Tom Mann is an American original. Growing up in Depression-era Alabama, for him fishing was more than a recreational activity–it was a way of putting dinner on the table. Following his father’s simple advice, "to catch fish, you have to find fish," six-year-old Tom came up with an innovative way of finding the drop-offs in a creek where fish seek refuge from predators. As a young teenager, he began to design and craft special lures, always with an eye toward tricking the freshwater dean of the deep–the largemouth bass.
Tom's innate talent in outsmarting the competition above and below the waterline quickly took him from local hero to three-time world bass fishing champion to living legend. He also tapped into his skill for designing lures, building a multi-million-dollar enterprise that has sold over one billion lures to date in major sporting goods and fishing retailers around the world, all with his smiling face on the packages. Yet despite the prestige and fame of a forty-year career, he still resides where it all began–deep in the heart of the South.
Filled with touching childhood stories and hilarious down-home fisherman’s lore, Think Like a Fish reveals how Mann quite literally learned to "think like a fish." He explains the technique and mindset that enable him to lure a fish from thirty yards away into a circle the size of a hula hoop; how he “trains” bass to jump right into his boat; and how he purportedly managed to lure a shark to shore with rod and reel. But in addition to the fishing techniques and words of wisdom, Mann explores the path that got him where he is today–a poignant story of determination, Southern grit, and good-ole-boy charm. Full of gentle humor and wit, this book brings to life the allure of the South and one of its favorite pastimes.
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Tom Mann has hosted numerous fishing shows on ESPN, TNN, CSS, and other regional television networks. Considered to be one of the world's top designers of fishing lures, including the Humminbird Depth Finder, he has sold more than one billion lures worldwide. A three-time professional bass fishing world champion, he has been inducted into the Fishing Hall of Fame, and received the Dolphin Award, the highest award bestowed on a professional fisherman. He lives in Eufaula, Alabama.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My first fishing hook was a bent safety pin.
I was probably six years old, and my mother, Ethel, wouldn't let me have real hooks like my dad, Cletus, and my older brothers had. She was afraid I'd hurt myself. Each member of my fishing family had occasionally let me hold his pole so I could land a fish he had hooked.
Occasionally wasn't enough. I didn't feel that a fish hooked by someone else, then yanked from the water by me, was really my catch.
I wanted to hook my own, even if my hook was a coiled safety pin. I'm sure Mama thought I would never catch anything on the homemade snarl whose lack of sharpness reassured her. She doubted that either a fish, or, more important, I, would feel the pierce of the bent and thin wire.
She was wrong.
I used the makeshift hooks from Mama's sewing kit, worms from the ground, and a "pole" cut from a sapling to entice tiny brim not much larger than minnows along the creek that ran in my parents' 120-acre cotton farm in Chambers County, Alabama. The nearest semblance of a town was Penton, a hamlet so small it isn't shown in the atlas, although it has a blinking stoplight at the crossroads beside the single general store. It had two stores and no light when I was a boy. The place was so small that every resident knew which neighbors' checks were good and whose wife wasn't.
My official place of birth is a rural route outside of Penton. There were no zip codes in 1932. I was delivered in our cabin by a blind doctor. I was one of eight children, and my parents had no money to pay for his help, so they gave the old doctor a cow. Later, when my parents became more prosperous, they paid him twenty-five dollars for each child he delivered. He'd stay at my mama's bedside until her baby was born, no matter how long it took.
I walked to Penton as a barefoot boy on Saturdays, but not for a while after getting my first bent-pin fishing rig. Penton was Mayberry minus electricity, as many of the town houses were illuminated by coal oil. Food was preserved in smokehouses or inside storm cellars. Old men sat on a bench that ran parallel to the only road through town. The old-timers got there as soon as the sun rose, and left as soon as it went down, never leaving their spot unless one got angry about another's move of a checker. The weathered men sported lined faces from too many hours in the sun, gnarled hands that had worked too hard, and invisible body parts that hadn't worked in years.
Their seat was nicknamed the "dead pecker bench." My dad thought that was the funniest thing he ever heard.
As a child, I enjoyed watching fish as much as I enjoyed catching them. I still do today. I was consumed with the fish's survival instincts. I noticed how fish swam in schools and were smart enough to realize that a larger fish couldn't chase all of them. They realized there is safety in numbers. I marveled at how they would glisten in the sunlight penetrating the water, then become almost invisible by simply swimming upright, eliminating the reflection on the sides of their silver bodies. They knew their backs were dark and would not return the natural light to a predator in the water or to the one on the bank--me. I observed how fish congregated behind rocks that stood firm against the current, especially after a rain, when the current was stronger and faster. I surmised that the fish grew weary of fighting the current beneath the water, just as a boater becomes tired of fighting it above. A boater might tie on to the rock to halt the fight; the fish just hid behind it. To this day, I notice that many anglers fish the most open and pretty part of a stream. They should throw their bait immediately behind obstructions, which fish use as a shield so they can rest against the constant flow of water.
Nature has taught fish to think like the vulnerable creatures they are. The fish themselves would teach me, for years to come, how to think like fish.
In war, men are taught to think like their enemy. In sport, contestants should think like their opponents. Fishing is the only sport where the opponent, or prey, is usually invisible. If you can't think like him, you won't outsmart him. If you catch him without thinking, you're not skilled, you're simply lucky. Luck isn't as much fun, or as fulfilling, as strategy-born thinking.
Fishing was never a pastime or hobby for me. It's been an obsession since I first saw a fin. Beginning at age six, I helped my dad and then seven brothers and sisters work in the cotton field on our family farm. Dad bought the place for $2,500. He made payments each month for twenty years before its mortgage was satisfied.
My family sowed cotton seeds by hand on all fours. My dad bought the seed on a handshake loan from a Lafayette, Alabama, banker. Come fall, Dad returned the money with interest. There were no forms or financial statements. Just one honest man doing business with another.
It was a different time, when money was just money and integrity was the real currency.
During the growing season, my family whacked at cotton patch weeds with a hoe and at the snakes that often darted from beneath the plants. In the fall, they picked the cotton bolls from their prickly bushes. I saw their fingers bleed, and I grew to see my own bleed too. After picking it, my family chopped the cotton plants by hand. The stalks were dried and used for food for our few cows or plowed back under the ground as fertilizer.
My job, as the youngest Mann in the field, was to carry water to family members who were actually doing the job. I walked barefoot through the wet rows and felt the mud squish between my toes after a rain. I waded through weeds up to my waist to put two buckets into a stream, then I toted them back to the thirsty folks working the earth. They gave the ground their sweat. It gave them a crop that gave them money for sustenance. The water we drank was warm when taken from the shallow creek and outright hot by the time I toted it to the field in hundred-degree heat.
I mistakenly thought that my daddy, brothers, and sisters didn't know I was secretly fishing while I was supposedly en route to the field with their water. Later, I found out they knew all along.
I couldn't help myself. The stream and its fish were a magnet whose pull I feel to this day. I hid tree branch poles beneath bushes so I could grab a pole wherever I happened to be on the stream. My bait was worms I had earlier picked from the ground. I learned early in life that worms, especially during the dry days of a hot Deep South summer, would rise to the surface, where the ground was dampened by the dishwater thrown from our back porch nightly.
I dug for the worms shortly after daybreak and placed them in a tin can with two holes near the top. I threaded string through the holes and put it around my neck.
I was ready to go fishing.
I caught minnows, and the occasional snake, by folding screen wire and cutting it at the fold. I'd drop a soda cracker into a Mason jar, then shove the screen into the glass and fashion it into a funnel. I'd place the jar and screen into the stream; the minnows would swim in and couldn't find their way out. Minnows were as plentiful as all freshwater fish in this country during the Depression. I could catch a hundred in about a half hour.
Fishermen can catch minnows the same way today. In fact, traps like the one I've described are now mass-produced.
My dad and my uncle Alvin taught me how to do the Mason jar/screen wire trick. Stripping the screen from our cabin windows was my idea. My mom had a fit. She wasn't at all happy that my fondness for fishing was taking priority over her aversion to the insects that entered our cabin through our screenless windows. I got many spankings for destroying the screens.
I figured the spankings were the price I'd have to pay for fishing. I didn't get as many spankings, however, for screen stripping as I deserved.
That's because we ate what I caught, and we needed every bite. By the time I was seven I could catch and clean enough brim to feed a hungry ten-member family. Mama knew that if I didn't fish, we might have only the vegetables from our garden for dinner. My brothers, uncles, and my dad kept our catches for food. We fished for fun and to stay alive. We hunted wild game for the same reasons.
We drank water from a well, read by the glow of a kerosene lamp, and were housed by logs fitted so loosely, you could see in between them. There was one spot in our cabin where my brothers and I could literally throw a cat through a gap in the wall. There was nothing between us and the elements except a stack of logs. We had no ceiling, and the warmth from our fire rose into the rafters, leaving us cold down below.
I don't remember many snowfalls when I was a boy, but the few I recall left a thin layer of white stuff on our blankets. At times, the wind blew hard enough through the house to extinguish the flames in the lamps.
I've heard folks say that life during the Depression was simple, so much so that families were welcome at the homes of others without notice. That's true, and why wouldn't it be? How could anybody notify anybody when there were no telephones? Folks were welcome at our house, but their arrival was totally unexpected. We saw them approaching through the spaces between the logs.
We had a battery-operated radio, and we gathered around it to listen to the news, hoping to hear that President Roosevelt and his New Deal were improving the nation's economy. On Saturday nights, we celebrated the end of the workweek by listening to the Grand Ole Opry in faraway Nashville, Tennessee.
The rest of the time, we had no input from the world beyond Chambers County. Dad wouldn't let us play the radio, as he wanted to preserve its battery.
Loretta Lynn, in her song about Depression-strapped America, described an upbringing similar to mine: We were poor/But we had love/That's the one thing that/Daddy made sure of . . . go the lyrics.
That was cert...
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