The family connection & the American dream
For the most part, "the American Dream" still seems to be within arm's reach for those of us who choose to weave our way through the maze of detours and pitfalls which always try to impede our progress. But, as we manage to struggle our way towards the light of our dreams, those bumps and brusies we've experienced along the way always seem to strengthen those "goal posts" as we finally arrive for our "touch downs".
Among those who've realized their dreams are an individual who managed to "scull" his way from the bayous of North Louisiana, and survive the tragedies of Viet Nam to achieve his goal within the peaceful beauty of "God's Country". Another goal setter, who suddenly realized that he didn't want to spend his life within a society of "the rut", managed to escape to a "Sportsman's Paradise" to achieve his goal.
"When I was very young, and still living in Hoston LA," stated John Hale, "I learned to enjoy the physical benefits of the great outdoors as my brothers "privileged" me with sculling (oaring) the one boat that we had, as they took turns casting for bass with the one fishing rod that we owned. But, after a few years I became big enough to challenge them for "my turn" with the fishing rod as I began to cast my way towards a life style that would eventually become my profession."
After graduating from North Caddo High and attending Louisiana Tech, John enlisted in the U.S. Army to become an OCS trained officer who would handle the controls of a Huey as a combat chopper pilot.
"I served back in the late 60's," Captain John Hale reviewed. "And after leaving the Army I returned to the States and moved to East Texas, where my greatest joy of fishing for bass eventually started me fishing some of the local bass club tournaments back in '72."
John Hale would eventually exercise his bassing expertise within the highly competitive medium of the National Bass Tournament tours, where he managed to cull a qualification for a 1990 BassMaster Classic, becoming one of the top 20 bass anglers in the country.
"Oh, I bounced around doing other things," John informed, "such as loading trucks on the docks of Chicago, and even spent time in sales and distribution around the Houston area, but my love of fishing kept me pretty close to the tournament trails. 1982 provided an opportunity for working fulltime in the sportfishing industry." John further informed that fellow angler, and fishing friend, Lonnie Stanley, invited him to join his "fledgling" lure design and manufacturing company where he was employed as an advisor/consultant as well as a designer/promoter for the Stanley Jigs Inc. business.
This became an important move on John's part, as the Stanley Jig Company quickly found its "niche" within the cogs and gears of the developing sportfishing market to become one of the most innovative producers of fishing lure designs in America today.
Finding a position so close to Lake Sam Rayburn seemed almost surreal," John grinned, as he unhooked a bass that his son, Hunter, had just caught.
"I really thank God for all of my good luck," John praised, as he turned to show Hunter how to release the bass back into the lake.
John Hale was prefishing for an upcoming tournament and had invited me along to enjoy the day. As John, and his fishing partner, continued to fish the outside grass edges with Stanley "Tuba Tubes" and Stanley spinner baits, I began to enjoy the vision of a father and son having a quality day of fishing together as a team.
Our day would revolve around certain areas of John's lake knowledge, as he probed the structure where he thought the bass should be holding at this time of year. As John and Hunter searched for a set pattern that the bass would be on, I noticed that several other anglers are also fishing the same areas, as they too, were prefishing for a pattern that could hopefully put enough bass weight in their live-wells for the upcoming Bass n' Bucks East Texas Team circuit.
"Hunter and I have been fishing together since he was first able to walk," John enlightens me, as he helps his son make a choice from their tackle pack.
"I needed a team partner to fish the Bass n' Bucks circuit, and the obvious choice for me was to fish with Hunter," he added with a wide grin as he gave his son instructions as to where to make his next cast.
Hunter Hale, a lively and inquistive nine year old, was living a life that dreams are made of as he followed his dad's advice on where to cast and how to retrieve his lure properly.
"I've been fishing with my dad since I was 3 years old," he announced, as he "slow rolled" a Stanley spinner bait along the edges of a grass-mat.
"I like most everything there is about the outdoors, but I really enjoy fishing with my dad as he really helps me to make the right choices as he is teaching me how to locate and catch bass on Lake Sam Rayburn. Besides, where else would you be able to enjoy watching an early morning sunrise with your dad.
Hunter, a 4th grader who attends Anderson Elementary in Lufkin TX, will be fishing his first tournament tour this year as a team partner to his father. John Hale has definitely survived the struggle to achieve his goal, and after I witnessed a touching moment that happened between John and and his son while on the lake, I can safely state that he has also realized the "importance" of that dream.
