Gone Fishing

by Phil Cross

“If you give a man a fish,” the old proverb goes, “he will eat for a day.”  But few fishermen or women will ever reach the level one Oklahoma teenager has, embracing the message of “teach a man to fish.” 

Gunner West was 11 years-old when his father took him to the banks of their local fishing hole to teach him how to use a rod and reel.  

It wasn’t long before Gunner was hooked.  Pun intended.

“We really noticed he had some special skills,” James West, Gunner’s dad, said.  Seeing an advertisement for a March of Dimes kids fishing tournament, James entered his son.  His son has been winning at fishing ever since.

Gunner will turn 16 this year with an impressive list of fishing records already behind his name.

“I’ve been 5th in the world, 10th in the world…12th in the nation, 11th in the nation,” Gunner said, adding his three times as a state champion bass fisher in the mix.  Those competitions are just the big ones.

This summer he and a partner earned their tenth world. The pair also earned a $80,000 college scholarship.  Now entering his Sophomore year at EPIC Charter Schools, there’s plenty more scholarship money on the line.

His secret?

“Just spending a lot of time on the water and knowing when to do what,” he said.

Mary West, Gunner’s mother, said her son makes his accomplishments sound like it’s not a big deal. But Gunner, she said, spends hours studying articles and videos to hone his craft.

“He is a student of the sport,” Mary said.  

The research helps Gunner know what color and size of lure to use and helps him as he studies maps and electronic data from the lakes to know how and where the fish might move.

“It’s just fun to watch him do something he loves and is passionate about,” Mary said.

Gunner is the youngest of three.  His older sisters both play competitive softball.

James, his father, said he loves watching his children compete, but with softball he’s behind the fence cheering.  With fishing, James gets to be Gunner’s boat captain and experiences the “on field” emotions first hand.  

“Being a boat captain you’ve got the highest of highs and lowest and lows,” James said.  He monitors the maps and electronics, for his son and his partner.  

Gunner also has to balance a high school career.  His days are spent on the water and his nights are spent hitting the books.  As a high school student, he can complete classes on his schedule.  

The scholarship money will go towards a business degree.  Gunner plans to keep fishing and with his eye on turning pro.  He says the world of competitive fishing has a growing audience, but as he goes forward in his career he will have to make one big sacrifice.

Once he exits the high school circuit, his dad won’t be allowed to be captain anymore.  Gunner will be on his own on the water soon enough. 

Father and son still plan to compete as a team in adult fishing tournaments though.  

“When they say ‘who’s your fishing partner?’ I say, ‘my best friend, my son.’  It’s awesome.”

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