To anyone who says catching a fish is just a matter of luck, Glenelg High School senior Ben Dziwulski has a challenge. Give it a try, he says. Use my equipment, sit in my boat, come out on the same reservoir or pond as me, and by the end of the day, let's see who catches more fish.
And to anyone who doubts whether Dziwulski will reach his goal of becoming a professional fisherman, he says: Watch me.
Dziwulski, 17, is realistic about a goal that, at first blush, seems more like an excuse to play than a viable career path. Learning how to cast a line, how to skim a lure along the surface of the water, how to coax a reluctant fish to bite, is only the beginning, he says. To succeed, said Dziwulski, he needs to think like a businessman, to find sponsors who will support him.
"If you want to go pro, you need to get the sponsors lined up," he said.
Dziwulski is exploring the realities of becoming a pro fisherman as part of an intern and mentor program at Glenelg, under the guidance of teacher Charlie Ashcraft, coordinator of the school's Gifted and Talented Program.
The program is offered to college-bound students countywide, and at Glenelg, Ashcraft is working with 37 students this year who are exploring specific careers. Needless to say, Dziwulski is the only one who wants to fish for a living.
"It's definitely one of the more unusual ones," Ashcraft said. "When he told me what he wanted to do, I was like, `hmmm.'" But Ashcraft tries to avoid saying no. "I would rather say to them, `Let's look and see.'"
As it happened, Ashcraft remembered a friend, Frank Ippoliti, who had set out on the pro tour about 20 years earlier. "I didn't have a clue whether he had made it or whether he had stayed at it or whether it was a good profession," said Ashcraft.
A little research turned up some interesting news: At 44, Ippoliti had been a professional fisherman for more than two decades. When Ashcraft called him last year, Ippoliti, who lives in Mercersburg, Pa., eagerly agreed to mentor Dziwulski. The two spend hours on the water, working on their techniques.
They also talk about sponsors, who want articulate, educated people representing their products. While some people on the pro tour attract attention through controversy, Dziwulski thinks his affable, easygoing personality will do just fine. "I'm outgoing," he said. "But I wouldn't want to be a guy that broke all the rules."
"Ben's a great kid," said Ippoliti, who won the prestigious Bassmaster Southern Open, held in Alabama this month. "It's been a great thing for both of us, not just for him."
Ippoliti said he believes that Dziwulski "absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt," has the skills, personality and business sense to succeed. "I look forward to seeing him on television," Ippoliti said.
But he noted that fishing, like all professional sports, is a fickle way to make a living. Ippoliti, who runs a car dealership, has always maintained a business on the side. "I stress to him the importance of education," he said.
Dziwuslki knows this. He's hoping to attend North Carolina State University in the fall, where he will major in business and marketing. The school, he said, has a nationally ranked fishing club.
One benefit of the mentor program is that Dziwulski can spend an afternoon fishing, and count it as an educational experience. On Wednesday, he plunked his 14-foot Tracker boat in the rain-dappled water of the Triadelphia Reservoir, and got to work.
Again and again, he sent his topwater lure to the water's edge with a practiced flick of the wrist, then reeled it in slowly, so the lure represented "a dying bait fish."
In bass fishing tournaments, live bait is not allowed, he said. That's more of a challenge because "you basically have to trick a fish," he said.
Dziwulski wore a shirt sponsored by e21, a fishing rod company, covered with patches of other sponsors, including J. Kruz Eyewear, Secret Weapon Lures, Tru-Tungsten and Hi-Seas equipment, and Mackintosh Realtors, based in Frederick and Mount Airy.
In exchange for free equipment from e21, Dziwulski serves as the company's East Coast representative, he said. He extolled the benefits of the e21 rods, which are made with carrot fibers for extra lightness and strength, he said.
After a short time on the water, he had hooked and reeled in a smallmouth bass. He pulled the lure from its mouth and quickly measured it. "Thirteen and a quarter, no thirteen and a half," he said. Then he slipped it back into the water.
Dziwulski fishes the reservoir often - typically for hours at a time on the weekends - and knows it well. He also likes to fish in the Potomac River, he said.
Dziwuslki first started fishing with his father, but got serious about it only after seeing a fishing tournament on television, when he was about 13. "I started playing with the idea of competitive fishing," he said.
Though Dziwulski plays football and basketball at Glenelg, fishing has a special place in his heart.
"It's just you and nature," he said. "It's peace and quiet, and it gets you away from all the distractions of the world, like homework and college applications."
He joined a local fishing club, called Jr. Pro-Formance Fishing Team, part of the Maryland Bass Federation, and began entering tournaments.
In 2006, he won the Maryland Championship, which qualified him to compete in the Junior Bassmaster World Championship, held in Alabama in February.
After a day of fishing in bitter sub-freezing temperatures, he took second place in the Mid-Atlantic Tournament. "It was a great experience," he said.
Dziwulski said he's learned a lot about fishing just from reading magazine articles and from watching the tournaments on ESPN. But those are no substitute for getting out on the water.
"I love fishing," he said. "I could do it all day."