicated by the rush of a 'like' or a 'share' than the scream of the drag.
Today I am married to my beautiful wife - Erin, with whom I have two awesome daughters. The opportunity to share my passion for wildlife and fishing with them has been a true blessing. Their genuine interest in animals - Especially for my older daughter Gabriella has really been something to see, symmetrically coming full circle..