By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Seventh-grader Lance Fernando watches fishing tournaments on television, learns angling tips on YouTube and plays a fishing video game at home.
None of those activities, however, take the place of casting his top-water bait and it being gobbled up by a 7- or 12-pound bass.
This Tupelo Middle School student enjoys math and basketball, but he loves fishing. Imagining life’s possibilities, Fernando would turn down professional basketball for a chance as a professional fisherman.
Taking a break from a program on the Outdoor Channel, Lance tried to explain his fascination with catching as many bass, catfish, carp, bream and crappie as possible.
“I really don’t know,” he said after a moment of reflection. “I just really like catching fish and putting them back.”
His mother, Melody Fernando, agrees with both statements. She’ll take her son and some of his friends fishing, even stay with him on some days, but Fernando can’t think of any avid fishers in their family. Listening to her son rattle off specific types of fishing rods and artificial lures, she smiles before making a confession.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” she said.
But the mom sure takes pride in her son, ready to pull out her smartphone and show off photos of Lance standing next to a large-mouthed bass.
She’s taken plenty of photos in recent years, each showing her son with his biggest catch of the day. Earlier this year, Lance caught a 7-pound catfish during a fishing rodeo at Veterans Park, much smaller than the 33-pound carp that once pulled his pole into the lake. He went into the water, eventually catching his pole and the fish.
The young fisherman’s success even received recognition on an unofficial Milam Elementary School website devoted to parents.
“Shout Out to Lance Fernando for catching a 7lb. 4oz bass,” an archived webpage includes among other student achievements.
A sign of his love for fishing, the teenager’s fishing poles lean next to the refrigerator at home, a true compromise with his mother. Lance wanted to keep the fishing gear next to the front door.
Along with compromise, the young fisherman also has learned patience. Sometimes he has had to wait days, sometimes much longer for something he wanted.
“Sometimes I might make 200 casts and not catch anything,” Lance said during a recent interview.
This 13-year-old fisherman has learned many life lessons while trying to pull unsuspecting fish from ponds at Ballard Park, Veterans Park, Big Oaks subdivision and others. Two of his positive qualities, fishing helped strengthen Lance’s dedication and persistence.
He went fishing about 50 times this summer, some days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., each time carrying two fishing poles and his backpack filled with bait and other supplies. Fernando recalls when he and a friend caught 100 fish in a single day. But just as vividly his mind returns to other times, when his lures seemed like repellant. But those experiences couldn’t keep him from looking forward to the next time.
He’d arrive home with an understanding every day won’t include reeling in another big one.
“It’s called fishing because sometimes you don’t catch anything,” he said. “But on the good days, I might catch six good-sized bass.”
Lance had developed patience and discipline to keep returning after days without even a nibble, lessons many adults still struggle to learn.
A few states away in Melbourne, Florida, Charlie Roberts, a professional fisherman and retired community college president, sounded excited to hear about Lance’s passion for the sport. Roberts now serves as president of a nonprofit organization, the Academic Anglers, which aims to encourage more African-Americans to pursue competitive fishing, while also learning about marine safety and preservation.
Roberts, also a computer engineer, and others in the angling organization have offered free fishing clinics to more than 1,000 children and young adults since 2007.
“We find that fishing is a great recreation and can be a way to make money,” Roberts said. “Most of the kids do not know you can earn a living at it.”
Impressed with Lance, the Florida angler plans contact the Tupelo seventh-grader to share a few fishing tips.
Until the two connect, however, one of the area’s most dedicated fishermen plans to keep watching outdoor programs on television and gaining more experience related to fishing.
“The first time I cleaned a fish was maybe a month ago,” he said.