This is a huge accomplishment in Virginia’s angling world. Reaching a Master V level requires certifying a citation in all of the 25 freshwater species within the Angling Recognition Program. It took Stephen 32 years, 10 months, and 21 days to accomplish this feat.
We reached out to Stephen to find out what achieving this accomplishment means to him, what makes fishing special, and how he finally caught that Freshwater Drum.
After 32 years of hard work and thousands of hours of fishing, what does it finally feel like to reach the holy grail of Virginia’s Angling Recognition Program?
I’ve been fishing my entire life and actually caught my first citation on May 28, 1986 at the age of 19. It was a James River smallmouth bass and since then it’s been a wonderful puzzle for me. Many pieces of all shapes and sizes to discover and place together over the course of three decades.
So many adventures and experiences that have taken me all over the state in search of various species.
You know, I have spent so much time being on the dreaming side of achieving Level V Master Angler that when it finally happened, it was as though my mind, emotions, body and spirit didn’t know how to metabolize it. All four parts of me mixed together intensely in the fraction of an instant as I looked down at that Freshwater Drum still in the net.
I knew it was citation. I knew I was now actually Virginia’s first ever Level V Master Angler. However, all I could do was fall back on my rump on the floor of the boat and just stare at that fish. It was buck fever times a thousand. I was physically numb. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t remove the hook from its mouth, I couldn’t even speak. I certainly cannot put into words what it felt like. I probably never will.
What makes the sport of fishing so special for you?
There are so many wonderful aspects of fishing to me that I could write an entire book. Fishing is a sport that can be just as simple or deeply complicated as one would like to take it.
Fishing for me is a place I can go and experience a release and escape. Not just from work or paying the bills or the stress of life but actually an escape and release from myself. Which I believe we all could use once in a while.
When I’m on the water, the surroundings take me over. The natural beauty around me, the wildlife that I see, the weather, the smell of the outdoors and even the water itself, the concentration of trying to figure out the targeted species of the day. All of this experienced at the same time combines into a very cleansing and healing experience for me.
I have just developed a genuine love and need for it over the course of my life.
What would you tell someone who is considering going fishing for the first time?
Fishing can be a very tough teacher and whether you catch anything or not, you still have learned something that day. Build on it. Go again, try again. It’s never over or too late when it comes to fishing.
Fishing knowledge accumulates and before you know it, it is giving back to you exponentially. So stick with it.
Can you tell us a little about what it took to catch that final fish, the freshwater drum?
When I reached the point where I had citations in 24 out of the 25 gamefish species present here in Virginia, the Freshwater Drum was the last remaining. Naturally, this meant that I had to focus on the bodies of water that contained them. This meant Buggs Island Lake and the rivers that feed it. I had to research them, learn about their habits and where they can be found based on time of year.
Again, it’s all in the details or puzzles pieces as I like to think of it. Freshwater Drum are bottom feeders and they prefer sandy bottoms. I knew that it being April, they would be moving into the rivers to spawn just as the white bass do every April.
So now, it was just a matter of putting my time in once again. It can never happen if you don’t put your time in! You will never learn or get in position to have it happen if you don’t put your time in!
On Sunday, April 7, 2019 I choose the Dan River to fish. Now important to note, after all of the terrible flooding that occurred last year, the contour of the river had changed in many places. I found new fishing spots that were created along the river. Especially where smaller creeks enter the river. They were scrubbed clean and sand was deposited heavily. I said to myself this looks really good for drum. I used a 3” plastic shad body (pearl white) on a ¼ ounce jig head to mimic a baitfish appearance. I figured the bigger drum would most likely prefer a bait fish meal. I made sure to bump the bottom and feel the lure scratch the bottom of the sandy river floor with each retrieve. Then BAMM! The rest was history.