When Dave Mercer was in high school, a poster adorned his locker.
But it wasn't of a big-name pro athlete or a favourite actor. Rather, it was of pro angler Hank Parker with his '89 Bassmasters Classic trophy.
Decades later, fishing remains Mercer's obsession.
The former tournament angler is the longtime host — often with a funny, off-the-wall twist — of "Dave Mercer's Facts of Fishing" television show. He also writes a blog, operates a podcast with partner Luke Dunkin and produces a fishing news segment.
The show, podcast and news segments can all be seen on YouTube. Mercer, 46, also speaks at seminars across North America and is in his 11th year as MC of the Bassmasters Classic and Elite Series.
The third '21 Elite Series event begins Thursday on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala.
When Mercer isn't working, he fishes recreationally. In fact, the Mercer home in Port Perry, Ont., is on the shores of Lake Scugog so Mercer, his wife, Sarah, and their two teenage children can maximize family time on the water.
"My livelihood is fishing, my passion is fishing and my obsession is fishing," the affable Mercer said during a recent telephone interview. "I love to fish, my kids love to fish, Sarah loves to fish but a pet peeve of mine is I never get enough time to fish with them because I'm travelling so much.
"That's actually why we moved on to the water. Sure, it's not hard to launch your boat and go but if you only have a couple of hours, most times you're not going to go through with it. Now, (14-year-old son) Jack and I will go out after dinner and throw a frog for an hour and a half and have a lot of fun."
While Mercer's loves what he does, it's still plenty of work as he estimates he's on the road around 260 days a year. The Facts of Fishing is in its 14th year featuring Mercer's unique style of mixing tips and expertise with sometimes zany antics like eating worms, minnows or even plastic lures to experience taste from a fish's perspective.
In '09, Mercer used a rod and reel to cast the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game. He has even gone to the extreme of jamming a hook into his hand to demonstrate how to remove it safely.
"I love what I do and when you have a job doing what you love, you don't feel like it's work," he said. "I feel like life is all about opportunities and making the most of them.
"At times, it's a challenge with scheduling. Last year (with the COVID-19 pandemic) was really crazy which is why I did podcasts because shooting TV shows was near impossible with boat ramps being closed. Sometimes it's a balancing act but it's my life. Do I want more free time? Yes. But do I want stop doing any of those things? No. And ridiculously, I want to do other stuff."
While the global pandemic has curtailed Mercer's travel, he still makes trips to the U.S. with his Bassmasters duties and is tested often.
"I think people believe we get tested much less than we do," Mercer said. "To date, I've had 27 COVID tests and now I get tested three times for every trip.
"I get tested within 48 hours before I go to the U.S., I get tested within 72 hours before returning home and I get tested as soon as I get back to Canada and I isolate. Now, the only other option is to not see my family when I come home, but we still like each other."
Most of Mercer's travel to film content for his productions is within a few hours of home. But one perk of Mercer's job is heading to some unique locations.
"The two coolest places I've been where I honestly just stood there and pinched myself were the Arctic Circle and Amazon jungle," he said. "When you're at the Arctic Circle and look north, you realize there's not another human as far as you can see and that's kind of a cool, weird feeling.
"I was at the Amazon River fishing for peacock bass, which are gigantic fish that have explosive hits. You'd think one of the oddest things would be seeing a snake but it wasn't. While I was fishing, a flock of parrots flew above me, toucans, and you wouldn't ever think you're going to see the thing on the cereal box fly over your head."
Mercer said the evolution of his TV show has largely been driven by viewers. And that includes incorporating his infectious but unique laugh into segments.
"I hated my laugh growing up, I think I used to hide it because people made fun of it," Mercer said. "Now, people have it as their ringtone and that's weird but it was viewers who pointed it out.
"You always point out the things that you don't have in a line of work. I've always looked at it like Dave Mercer is such a boring name, it's so generic. I've always looked at guys like Bob Izumi and thought, 'See? He has so much to work with.'"
Although Mercer has fished for nearly everything that swims, his favourite species is one that lives just outside his door.
"I definitely say bass because they obsess so much of my life," he said. "But at the same time I think there's nothing cooler than fishing for something you've never caught before.
"Whether it's something exotic or drifting the Niagara River for the first time, I love that feeling of, 'I don't know how it hits. I don't know what this is going to feel like.' I love that experience of figuring it out."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press