Make Fishing a Family Tradition

By Andrew Branson | June 1, 2020
From Missouri Conservationist: June 2020

In today’s busy world, families struggle to stay connected with one another. They are bombarded with an almost endless list of opportunities and activities to participate in. However, rather than bringing the family together, many of these activities seem to pull them apart by having some of the members going this way, and others going that way. Wouldn’t it be nice if a family had an activity that everyone could do together; was healthy, fun, and relaxing; and created memories that would last a lifetime? Fishing for the Dockery and the Archer families has done just that. The Dockery family has always fished and it’s a way of life for them, whereas the Archer family is relatively new to fishing, but is on its way to becoming a family tradition.

The Fishing Culture

Fishing is just part of the culture the Dockery family has passed down through the generations, said James Dockery.

“My father and grandfather were fishermen, and I regularly fished with my father while growing up,” he said. James valued this family time growing up and wanted to do the same for his family. “When I started my family, I knew that fishing would be a big part of our lives.”

James and his wife, Katie, knew from the beginning that fishing was going to be part of their family’s life.

“We would go fishing for our dates. It is something we enjoyed and continued to do after marriage and with our children.” Katie said.

Their four children, Harley age 22, Brayann age 20, Bowen age 19, and Jolene age 9, all love fishing and know that it brings them together. Harley knows that fishing makes for some good father-and-son time.

“When I was younger, my father would take me fishing. I really enjoyed being outside and spending time with him,” he said. Harley hopes to create the same memories for his own family. “Fishing has been passed down to me and I am passing it down to my son.”

Keeping Fishing Fun

To keep the enthusiasm for fishing high in their family when there are so many other activities competing for their children’s time, James and Katie work hard at making it fun for the family. “We love to compete,” James said. “First fish, biggest fish, and most fish. Every fishing trip is a mini tournament, but all in fun.”

“We like to find new things to do for challenges,” Katie continued. “For example, we will take the small kiddie poles to the Mississippi River and only count the fish caught on them. We have caught large carp and catfish this way. Talk about fun fishing!”

Their son Bowen remembers, “We had a little game called ‘bucket maid.’ The point of the game was you wanted to catch the last fish before you left. If you didn’t catch the last fish then you had to carry the bucket home.”

Fishing Trips, Family Memories

James and Katie work fishing into their family trips, too. Fishing bonds this family together and creates wonderful, shared memories.

“Fishing is a great way to spend time together. We get away and relax,” James said.

“We have gone fishing for family vacations, long weekends, and just for an evening for so many years that it has become an integral part of our life,” Katie added.

Fishing offers a unique set of experiences not found in many other activities. “It’s a whole different level of excitement when you feel that fish pulling on your pole,” said Brayann.

All the time the Dockery family has put into fishing has resulted in a few records. While anyone catching a fish worthy of a state record is quite an achievement, having two state record holders in one family is rare. James holds the pole-and-line state record for the shovelnose sturgeon by catching a 4-pound fish in 2001. In 2017, son Bowen was awarded the alternative method state record for a 1-pound, 3-ounce green sunfish that he caught on a trotline. The love of fishing for the Dockery family is far reaching, and sharing this passion comes naturally. Youngest daughter Jolene described passing the tradition to the next generation as one of her favorite fishing experiences.

“Taking my 2-year-old nephew fishing — he loves to hold the fish and pose for a picture,” she said.

“To be honest, when it comes to fishing, I don’t know a stranger. I will talk to, and fish with, anyone who is willing,” James said.

The Nicest People

Anne Archer and her two sons, Collin and Jake, love to fish as a family. It wasn’t Anne that introduced her sons to fishing, it was her father.

“My dad always loved hunting and fishing, but I didn’t take to it,” Anne said. “Not until, however, he introduced it to Collin. From that moment on, I had to appreciate fishing because of the joy it brought to my sons.”

