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Gabe Backhus: Big fish in a small pond

We all know the phrase, “A big fish in a small pond,” right? Well, Gabe Backhus has been a big fish all his life. And now he’s looking for more pond.

The 16 year old from Herington, Kansas has been fishing since he was two, when his dad would take him down to the 26-acre pond behind the family home. By the time he was four, Gabe was taking the four-wheeler (in low gear) down to the pond on his own.

But he was still too young to remove a hook, so every time he caught a fish, he’d put it in a bucket on the back of the ATV and drive it — rod, reel, fish, hook, and all — up to where his parents were watching. They’d take out the hook, and off he’d go again, spending an entire day fishing just like that.

He’s never really looked back.

Gabe’s mom, Mardee, says that even from that young age, he’s had an uncanny ability to focus. Most of his focus is now on bass fishing. And business. And basketball.

When he was 10, Gabe joined a youth fishing club and graduated from the pond to the much-bigger Milford Lake, near Junction City, Kansas. It wasn’t long before he proved to be the biggest fish there, as well.

At 13, Gabe bought his own bass boat so he could compete in more and bigger tournaments. How’d he do it? Raising, showing, and selling livestock in 4-H.

In 2015, he earned the top angler spot for the state of Kansas and was invited to compete in the TBF Junior World Cup on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

How did he become so accomplished at such a young age?

“Experience. I’m self-taught. I figured everything out for myself. Other kids have parents who would tell them where to cast and what to use, but I learned on my own,” Gabe says.

That same year he started his own line of bass jigs and soft plastics: Double B Baits. He’d been making his own baits since his mom gave him plastic molds for Christmas in 2014.

They performed well. He added a few secret ingredients to make them perform better, and figured why not? Now he’s selling them locally and online; they’ll be in more than 16 local retailers and marinas by spring of 2018.

In addition to the new outlets he’s adding in the spring, the high school junior is also planning to bring a few new products to market, including a buzzbait and a spinner.

Gabe’s boat has been in the shop this year, but it hasn’t sidelined him. He’s been shorefishing and just received a kayak for his birthday. So, the local fish who thought they caught a break have something to worry about once again.

In his “spare time,” he’s on the varsity basketball squad and volunteers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct surveys of endangered species like the black-footed ferret and a tiny catfish known as the Neosho madtom.

He hopes to attend Kansas State University (don’t mention the Jayhawks) — where they have a top-ranked bass fishing team — and study either business, wildlife biology, or most likely, both.

I asked him if he had any tips for folks looking to hook a trophy bucketmouth, and Gabe’s simple words of wisdom were “Patience and confidence.”

Clearly, this is Gabe’s pond. And we’re all just lucky enough to live in it.

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