Growing up in Texas, Ronnie Green’s great-grandmother taught him to fish. She’d wear a dress and go after crappie, bluegills and gasper goos (freshwater drum) with a spinning rod. When Green, a professional bass angler and the host of World Fishing Network’s A Fishing Story with Ronnie Green, interviewed African American fishing pioneer Alfred Williams, it turned out that Williams’ great-grandmother had taught him to pull channel cats out of the Pearl River with a cane pole as a boy in Mississippi.
America’s fishing history has an underrecorded chapter of Black women fishing the lakes and rivers of the South since well before the Civil War. “Native American women taught a lot of African American women to fish. It was a means to get food,” says Green, who is 53 and lives in Tampa, Florida, landing in the Sunshine State in 2007. “It wasn’t considered a high-society thing. But a lot of women enjoyed it. It was their way to get away from everything that was going on.
“I learned a lot from my great-grandmother about that,” he adds. “Then when I had some incredible people on the show, I’d hear the same anecdotal evidence about how their great-grandmother or grandmother taught them. The men were out working. The women would come home with the fish and feed the family.”
Green is one of the few African Americans in professional fishing, an enlightened voice in the outdoor world. He lives in Florida but grew up in San Antonio, a child of sports and the outdoors. “The typical day, especially in the summertime, was to be out all day, building go-karts, hunting, fishing and exploring,” Green says. “My mom would encourage it because we were just driving her crazy. You just had to be home when the lights came on. If those street lights came on before you came home, oh my goodness.” Green laughs at the memory.
After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1991, where he was an All-American sprinter and received an education degree, Green went into the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class, serving as an officer for six years before landing a position in the diagnostic division at Abbott Laboratories. He had three children — Ryan, Joshua and Lauren — while selling medical devices in the fields of immunology, hematology and clinical chemistry. He continued to fish and, as his children got older, competed in tournaments, his first in 1996.
Green notched his first tournament victory March 14, 2015, the one he didn’t practice for, as he puts it. “It was an American Bass Anglers tournament with about 120 anglers on Lake Tohopekaliga,” he says. “It meant so much because I had to commit to an area. I had to guess where the bass would be during that time of the year because I didn’t practice at all.”
The unexpected death of his mother in 2008 had directed Green toward his passions. “On her deathbed, one of the things my mother told me was to not to kill myself chasing all that money,” he says. “She said to do what you love.”
After she died, Green says he “went into a difficult place. But the way that I went about processing it … I would fish every single day. I had gone through a divorce, and I had so many things hitting me at once. But the one thing that I latched on to, not knowing that it would have that therapeutic value, was fishing, literally every single day.”
Green says he would sometimes fish for 10 or 12 hours at a time, finding solace on Florida’s sprawling waterways, including Lake Okeechobee, Lake Jackson, Lake Tohopekaliga and the Harris Chain. “I had a lot of time to think, and there were a lot of good things that came out of it,” he says. “The next thing you know, I start to become pretty good.” He added more tournaments to his schedule, and as he notched victories, sponsorships followed. He fished American Bass Anglers, Fishing League Worldwide and Bassmaster events.
In 2011, Green gave a presentation at a sales meeting in Texas and caught the interest of a video production crew that was covering the event. Purely by chance, he ran into the team again while they were filming a tournament in Plattsburgh, New York, and they expressed interest in working with Green. Green told them his story, explained what he believed was missing from fishing and handed over a 28-page business plan that he’d developed.
The result is a show that’s as much about people as it is fishing — inspiring stories told through a shared passion, often as Green and his guest are on the water fishing. He’s hosted celebrities, professional athletes, fellow professional anglers and folks with dramatic life stories. The format celebrates the tradition of conversation between two friends while they fish, interspersed with Green’s infectious laughter at each hookup. He is nine seasons deep and has collected three Telly Awards, which recognize excellence in video and television.
“The essence of the show is not about Ronnie Green. I’m the facilitator,” he says. “The title doesn’t matter. We’re telling people’s life stories, the difficult parts as well as the beautiful parts. We want viewers to be inspired by someone’s story so they can live their best life.”
It would be inaccurate to call fishing a “White” pursuit. Through the slavery and Jim Crow eras, African Americans took part in all manner of life on the water. Black fishermen and women played a major role in commercial shellfishing after emancipation, specifically on the Gulf of Mexico, running independent operations until more industrialized methods relegated them to mostly laborers. Green points out that most African Americans have avoided obtaining fishing licenses — he says he didn’t know they existed until he was 18 but is now a vocal proponent — and therefore never figured into statistical demographics. Furthermore, Black fishermen are rarely represented in the fishing media and fishing industry, though that’s changing.
