As Charley Bowen stands in his marble red fishing boat, nothing can break his concentration. In an effortless motion, he extends a fishing lure into Bismarck Lake with his right arm. Bowen shakes the fishing rod with his right hand until he feels something grab onto it. He grips the fishing rod firmly, trying to reel the fish into the boat in North Lawrence.
Then, something happens that doesn't usually happen to Bowen, a Perry resident and fisherman for more than 25 years. The fish squirms away from the lure and disappears into the 29.6 feet of water where the boat is positioned.
"Ahh, did you see that?" Bowen asks. "I should have caught that. I should have caught three fish by now."
Chatting with Bowen is like catching up with an old friend. The 35-year-old cares about what you have to say and laughing is a normal part of his personality. But his intensity level rises when he's going after largemouth bass in Bismarck Lake. He was trained to fish from a young age.
"My grandpa used to live in the outskirts of town, and he had an old swimming pool," Bowen explained. "One summer it might be a swimming pool, but the next summer, they'd put catfish in there. Us kids would sit along the bank of that and try to catch those catfish. That's where I got going with fishing."
Bowen also got involved with football at a young age. He attended Lawrence High, where he played running back and safety. His talent brought him to the field at Kansas University, where he played strong safety alongside his brother Clint, who is now a co-defensive coordinator for the Jayhawks. Charley Bowen was part of the 1992 Aloha Bowl team that defeated BYU, 23-20. He intercepted a pass with 2:11 left in the game to seal the KU victory.
Bowen said he still had the competitiveness he had in football when he fished - minus the physical aspects of getting hit.
His competitive nature has helped him to become innovative in the fishing industry. He invented a rattling fishing sinker, the Ultimate Rattling Rig, which debuted in Bassin' Magazine in May. It took Bowen six months to finalize and patent the sinker. The sinker makes a rattling sound in the water, which should attract more fish to it, Bowen said. It costs $14.95.
Bowen entered two fishing tournaments this year in areas surrounding Jasper, Texas. He placed fifth in the Sam Rayburn Bass Fishing Tournament on Jan. 28. The Bass Champs circuit awarded Bowen and fishing partner David Counts $2,100 in the tournament that featured 337 boats. Bowen also placed eighth in the same circuit, but in a different tournament in March. Bowen said Bass Champs awarded him and Counts $1,200 for the eighth-place finish, among a field of more than 200.
Bowen fishes mostly as a hobby, though. He said he worked operating a backhoe for his family's business, Bowen Ditching.
He said he had fished in five different states and about 20 different lakes. He's had some proud moments, like the time he caught his largest fish - 8 pounds, 1 ounce. He's also had some embarrassing, crazier moments.
"It was in the winter, and it was cold. We start fishing, and the bilge keeps kicking on," Bowen said, referring to a pump on the inner part of the boat's hull, which keeps water out. "After the third or fourth time, I'm thinking, 'Where's all this water coming from?'"
One problem: Bowen forgot to plug in the bilge underneath the boat, causing water to creep into it.
"We tried to get as close to the shore as we could, but we were still like two feet or so off, so I had to basically strip down and jump in the water and swim underneath there and put the plug in," Bowen said, laughing. "I'm telling you, it was cold."
Counts was with Bowen at the time in the winter of 1996. He said it was around the time when Bowen began fishing competitively.
"He was the rookie at the time, so we had him do it," Counts, a Spokane, Mo., resident, said.
Counts, at age 37, said he has known Bowen for 10 years now.
"He's a big teddy bear," Counts said. "His heart is as good as gold."
Bowen said despite the amount of fish he caught over the years, he never ate them. He said he preferred to release the fish back in the lake and keep them alive.
Bowen said he has had his boat, which cost about $28,000, for five years. As Bowen stood in the marble red boat with tan interior seats and six fishing rods last Wednesday, he said he'd fish until it was dark.
Dressed in a Fort Worth Bowl Kansas football T-shirt, a white KU hat, black sunglasses, black athletic shorts and white shoes, Bowen said fishing gave him an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. He said his mother gave him a plaque recently, which described his overall thoughts on fishing.
"It said born to fish, forced to work," Bowen said.