FRISCO, Texas – It’s a beautiful winter day in Texas. There is a slight chill in the air, but with a few extra layers of clothes and a disposable pocket warmer, it’s bearable. The smell of exhaust from a 200-horsepower Evinrude motor begins to fill the nose with a familiar pungent odor that brings joyous memories of being on the water with dad. The brain begins to forget the chill and focuses instead on plunking that new Pro Model Scum Frog into the murky green water and landing that 10-pound largemouth “Hawg.”
Every weekend thousands of Texans take to the state’s waterways in an effort to catch a big fish – the Hawg. Bass tournaments are scheduled where teams of fisherman compete against each other to see who can land the biggest fish.
Some folks call fishing a sport. Others say it’s just a hobby. Jesus called it a way of life – sort of – when he said his followers would be fishers of men. The Fishers of Men Ministry believes fishing is a sport and a way of life.
Fishers of Men (FOM) began in 1998 in Sumter, South Carolina. Founder Al Odom wanted competitive fisherman to have a chance to compete in bass fishing tournaments and still be in church on Sunday (most secular tournaments are on Saturday and Sunday). Now the ministry is spread out across 22 states, including Texas.
Larry Shine, pastor of Pine Forrest Baptist Church in Onalaska, serves as the Texas State Chaplain.
Shine said he became involved with the ministry four years ago as a competitor. He took on the chaplain role about a year ago.
Each tournament follows a basic format. Fishermen arrive on the designated lake on Friday to “pre-fish.” Anglers are trying to uncover the hiding places of the big fish for the next day. Everyone has to be off the water by 5:30 to prepare for the next stage of the event.
When the teams of two return to the marina, the participants gather at a local church or a nearby pavilion to draw numbers for the following morning’s launch sequence.
The host church will provide a meal for the participants and some good wholesome entertainment. After dinner, the host church or Shine will present an evangelistic message. This is part of the two-fold mission of FOM.
“The mandatory Friday night services provide an avenue of telling lost fisherman how to be saved,” Shine said.
Evangelism is not just left up to the pastors and others “trained” in sharing their faith. Everyone can have a part in making an impact in someone’s life. Shine said, “active Christians are encouraged to fish with lost partners to expose them to the gospel.” Over 600 people were saved last year as a part of the ministry’s events – 29 of those were in Texas.
After a night of rest, the teams awake in the wee hours of Saturday morning and hit the waters. They have their boats inspected for safety and then begin their quest to coax the largemouth bass out of the water.
At the end of the day, each team turns in their catch. The top five fish from each team are weighed and the team with the most pounds of fish wins the competition.
At last year’s National Championship in Alabama, a duo from Winston-Salem, North Carolina combined to catch over 41 pounds of fish over the two-day event.
Shine said attendance at the regional events around Texas can vary.
“There can be as many as 150 teams of two or as few as five teams,” he said. Participation varies depending on the area, competition with other tournaments and the weather.
The majority of those in attendance are believers. This is the other half of the two-fold mission of the ministry: a place for Christian fisherman to compete without having to sacrifice church services on Sunday.
The peaceful surroundings of nature and the solitude of two people in a boat can lead to great opportunities of ministry. Shine remembers a time while fishing a regional tournament in Greenville, Miss.
“A grandfather/grandson team were competing,” Shine said. “The Lord impressed on me to witness to the grandson, whom I knew was lost. Rules say you must remain 25 yards from any other competitor unless you receive permission.”
Not wanting to alienate the other team, Shine asked the grandfather for permission to come close and speak with the young man for a few minutes. The grandfather agreed and Shine led the boy to faith in Christ.
“Best catch of the day for me,” Shine said.
The ministry continues to grow each year. Fishers of Men has an official magazine called Hawg Heaven that goes to each of the ministry’s members. The magazine keeps anglers up-to-date on results from past tournaments, dates of upcoming events, as well as inspiring the avid fisherman with uplifting stories and testimonies from other fisherman. A website is also available for information about the organization at www.fomntt.com.
Wetting a hook and trying to land a big fish is not just an American idea. Shine said he is looking at taking the idea of the ministry on the road. He said he was working with one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s missionaries in South America about making a trip there. They want to use fishing as a way to reach the people of the South American Amazon.
“We hope to help those fishermen,” Shine said, “and may even arrange to do some fishing ourselves.”
In a sport that is probably best known for its embellished stories about the “one that got away,” fisherman across the state are now sharing the truth of the gospel.