As an African American, Green says he encountered incidents of prejudice in the military and corporate America. “But in the fishing world, there was more,” he says. “In order to become a Marine, there is a breaking down of the narratives and belief system you had about other people. You came to understand that we are all one as United States Marines. It’s similar in corporate America. You have to have a degree and experience or a transferable skill set that allow you into that portal.
“Those two examples are very specific because you have a vetting process,” he continues. “In fishing, everyone is qualified. You can’t do personality profiles. Some people in the fishing world have never been exposed to a person who looks like me.”
Green once fished with a White angler who’d never encountered a person of color. He could sense the man’s discomfort, and it came through in their dialogue. He tells another story of a Florida apparel startup that reached out to someone who had been a guest on an episode of A Fishing Story to ask: “What were you doing with that n-word on that n-word show?”
Green takes the high road. “What my mother and my father taught me, and I remember it to this day, is that when someone is uncomfortable with you, the root is insecurity,” he says. “That can facilitate racism or jealousy. At the end of the day, there will always be poor people, and that has nothing to do with anything financial. My dad used to call it poor in spirit, poor understanding of people outside yourself. Poor self-esteem is a catalyst for hate.”
When the apparel company learned about Green’s significant platform, he says, it suddenly found 30 or 40 African American anglers to send free apparel to. “I’ve seen every playbook because I’ve lived it every single day,” he says. “The key is to call it out but keep it moving.”
As part of his show’s eighth season — during the height of last summer’s racial unrest — Green released a two-part episode called “The Difficult Discussion.” The segments feature professional African American fishermen Mark Daniels Jr. and Brian Latimer, along with fellow pro anglers and friends Steve Dial and James Watson, who are White. Sitting around a table, they delved into the issues tearing at our country during a particularly divisive era.
Green started the discussion by telling a story of an episode of police brutality he experienced as a young man. Each of the anglers expressed their views about prejudice in modern America. All five told personal stories and touched on the issues surrounding policing, civil rights activist and former pro football player Colin Kaepernick, protests, riots, looting and patriotism. It was perhaps a discussion that few in the fishing world could have driven as well as Green.
“I’ve been blown away by the feedback,” he says. “I get a letter every few days from someone saying they had never heard of our show but came across it. And they happened to watch ‘The Difficult Discussion.’ And they tell me, ‘This is what we need — friends, people that we trust, getting together and having a civil dialogue.’ That’s very rewarding.”
Green says he can make a living fishing, “but my priority is TV.” He praises Bass Pro Shops and Mercury Marine for presenting his show and promoting inclusivity. “It’s a risk for these brands,” he says. “Sometimes you have to clear out some of the old way of thinking. It’s not always popular. They’ll get a lot of pushback, but they know they’re on the right side of history. When we get to a place where we’re not trying to figure out who is right, but we stand for what’s right, we will be a better country.”
Daniels admits he doesn’t want to have to pick a side. He calls himself a Delta Rat, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and fishing the California Delta. He earned a degree in agricultural biology from the historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama, then took an agricultural field position with the state of California before turning pro and moving back to Alabama, where he fishes competitively full time and is raising a family.
Daniels heard about Green as Green made his way through the professional bass ranks. “If there was another Black man in professional fishing, I was going to make a point of meeting him,” he says.
Daniels has a genuine respect for his elder pro, and the two fished together until Green kind of fell off the radar. “I slowed down tournament fishing and put my efforts into the show,” Green says. “I still fish the Bassmaster Opens and other small tournament circuits when it does not conflict with my TV schedule.”
Daniels didn’t realize Green was busy filming his show until Daniels was asked to be a guest. “The outdoor industry has a way of being blind to a lot of behavior,” he says, “but I feel like it’s my place to speak out, and I’ve learned so much from Ronnie. He’s producing a successful, recognizable TV show, and he’s a leader. He’s a fan of people. His happiness comes from seeing others succeed, and seeing that, as a Black man, is inspiring. It’s been very impactful to see someone who looks like me do that with such success.”
Today, Green acts as a conduit, helping all people access fishing. “I think it starts with the child,” he says. “There’s a lot that can be molded and taught. They’re an innocent sponge.”
Green started the May Youth Foundation, an outreach to help youth from underserved minority communities to realize their purpose and strengths. It’s not just about teaching a kid to fish, but also the careers and lifestyles they can build and, perhaps more important, the value of the outdoors to mental health.
“Fishing is so powerful,” Green says. “It’s a universal thing that’s been around since the beginning of time. And if we can keep our insecurities out of it, it remains that one simple thing that is so pure.”