Former Lady Vikings’ state champ hoop coach shoots for different prize these days

Fred Fields, who coached the Huntington North High School girls’ basketball team to two state titles in the 1990s, poses with a smallmouth bass during a fishing excursion. His coaching days behind him, Fields now runs a fishing business, Coach’s Angle Charters, in Traverse City, MI, that sees him lead clients on fishing trips.
Fred Fields, who coached the Huntington North High School girls’ basketball team to two state titles in the 1990s, poses with a smallmouth bass during a fishing excursion. His coaching days behind him, Fields now runs a fishing business, Coach’s Angle Charters, in Traverse City, MI, that sees him lead clients on fishing trips. Photo provided.

Originally published Dec. 7, 2017.

For 10 seasons, Fred Fields coached the Huntington North High School girls’ basketball team, during which time he guided the Lady Vikings to state championships in 1990 and 1995.

Today, he navigates the lakes of northwest Michigan, searching for a different prize.
Fields is the proprietor of Coach’s Angle Charters, a business in Traverse City, MI, that sees him, an experienced fisherman, lead customers on fishing excursions.

He’s run the business now for the better part of a decade. While Fields initially conceived of the business as a three to four-day-a-week operation, he often finds himself working all week long.

“I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that,” remarks Fields. “Because if I was going to work that much, then I’d go get a regular job, you know?”

But Fields loves what he does. When he started the business, he was only licensed to lead charters on inland lakes. But four years ago, he attained licensure to venture onto the state’s biggest bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes.

And business has been booming ever since.

“I got probably about one-third of the business activity that I got after I had moved to the big water,” comments Fields. “I’ve never been involved in anything that took off like this.”

Fields’ busy season runs from June to mid-September. During this stretch of time, it’s not uncommon for him to be out on the water with clients from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. And when he returns to land in the evenings, he’ll typically have an hour or more of preparation to make for the next day’s excursions.

All the work, though, says Fields, is worth it for his clientele base, which can often be as diverse as the fish population in the Great Lakes themselves.

“I break my clients down into several different categories,” he says. “One of them is people who are just being tourists in this area, who happen to want to fish a day or two.

“But then I also have, I’d say at least 40 percent of my clients, are people who come up here specifically to fish.”

Regardless of skill level, they’re all after the same thing, though: making a big catch and documenting the achievement.

“The smallmouth bass is all catch and release,” says Fields, referring to his business’ signature fish. “It’s all basically picture-taking and that sort of thing.”

Before Fields turned his passion for fishing into a business, it was simply a recreational activity – one that often intersected with his life’s other great passion, basketball. Of his favorite fishing stories, one involves him soaking up knowledge from legendary boys’ basketball coach Bill Harrell, who led Muncie Central High School to three state titles in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I was telling him one day, I said, ‘Here’s my biggest fear for this upcoming season,’” says Fields, referring to a defense he was struggling to implement. “So, we’re crappie fishing on the Salamonie Reservoir and we’re having a great day… He said, ‘Pull this boat over here. Beach it over here.’

“So, we get over here. He says, ‘Get your tackle box out.’ So, he pulled out five green baits and five brown baits. So, he is laying them out on the deck of the boat and he’s showing me how to set up this one particular defense.”

Harrell and Fields went over the intricacies of the defense for half an hour. The impromptu education session stuck with Fields. Years later, in Michigan, he passed on the knowledge to a couple of basketball coaches who happened to be clients of his.

Fittingly, the exchange of information took place on a boat.
“We’re sitting here, we’re doing the same thing,” marvels Fields. “So, here I was, passing it down. We’re sitting there and we’re going through how to teach this and what not to overlook and all that sort of thing. I just get a kick out of it. As a matter of fact, it was kind of nostalgic, sitting there, because they were so eager to learn and they were just paying attention to every word and everything.”

Fields isn’t a stranger to playing the role of mentor to basketball coaches. When high school coaches in his area come to him for assistance, he’s happy to provide it.

“What I’ve done mostly, and I did this even before I left Indiana, what I was doing was scouting people,” he explains.

“Because when Coach Harrell had retired (from) Muncie Central, he got a lot of free time. So, what he would do for me, since I was taking him fishing in the summertime, he would come to our games as if he were a scout for the other teams and he would scout what he would do to beat us.”

Like Harrell, Fields strives to deliver his reports as candidly as possible.

“Sometimes it’s rather blunt,” he states. “Like, anybody sitting in the stands like me is going to see that your point guard is vulnerable. They’re going to be all over that. Here’s what you got to do to get that fixed.”

There’s only one problem with providing such a service, says Fields: just as there as irresistible baits for fish, basketball remains an irresistible bait for him. And he can always feel it start to reel him back in.

“Quite honestly, what happens is, when I go in and I start doing it, it’s kind of like, I want to do a little bit more and I want to do a little bit more,” he admits. “It’s not always easy to run in and just leave and leave them hanging and stuff.”

Fields arrived at Huntington North in 1987 and departed in 1997. In addition to the two state titles, he led the Lady Vikings to a state finals appearance in 1989, six regional championships and 10 sectional crowns.

For his coaching efforts, he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.

While Fields understandably has fond memories of the 1990 and 1995 teams, he says his recollections of other, less-heralded squads are just as indelible.

“I remember one year… we were something like 9-10 going into the sectional,” he recalls. “So, we’re finishing the season sub .500. Well, I think we finished 13-11. And we had a chance to win the regional on an inbounds play with two seconds on the clock. And we set up a play and we had a young lady who just was one of my favorites, because she wasn’t the most talented but, boy, (she was) the hardest-working kid. She had a shot that rolled around and rolled around and rolled around and rolled off. And we ended up losing by one.

“My point is there’s a team that was a stone’s throw away from the semi-state. Personally, I don’t forget those things, either.”

Today, Fields’ seven-day-a-week dedication to his business may seem obsessive to some. But to anyone who knew him when he coached basketball, that’s just who he is – ever-dedicated to helping people improve, whether it’s putting fish in a boat or a ball in a hoop.

“A normal person would say, ‘You’re taking this way too seriously,’” he says bemusedly. “Well, first of all, if you look at it with kids and basketball, if these kids are going to devote so much time and effort into it, you want to make sure you’ve done your part to make them as successful as possible.”