Collin took to fishing immediately, and from that first experience he was hooked for life. “The first day he took me fishing at age five, I loved it,” Collin said. “The first day I fished, I caught and held a 22-pound common carp.”

“Every birthday party I have had since my fifth birthday, I have kindly asked for fishing lures or fishing gear, rather than toys,” he said. “Mom makes fishing activities at my parties, and we pass out mini tackle boxes with gummy worms/fish inside as party favors.”

Anne fosters Collin’s love for fishing, but seeks out help from others when necessary.

“I cannot unhook a fish, and I barely can hold the fish. Collin takes care of that,” she said.

Collin likes that his mom helps him develop his passion for fishing. “My mom signed my brother and me up for free MDC fishing classes at the Busch Wildlife Area a few summers back,” he said.

Anne appreciates that others also offer to help her boys have a good fishing experience. “You always meet the nicest people when you go fishing,” she said. “Anytime their rod gets tangled, someone is always there ready to help us, so we are grateful for the exposure of kindness in others.”

Like Big Brother

Little brother Jake likes to fish with his family, but really started getting interested because of his brother’s passion.

“It’s fun when I catch a fish,” he said. “It’s exciting to watch them put up a good fight. I tried to catch a carp and my pole fell out of my hand and into the water. The next thing I see is my grandma jumping in the water to get my pole back.”

Jake finds fishing with the family fun even when he doesn’t have a pole in his hand, Anne said. “One time, when Collin and Jake were younger, they were with my parents and Jake gathered a bunch of worms and created a worm family and named them all after us, like this one is me, this one is brother, this one is mommy, and this one is grandpa.”

Fishing creates some wonderful memories for the Archer family, and Collin already has plans for the future. He has fished in both fresh and saltwater, and wants to catch a state record or world record fish. Even at his young age, Collin knows that his passion for fishing shouldn’t end with him.“I want to pass it down to my own child or children.”

Escaping the Hub-bub

The Dockery and Archer families work hard to make fishing important.

“Fishing allows us to escape the hub-bub of life, and we can use the time to reflect on life and all of its twists and turns,” James and Katie said.

”I believe fishing is educational,” Anne said. “Fishing is about bonding together, and is a beneficial habit for my children’s overall development, versus electronics.”

Although they come to the tradition of fishing from different places, both families have found the same benefits from making memories outdoors. For Bowen Dockery, spending time fishing with family has left him with much more than a stringer of fish.

“There are just so many great memories from fishing with my family that it just makes me happy whenever I can cast a pole in the water.”

Starting the Tradition

If the fishing tradition doesn’t exist in your family, MDC can help you start one that can result in great family moments and memories for generations to come.

For starters, MDC has designated June 6-7 as Free Fishing Days. During these two days, anyone can fish in Missouri without purchasing a fishing permit, trout permit, or trout park daily tag. Of course, other fishing regulations, such as limits related to the size and number of fish taken, still apply — as do trespass laws on private property. More on Free Fishing Days is available online at The MDC free publication A Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations, which includes regulations, fish identification, and more, is available where permits are sold or online at

MDC programs and publications can also help with the “where,” “what,” and “how” of starting a family fishing tradition.


MDC’s free MO Fishing mobile app can help you find the fishing hole nearest you. It also links you to fishing regulations, fish identification, and more. MO Fishing is available for download through Google Play for Android devices or the App Store for Apple devices. More on the app is available online at


If a lack of fishing gear is keeping you from wetting a line, MDC’s free Rod and Reel Loaner Program can put the basics — including a rod, reel, and tackle box — in your hands. More than 100 locations around the state, including many libraries, MDC offices and nature centers, state parks, and marinas, participate in the program. For additional details and a list of loaner sites, visit


If you have the permits, location, and equipment, but lack fishing know-how, MDC’s Discover Nature—Fishing (DNF) program offers a series of free fishing lessons around the state. DNF events include instruction on equipment, casting, fish identification, fish handling, regulations, and more. More information on DNF is available online at

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This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler