NORTH SMITHFIELD — It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him that Dillon Falardeau has become a national-class angler.
Actually, Falardeau, an 18-year-old North Smithfield High senior, laughs while explaining his appeal to it.
“I got involved with it when I was very young; my grandfather, George Lamoureaux, loved to fish, and so did my dad (Kevin Falardeau),” he noted just before the school dismissal rang out Wednesday.
“Even my mother (Mary Desrochers) enjoyed it; we used to go out fishing all the time, even when I was three or four,” he added. “Later on, when I was in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, my bus stop was near a pond off Tift Road, so I'd wake up early and fish there. My bus driver would let me keep my pole and tackle box on the bus, and I'd leave it there all day.
“When she dropped me off in the afternoon, I'd go back to fishing until I heard my mom ring the dinner bell. As soon as I heard it, usually around 5:30, I'd pack everything up and head home for dinner.”
Falardeau beams when asked what he got out of it.
“Man, it was great; you just never knew what you were going to reel in, and I loved spending time outdoors,” he said. “I'd spend great times with friends, or – when I was by myself – it was peaceful and relaxing. If I had too many buddies there, then it got tough, but I'm still teaching a lot of them the proper way to fish.”
Fact is, Falardeau may be instructing a few standout amateur and professional anglers as to his secrets in the near future. The tall Northmen teenager has qualified as the youngest fisherman in the country to compete at the Tournament Bass Federation (TBF) National Fishing Championships at the Grand Lake o' the Cherokees in Oklahoma on April 11-13.
Early on Wednesday, April 3, he and his stepfather, Bob Desrochers, will hop into their vehicle and tow his boat about 25 hours to the lake, situated between the Sooner state and Arkansas, to partake in a few days of practice.
Then, once Wednesday morning rolls around, he'll begin his quest to outduel 59 other top-notch fishermen around the United States for the premier prize – a mammoth trophy and a solid portion of the approximate $250,000 purse.
There is, however, a sad, touching note involved with this trek into the Midwest.
“This just blows my mind,” stated Falardeau, who is a member of the Reservoir Dawgs of northern Rhode Island. “It definitely puts more meaning to the words, 'Never give up!' I promised my cousin and fishing partner, Cory Gaudette, that I wouldn't.
“Cory died a week before his 18th birthday of brain cancer (in 2012), and he told me to follow my dreams and not give up, no matter what the odds,” he continued. “He never did give up on his struggles with the cancer, so why should I? I mean, I've got it much easier than he did. He's always with me, and that's why I'm dedicating this tournament to him.”
Falardeau will represent a contingent of 12 – including six drivers and six anglers (all will compete) – from the Ocean State at the national event. Not bad for a kid who didn't know about “circuit” tourneys just five years ago.
“I started researching competitive fishing with my stepdad before my freshman year; I was still in eighth grade,” he stated. “We found a name, Mike Brogie, who was the President of the R.I. Bassmasters. I contacted him, and he just told me to show up at a meeting; that was in March of '09.
“I did go, signed up and I had my first tournament ever at Watchug Pond in South County on April 12, my 15th birthday; I did very well, finishing third, but I was kind of upset,” he added with a chuckle. “I lost to a girl. It was Brittany Johnson, who's a friend of mine, and – that year – she qualified for the Junior World Championships in Orlando.
“She's a fantastic fisherman, and I knew her because I was in school with her here (she graduated from NSHS) in 2011. Right after that, I swore to myself that I wanted fishing to be my career, and that nothing was going to stop me.
“I can't imagine a better job than fishing for a living. It's always been my dream, and I'm not going to let go of it. I love the competitive side, walking across the stage with your fish and showing them off to the audience. I like how everybody goes ballistic about their size and weight. It's a big adrenaline rush.
“The biggest rush, actually, is when the National Anthem is played, and the announcer says, 'Start your engines (boat engines, that is). Once you do that, you're off to the section of water where you had your best practice sessions.”
A couple of years ago, he became a Reservoir Dawg, and began fishing with Mike Johnson, Brittany's dad. While with him, he picked up a plethora of pointers as to becoming a stellar competition angler.
“He told me one of the most important things when fishing is to throw the jig, which mimics a crayfish and bass just love,” he said. “You're supposed to drag it across the lake floor until it catches on a piece of grass, a branch or a rock, then jiggle the line. That causes the fish to react.
“I'll say this,” he grinned, “that helped me win a lot of tournaments.”
In August 2011, he traveled to Atlanta, Ga.'s Lake Lanier for the World Juniors, though he admitted he didn't so well, failing to place in the top 10.
“It was 110 degrees even early in the morning; it was horrible,” he said. “I think it was because I was so nervous, but the great thing for me? I met a lot of pros, a lot of my idols, like Rick Clunn and Ish Monroe. I remember walking across the stage and telling the crowd, 'This is what I want to do the rest of my life, and the place erupted.”
Earlier last year, he was one of 60 of the best men and women in Rhode Island to try out for the State Team; at eight contests between April and August, he traveled from Burrillville to Charlestown to catch bass, with the poundage of the heaviest five (with a minimum length of 12 inches) each day being compiled for a three-day total.
He ended up placing sixth overall, that after a terrific haul at Cranston's Johnson's Pond on the final afternoon, and became one of the youngest competitors ever to make that squad, which accepts exactly a dozen.
That finish also qualified Falardeau for the Northeastern TBF Divisional Championships at Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt. Individually, he took second on his own contingent and 17th overall among about 100 of the best fishermen throughout the six New England states, New York and eastern Canada.
He did so with a total of 50 pounds, with 16 landed on that last day.
“This is my chance to build my name, become recognizable,” he offered with authority. “I'll be the youngest competitor ever at this event. I think 51 (total) pounds over the three days could win it. If you catch an average of 17 (pounds) a day, that's pretty good, but that number isn't easy. You consider the stress level, getting so nervous and the wait that goes with fishing, it's tough.
“It's nerve-wracking, yeah, but it's still awesome,” he continued. “I love getting nervous because it's an adrenaline rush, like I said before. I'm more than pumped for this; I can't wait to get there and go at it.”
After the national event, he will return home and prepare for the end of school and graduation, then ready himself to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as a freshman come August; he's going there, he says, because it has a club fishing team.
He also indicated he couldn't have accomplished all he has without the help of his family, not to mention his sponsors, Lindy's Tavern owner Ron Carter (also his boss) and Steve Robinson of Ye Olde English Restaurant (which specializes in – get this! – fish and chips) in Woonsocket.
“I want to be the Tom Brady of professional fishing someday,” he claimed with pride and hope. “I want to be at the top of my field. I love being outdoors. I revel in it. I love the excitement of the fans and being up on stage afterward. There's nothing like it!
“I feel anxious, of course, though I want to do this. I can't wait for the first National Anthem on Day One; that's when I know I'm definitely there. I'll say my little prayer for Cory, which I always do since he passed, and then start doing what I love – fishing.”