Father McGivney Catholic High School junior Ethan Jones took generations of fishing heritage with him onto Carlyle Lake last May.
With it, he hooked the the biggest prize of his life — the 2015 IHSA State Bass Tournament Championship — and his 3-year-old school’s first ever state title.
Although he is his family’s state champion, Ethan is not the first competitive angler of the Joneses. His father, Jeff Jones, has competed around the area for more than 20 years in various fishing competitions.
Ethan said it was important for his father to be on the lake with him in May.
“My dad started taking me fishing when I was 2 years old,” Ethan said. “When I was little — before I could cast — I would watch Bill Dance, Denny Brauer and Kevin VanDam fishing on TV with him. My mom worked night shifts so it was just him and me in the nighttime, so we just watched fishing.”
Jeff said he could see his son was interested in fishing at a young age, a passion he and his son shared.
“We have pictures of him at home when he could barely stand, fishing out of dog bowl water,” he said of his son. “He would try to fish out of fish tanks and aquariums. He lived on a big subdivision lake, so we could take him down there almost every day to fish. I have hundreds of memories of him fishing.”
Jeff said one of his fondest memories of Ethan fishing was not actually at a pond, but in the family’s living room.
“When he was little, he would take the lid of a little plastic toy box and put it down in the living room,” Jeff said. “He’d turn it upside down and stand in it like it was a little boat. He had little fishing poles, but he always wanted little crank bates like I used. So we would take the hooks off of them, to where it was just the plastic body of the lure.
“He would swing those things all over the house, and we’d have little holes where the hooks would catch. Sometimes, he’d need help because he would throw it so hard it would just stick in the dry wall.”
While his father’s fondest memories were off the pond, Ethan remembered vividly the day he decided he would like to pursue competitive fishing.
“We would always come out to (his grandparents’ house) to go fishing,” Ethan said. “We were sitting out by the dam. ... I hooked a bass that was weighed at 5 (pounds), 12 (ounces). I was three years old when I caught that fish. We let it go, and I switched to a different bait and caught the same exact fish again. I was like, ‘Man, that was fun.’ That kind of sparked my interest.”
Memories to strategy
At his grandparents’ house, Ethan said he had a lot of fishing memories, and it is where he learned what it really meant to fish with a strategy.
“I’ll fish (at his grandparents’ house) and sometimes, when it’s 100 degrees outside, I’ll fish out deep where the bubblers are and I’ll just bring it back,” he said. “Other times, I’ll fish along the dam in shallow water, or in the early morning, I’ll fetch a scum frog in the big weeds, and I’ll catch a big bass on it. It’s just about having a different diversity.”
Ethan had to use that strategic mindset while competing at the state tournament. With only two days of experience at Carlyle Lake, he and his father found a spot they believed would lead to a successful day.
“We fished Harbor Light; that’s where I caught two big fish,” he said. “That was actually the only spot where me and my dad, the weekend before, had caught bass. We caught four of them in there so I was like, ‘That was pretty good. That’s a spot to remember.’ We just happened to catch to big ones — we were in there for about three hours when we caught them.”
It was at Harbor Light that Ethan said he found his two best fish of the entire competition. With more than 10 pounds in his boat after the first day, he was not satisfied with his tow.
“The first day, I had just two. I was like, ‘OK, they’re good.’ I just kept trying to get some more,” Ethan said. “I didn’t care if they were bigger or a little bit smaller. I just needed some more keepers to put in there with them. I was glad I had the two and was pretty proud of that.”
By the end of the second day, Ethan had caught six fish worth entering in the competition, but he still had no idea he would be crowned state champion.
“I was kind of in shock for a day or two,” he said. “It finally sank in. I was like, ‘Wow, I did it.’”
‘They were ecstatic’
While Ethan had a tough time coming to terms with his accomplishment, Father McGivney’s did not. The school held a pep rally for Ethan when he returned.
“They were ecstatic,” Ethan said. “My principal was actually there at the weigh-in. He’s been teaching for 40 years now and has never had a state champion. He was really proud. He’s had a lot of second place and third place teams in state, but he’s never had someone win, so that, to him, was very important.”
His schoolmates and principal might have been excited for Ethan, but no one was prouder of him than his family, especially his father and family friend Brian Helm who has seen him grow into great angler.
“(Helm) and my dad used to fish tournaments 20 years ago,” Ethan said. “For years and years that’s all they did, was fish local tournaments. (Helm) knew the sectional lake really well; he fished the Winter Series on Coffeen Lake. He said he’d be my boat captain there, and since he was my boat captain there, he had to be it for Carlyle.”
Jeff said just seeing his son loving something he does has made him one extremely pleased parent.
“Anytime your kid is interested in the same thing you were, or in our case where the whole family fishes, it’s pretty neat,” Jeff said. “I’ve tried to pass his fishing inheritance down to him in general, and then now, he not just enjoys it or thinks it’s OK, he excels. It’s a passion for him.”
Talking with a line in his grandparents’ pond Friday, Ethan said he hopes to get a college scholarship to continue his competitive fishing career, a tradition he will never stop doing.
“I love to catch fish and love the fish in general. Even if they’re too small, I don’t care. I just like to catch fish,” he said.