FORT LAWN -- Big-time professional bass fishing, for the most part, is whiter than a small-mouth's belly.
"E.T." hopes to darken it up some.
That's why this 29-year-old man nicknamed E.T. -- Ershaun Turner from rural Chester County -- spends all his free time fishing. When he's not taking care of his daughter or working third shift driving a fork lift at a stone company, he's fishing. He does not golf. He does not garden. He does not watch TV.
He's the guy at dawn at Chester State Park, Lake Wateree or Lake Wylie. Alone, fishing. Practicing. Renting a boat if he has to. That's why he saves all his money to use on the gas, fees and whatever else it costs to enter tournaments regionally.
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Turner wants to fish. That's it.
"I always fished," Turner said. "My late aunt, Rosetta Perry, taught me when I was real young. We would go together. I loved it then, and I still love it."
When Turner was an all-state football player at Fairfield Central High School and he played in the prestigious North-South all-star game, other players talked about becoming NFL players. Turner talked about becoming a fisherman.
He loves fishing so much that he dreams of making a living fishing. That is some rare air for men of any color. Bass fishing at the highest level, like the Bassmaster Classic held a couple times in recent years on Lake Wylie and televised on ESPN, is the pinnacle of the sport. Only a few competitive professionals, such as Jason Quinn of Lake Wylie, ever get to the top. Ish Monroe, a Californian, is the first black angler who has qualified through the professional ranks for elite status. More than 20 years ago, Alfred Williams was the first black bass fisherman to compete in the big-time Bassmaster Classic.
And now there is Turner, hoping to make it three.
To make a name for himself, establish enough wins to get toward the top, Turner has to do well in tournaments around South Carolina and the Southeast. He's won some tournaments. He's been close in others. He even does some trade shows at the Bass Pro Shop store at Concord Mills in North Carolina. He said black customers come up to him and say things such as, "Keep up the good work," and "You make us proud."
"I get some double-takes," Turner said. "I am different from the rest."
But to become an elite fisherman, Turner is not where he needs to be yet. He fishes in the lower tiers of the professional ranks, makes some money, hustles for sponsorships.
Turner's push to succeed with a fishing pole also came from a few other black fishermen along the way. When Turner was in high school, his math teacher, William Smalls, introduced Turner to the Tri-State Bass Club. With members locally and from both Carolinas and Georgia, Tri-State integrated bass fishing organizations. Smalls and other older fishermen still help Turner with his dreams.
"It can be done," Smalls said. "Fishing is about patience. Not just the fish catching, being successful at the lower levels to make it to the higher levels, but getting the sponsorships.
"These big-time pros have sponsors to take care of their needs for boats and gear, right down to the lunches they eat."
Smalls said the great fishing stars can take 10 years or more to make their mark.
"If he sticks long enough, his time will come," Smalls said.
And that's part of what makes Ershaun Turner's dream so wonderful. Fishing for blacks in this area has always been a big deal. Pro fishing may be almost all white, but leisure fishing has been a part of the black culture in these parts as long as fish have swam and black people were around to catch them. But turning that love of fishing into a career has not.
So, Turner takes black kids fishing, like adults took him fishing. He shares what he has learned. He's started fishing teams with the city of Columbia and Fairfield County, where he spent much of his life, and hopes to start one in Chester County where he lives.
"Fishing has given me so much; I want to give back to others what fishing gave me," he said.
At the same time, he strives to be among the best anywhere of any color.
Who knows if E.T. will rock the fishing world? What is important is that Ershaun Turner has a chance to give it a shot, and that he takes that shot.