This was Tommy Spencer’s big day. It was his turn to be the official “helper” in Mrs. Kripke’s class at Highland Elementary, a position with as much prominence and prestige as you can muster at the kindergarten level.
One of the primary duties of the “Helper of the Day” involves choosing a topic for the group to use in sentences, and then to brainstorm about.
When Tommy picked fishing for his subject that day, and easily crafted a variety of action phrases with fishing as the main topic, nobody in the room was surprised.
Nobody in the building was either.
Nor were his parents.
This is a 5-year-old with a well-seasoned affinity for the sport of angling.
“He started in on his favorite subject, and then every child in the room really got into it,” said Alison Kripke, Tommy’s teacher. “You could tell this was something he loved and it was perfect for the lesson, because everyone else really got interested and involved.
"That’s what I see every day with Tommy: He’s rambunctious and he certainly loves fishing.”
They have not isolated the exact chromosome yet, but it appears to be a genetic predisposition with Tommy.
His dad, Jamie, is a part-time charter fishing captain on Lake Erie who admits to being too competitive when he is fishing to consider the sport all that relaxing.
His son got some of that spirited approach too.
“We started him early, but he seems like he’s always had that burning desire to do well, that really competitive nature,” Jamie Spencer said. “First we saw it in sports, but then fishing just took over.”
At age 2, Tommy said he was scared of fish, but a year later he had lost the fear and rapidly developed a passion for fishing.
“I liked it. Now I can take my mom’s fish off the hook for her, and I’m a better fisherman than her,” Tommy said.
He is also not humble about his success on the water, if indeed a 5-year-old can be braggadocios. Tommy tags along when his dad takes a group of buddies out on the lake, but this is hardly a case of a whiney little kid mixed in with a bunch of hard-core fishermen.
“Sometimes I beat all of those guys,” Tommy said.
Mel Parker has joined the father-and-son Spencers on numerous outings.
Parker does not consider those words, coming from a spunky 5-year-old, to be out of line.
“It might sound like he’s being a little cocky, but the reality is he’s telling the truth,” Parker said. “He’s very good at this, and he’s not afraid to tell you that.”
Parker said Tommy’s skill level and concentration are not those of your average kindergartener.
“You forget he’s so young, because it’s almost like fishing with one of the guys,” he said.
“It’s not like taking a little kid along with a bunch of experienced fishermen.
"He more than holds his own. He doesn’t need any help, and he doesn’t want any.”
Tommy, who will be six in February, has also mastered the art of the fish tale.
He boasts about the 20-pound king salmon he caught in Lake Michigan, and outlines in detail the schedule for the fishing day, including the 5 a.m. start and seeing the sun come up while he was out on the water.
“Everything is related to fishing with him,” said Tommy’s mother, Olivia.
“Just the other day he woke up and one of the first things he said to me was that he can fish when it’s raining, he can fish when it cold, fish when it’s dark — ‘We can fish anytime we want to.’ He is that serious about it.”
Tommy’s mother confesses to being a fair-weather angler, and not one for the seemingly endless hours on the water, but watching her husband and her son experience that zest for fishing together forced her to reconsider that notion.
“I always dreaded it, the long days out there, but it was so neat to watch Jamie and Tommy fishing together, and how much they were enjoying it,” she said.
“That’s an image you don’t forget.”
Tommy’s teacher has made similar observations on the passion for fishing that he shares with his father.
“When he talks about fishing with his dad, you can see him light up,” Mrs. Kripke said.
v“It’s really nice to hear about that, about Tommy and his dad spending a lot of time together doing something they both love.”
The two have teamed up for perch and walleye on Lake Erie, those powerful kings on Lake Michigan, and at the neighborhood pond where a big bass named Walter is the trophy.
“It’s definitely genetic,” Jamie said about the fire for fishing that burns inside his son. “I love watching him when we’re out there. He’s the same as I was, so it will be interesting to see him grow up.”
Added Parker: “We’ve made that connection, too, that Tommy is so much like his dad.
“We joke about it and say we hope he doesn’t turn out too much like Jamie, but it’s seriously so much fun just to watch the excitement in Tommy’s eyes when he has a fish on the line, and how proud Jamie is of his son.”
Jamie relates that his son is a “quick learner,” and when Tommy recounts a particular outing and demonstrates the action on the lure he was using, it is clear he’s a prodigy who can handle a spinning rod like a pro.
“He’s just a great fisherman,” Parker said. “I feel like over the past 25 years I’ve acquired quite a bit of knowledge about how and when and where to fish Lake Erie.
“Tommy’s got a lot of that knowledge already, and he’s 5 years old.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.