Fishing's Mark Zona

By Pat Piper

Television fishing pro Mark Zona is always on a quest for a fish.

Mark Zona is driving along I-94 in Indiana after flying in from a Bassmaster Elite fishing tournament in Alabama. He's heading home to Michigan, and along the way, the fishing pro and host of Zona's Awesome Fishing Show on the Outdoor Channel is looking at his life and the many places it takes him.

"I'm addicted to chasing a creature that is a fraction of my size and has a brain the size of a pea," he says reflectively. When Zona talks, there aren't a lot of pauses, and right now he's on a roll. "Look, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and as a kid, I was addicted to baseball. With baseball, even with a team from Chicago, you always knew the parameters. You've got home plate, and first, second, and third base, but fishing doesn't have any of that.

There are no rules, other than the state laws — and that your ‘baseball' is trying to swim away. Now that intrigues me!" For those beyond the world of fishing, Mark Zona is considered the Henny Youngman of bass fishing, with a few George Carlin four-letter words thrown in. But beneath the brawn and one-liners he spins on his TV show, there's some depth to what the former boat salesman and tournament fisherman turned TV host is saying.

Photo of Mark Zona and Rick Cark with largemouth bass catch

"Fishing has always been my best friend," he begins, and that's the launch of another insight into the World of Z. "One of my most meaningful memories was a day on Klinger Lake in Michigan when I was 8 years old. We had a summer home there, and my dad, who worked all week for Illinois Bell, was busy painting the garage. I'm busy pulling his chain to take me fishing in the pontoon boat we kept on the shoreline.

Life Lessons From Fish

"He walked me down to the water and threw a plastic worm near the boat. Within seconds, a 12-inch bass took it. I have to tell you, that bass was probably the most critical fish of my life. I looked up, and there were about 1,000 pontoon boats along the shore of the lake, and I didn't need my old man to take me out into the middle of the lake, where everyone thinks the biggest fish are, because that's BS. What my dad did right there was say 'You need to learn, and there are 1,000 pontoon boats to learn from.' I bet I lapped that lake 200 times with a fishing rod and a plastic worm. That memory is welded. The sky looked like the color of the worm. There are few things in your lifetime where the memories are so vivid that you can remember the smell or the feeling, but that was one of those moments."

Observers have said fishing is a contest between a human being — with fishfinders, GPS coordinates, outriggers, planing boards, expensive reels, special line, numerous lures — and a fish. Zona thinks about this all the time. "I'm going 50-50 on whether the fish is outsmarting me. If I catch one, it makes me come back, and then there are days when I catch nothing, and I want to come back and get revenge."

When Zona gets home, he grabs his two sons and takes them fishing. "To the last day on earth," he says, "I will be chasing that thing." Some might call it an addiction. Others have suggested he's just plain crazy. Zona won't argue with any of that.  

— Published: April/May 2015

According To Z

On Catching:

Whenever you land a fish, the tendency is to be happy and take a picture. What I've learned through the years is to pay attention to every single variable that just happened to get that bite. Then you want to recreate that next time.

On Not Catching:

If there's no bite, it's a little bit you and a little bit the fish — but most of the time, it's you. Remember, somewhere on every lake, the fish are biting. You just aren't doing it right.

On Choosing A Lure:

When they aren't biting (see above), the tendency is to start digging through $300 worth of lures in the tacklebox. That's exactly what you should never do! Use the lure with which you have had the most success, because fishing is predominantly a mind game.

On Strategy:

I'm an extremely impatient person. I've got a 10-minute max. If I'm not getting a bite, I need to change it up a little. If I'm on a lake and no fish wants to tangle with me, I'm gonna move on and find one of his buddies who wants to.

On The Road Taken:

I always used fishing during those critical times in my teen years when you need to sort out in your head the things you may be doing right, from the things you may be doing wrong.


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