The moment occured while John was maneuvering his boat along a Black Forest ridgeline. Spotting a monarch butterfly which had just fallen into the water, John quickly plucked the bedraggled critter from the water and tenderly placed it on his son's shoulder.
"That butterfly has probably flown 1,000's of miles to get here," John explained to Hunter, "and its probably pretty tuckered out, so, just let it rest for a bit to see if it recovers."
Hunter was amazed, as he watched the monarch slowly recover as it began to flutter its orange and gold wings before it suddenly flicked back up into the air to continue on with its long journey.
"I hear tell that they fly all the way down to Mexico," John stated as we watched the beautiful butterfly dip and fly its way across Lake Sam Rayburn.
Only a short drive from John Hale's "God's Country," situated amidships of "The Sportsman's Paradise", resides the family of Don Iles, a family totaly emersed within the lifestyles and struggles of making a fulltime living as marina/campground owner/operators on the scenic shores of Lake Toledo Bend.
"But I wouldn't have it anyother way," stated Don Iles, as he maneuvered his Skeeter out from Lowe's Creek ramp. "Its been a struggle to say the least," Don continued to inform as we settled down for a quick run upcreek. The "we" included Don's very attractive and "very sleepy" wife, Angela. As we motored out to hopefully catch some early morning bass, Angela explained to me that the kids, Caitlyn, Danny, and Chris, were getting ready for school and that she had to be back by 7:30 a.m. to leave for her job. As it was now 6:45 a.m., we would have only a few minutes to catch some bass that I needed for photos.
My nervous question of "can we" drew a quick smile from Don as he answered "no prob".
Now, I always try to be an optimist, but to try and catch at least two "fairly nice" bass within a time period of just 15 minutes, then to take up a position for photo ops, and then to make it back to the ramp in time for Angela to leave for work? "No prob."
As we slowly worked the early morning edges of a creekbed with Fin-A'cky wacky worms and Mr. Blitz spinner baits, Don and Angela made short work of the problem by not only catching the two "fairly nice" bass that we needed, but also managed to add two more to the well for back-up. "Amazing".
It was 7:24 a:m when we dropped Don's wife off at the ramp, and as she headed off for her scenic commute through the Sabine National Forest to get to her work at the Pineland State Bank, Don and I quickly returned to "the spot" as we began to re-cast our efforts for filling out this interesting story.
"I decided to "up-grade" my lifestyle back in the early 90's," Don stated, "and have absolutley no regrets."
As the Lamar University student and former UPS driver began to unfold his background, his story would involve years of struggle as he strived to improve the Lowe's Creek Park & Marina that he had purchased back in 1993.
"I knew what I had to do. Hard work and long hours would involve 28 hour days, 10 days a week to work the improvements that I wanted for the Lowe's Creek Park & Campground facility."
So he rolled up his sleeves and went to work, and "betwixt" all of those 28 hour days and ten day weeks, Don Iles managed to meet his wife, Angela, become a fulltime father, take a position as the Regional Director for the Southeast Texas B.A.S.S. Federation, wrangle a supportive position as secretary for the Toledo Bend Alliance Group (a by-state lake area organization dedicated to improved management controls of the lake), and became a field editor for the Lakecaster Publishing Co.
"But, I always find time to go fishing, as I also do some of the guide-work for the marina as a licensed professional fishing guide."
Again, my obvious question of, "what do you do on your day off," is quickly responded to as "probably fish a bass tournament or help to coordinate and run one of our "Lil' Buddies" children fishing tournaments. "
The Lil' Buddy Tournaments involve holding several events on several lake systems which help to promote family oriented fishing events. All age groups are invited to participate, as are their parents or family members. Don is also heavily involved with the B.A.S.S. Federation's Casting Kids, which is tied to the National BassMaster's tournament organization which invites the Casting Kids Regional Champions to attend the Annual BassMaster's World Classic, where the young Casting Kid Champions are then given the opportunity to become a National Casting Kid's Champion.
My short morning's fishing trip with some of Don's "free time" leaves me absolutely exhausted, not from the many bass that we were privileged to catch & release, but for trying to compute Don's "very busy" schedule. His last words to me, as I departed for another assignment, said it all.
"I wouldn't trade or change what I have for anything, Don grinned, as he headed off with ladder and hammer to attend to some more of his chosen lifestyle..
"The American Dream" is alive and well on Lake Toledo Bend as "The Family Connection" becomes the strength for the support of "the dream".
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