Nothing says father-son bonding like a trip to the ol’ fishin’ hole. The Watkins trio of New Iberia make that trip whenever possible.
For three generations and then some, they’ve been passing down the love of the rod and reel and hours whiled away on the water.
“I’ve been fishing Lake Dauterive for 35 years. I’ve probably been fishing the Atchafalaya Basin for the same,” said Ricky Watkins, 50, of New Iberia, the middle man in the trio. “I love to fish. I love to compete.”
He said his father, Elmer Watkins, 73, brought him up fishing and so naturally he passed it down to his sons, Beau, 23, and Ben, 21. Beau particularly took to angling, and he and his father are a fixture at local tournaments.
Ricky said he fishes fresh water primarily and bass is their main quarry. He said Beau’s been bass fishing since he was in diapers. In fact, Ricky had to be called away from the lake the day his wife, Roxanne Watkins, went into labor with Beau. He and Elmer were out on the lake catching some nice ones when he was told to head to the hospital.
“(The fishing) was good. It was tremendous,” Ricky said, recalling the exact date — Aug. 17, 1988.
These days he and Beau hit the lake or the Basin at least once a week. And he and his father fish as often as possible. On Monday the pair scouted for prime bass-fishing real estate for a Wednesday tournament, in which Ricky and Beau participated.
Ricky said when he and Beau go out, it’s not about rivalry or heavy competition for top-fish bragging rights, it’s about the conversation and being on the water.
“It’s more like father and son time,” Ricky said.
Those moments together are irreplaceable, Ricky said, because life tears past you at a ferocious clip, so you should spend as much time with family as possible.
“You’d be a fool if you don’t because you’re not here forever,” he said.
Beau, a paramedic with Acadian Ambulance agreed. He said the moments he’s spent with his father on fishing trips are priceless. He said those trips have built his character and taught him valuable lessons.
“I’ve learned how to fix things at the lake. I’ve learned how to break things at the lake. I’ve learned life lessons,” he said, adding he wished every father spend time with his son on the lake.
But even rough moments can bring a father and son closer together. Beau recalled a time when they got the boat stuck and had to get out and push. He said it required teamwork, and they were worried they wouldn’t get it out. But eventually they were successful. Beau said despite the struggle, it was a nice bonding moment.
He said those interactions — the fun, the struggles, the excitement — are what make going to the lake so special.
“It’s not really about how many fish we catch. It’s just about the time we spend together,” Beau said.
But they can haul in an impressive number of fish. Beau said it varies — some days they get nothing, other days they get 60 or 70.
Also, those trips have instilled fishing ethics in Beau. He said his father taught him conservation — that you don’t keep more fish than the limit or fish that are are undersized or spawning. And he’s developed a real distaste for those who don’t release spawning fish.
“If you keep those fish whenever they’re laying their eggs, then you’re hurting your hatch for next year, and it’s hard on the lake,” Beau said.
Meanwhile, Elmer recalls a time long before Ricky picked up a rod and reel. Elmer said his father began taking him fishing when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“He got me started. Then I got my son started,” Elmer said.
It’s obvious Ricky and Elmer have a strong bond. Elmer, who moved to New Iberia in the early 1970s from Dalton, Ga., owns Watkins Floor Covering, and Ricky’s worked with his dad for 41 years. Elmer remains active in the business — still laying floors, he said — despite being north of 70.
He said it feels good to be a link in this generational chain — where fathers pass down the love of fishing to their kids.
“We just love to fish. When you get away and get all the junk out of your head and when you (catch) some good fish, you enjoy yourself,” Elmer said.
Looking ahead to Father’s Day next week, Ricky said there’s a strong possibility he’ll be celebrating it by baiting his hook.
“If Beau’s schedule allows it, we may make a morning trip and spend the afternoon with the family. That’s what we usually do,” he said.