Life on the River

On a boat they built themselves, Matt Kline of Dubois, his son, Shelby, 12, and their dog, Willy, navigate the Ohio River on Sept. 21. The father-son duo has bonded over their love of fishing. A waterfront lot along the Ohio River in Cannelton has become the Kline family’s home away from home.

Story by Hendrix Magley
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump

You never know what lurks below.

It’s a saying that 12-year-old Shelby Kline of Dubois uses to describe what life is like fishing on the mighty Ohio River. Even though Shelby is still rather young, he already has a decade of fishing experience under his belt. For as long as he can remember, he’s been somewhere on the water with his father, Matt.

Fishing and outdoor activities run in the Kline family’s blood. For Matt and Shannelle (Everman) and their children, Shelby and Kaitlyn, as well as their dog, Willy, it’s become sort of a getaway. It’s the reason why six years ago they decided to lease a plot of land at the Rocky Point Marina in Cannelton, directly on the Deer Creek side of the river.

“It’s our home away from home,” Shannelle said. “People have their Florida summer homes, but this is our Ohio River summer home.”

The Kline family’s camper parked at their waterfront lot is adorned with fishing-themed stickers representing the whole family: Shelby, Matt, Shannelle, Kaitlyn and their dogs, Tiny and Willy.

The Klines make the trip from their home in Dubois to Cannelton (54 miles, about a 45- to 50-minute drive) basically every weekend from mid-February until the week before Thanksgiving. While some weekends it may only be Matt and some weekends it’s the entire family, it’s almost a guarantee that there will be a member of the Kline family on the Ohio River at some point during any given weekend.

The mainstay on their land is their Sierra RV that’s parked under a shelter they added to the property. Of course, there’s also the boat — with the bright green paint job, it’s hard to miss.

While the family does a variety of activities — like hosting fish frys with family members and other Rocky Point Marinagoers and fetching sticks with Willy — the main activity is fishing.

“I get an adrenaline rush every time,” Matt said. “Fishing on the Ohio River is the closest a Southern Indiana boy is going to get to deep sea fishing. You can just see it in people’s eyes when they reel in a fish like ‘What do I got?’ The adrenaline rush is just through the roof.”

Matt grew up in Lamar, a small town in Spencer County, where he recalls fishing in small creeks and other bodies of water when given the opportunity. The anticipation and excitement for what you might catch helped draw his interest into fishing.

However, Matt was mostly on the water by himself.

“I had to learn the hard way in a creek by myself, that was my summer,” Matt said. “I can count on one hand how many times me and my dad went fishing. My uncle Francis was the one who got me into fishing as he’d take me down to Troy and different creeks. I was a creek boy.”

While Matt’s father didn’t enjoy fishing that much, Shelby didn’t have to worry about that growing up. When Shelby was younger, Matt used to fish in professional bass fishing and catfishing tournaments.

Shelby and Matt joke as they wait for fish to bite. Shelby said that the most important lesson fishing has taught him is patience.

Matt remembers taking Shelby and Kaitlyn to some of his tournaments when they were younger, but as the kids got older, it became more difficult to continuously travel to different lakes to compete in events.

“I told [Shannelle] that this was something you just couldn’t take away from me,” Matt said. “But I told her if we were able to get a camp down [at Rocky Point], then I’d be done tournament fishing. Since then, I’ve only fished two tournaments in the past eight years.”

Shelby’s interest in fishing started way back when he was just 2 years old, as that was the very first time Matt ever took him on the boat. Shannelle can even recall Shelby saying when he was in kindergarten how he wanted to be a professional catfisherman someday.

While he tried different sports and even dabbled in hunting, nothing quite grasped Shelby’s interest like fishing did. From learning the river with his father to now teaching other kids his age and even older how to fish, Shelby has the experience of a grown-up, despite being just 12 years old. Younger kids at the marina will often follow him around and beg him to take them fishing with him the next time he goes out on the water.

“I start getting nervous because they all start to run up to the boat and I have to tell them to scoot back,” Shelby said, describing how anxious the kids get whenever they see him step foot on the boat.

Shelby and his dog, Willy, walk along the water as Matt prepares their boat for a fishing excursion on Sept. 21. Matt and Shelby often pick up litter around the boat launch in Cannelton.Matt added: “That makes me the happiest, because I know even if I never fish again, he can go out and fish by himself.”

Matt and Shelby spend most of their time together on the boat. They built the boat together, they reel in their fish together and they learn the ways of the Ohio River together.

The relationship the father and son have built continues to grow as they spend hours upon hours on the water searching for a 50-pound catfish — something that’s still eluded Shelby to this point — and navigating the waters that have become the Klines’ second home.

“Your No. 1 thing as a parent is to let [your kids] learn — you can’t force them,” Matt said about how Shelby chose fishing as his favorite pastime. “After Shelby makes mistakes, I’ll ask him about it and he knows what he did wrong or what he did right. This river is always changing — every weekend is a new challenge.”

Matt teaches Shelby how to use an old-school mode on the fish finder. Shelby said his father has taught him "over a million" different things.

However, on Oct. 21, Shelby accomplished a brand new goal — winning his first tournament. He competed in the Larry Young Cancer Benefit Tournament and took home first place.

But, the most impressive thing he did came after the tournament.

Shelby won money for placing first, but instead of keeping the money himself, he gave it back to Larry Young to raise more money for the cancer benefit — something that made his father very proud.

Matt and Shelby aren’t the only ones in the family who fish or have made some big hauls. In fact, Matt described 2018 as the “Year of Mom,” as Shanelle caught a 70-pound catfish in early July.

The member of the family that has the most fun on the river, however, may just be their 5-year-old Jack Russell-beagle mix pup, Willy.

Willy is well known around Rocky Point, as the neighbor kids will often fetch sticks and run around the creek with him. But Willy’s favorite place to be? At the front of the boat when the family goes out on the water. It’s even earned him the nickname of “Captain.”

When Willy starts to see Asian carp jumping out of the water, he starts acting just a little different.

“That dog was born on the water,” Matt said. “But he turns into a whole new dog — he’s in attack mode once he sees the carp.”

As soon as Matt drives the boat into an area where the carp are plentiful, he shouts to his pup, “Hey Willy, game on.” And, boy, does Willy go insane. He’s even jumped out of the boat a few times.

Shannelle Kline of Dubois, left, her husband Matt, right, and their son Shelby, 12, center, host a fish fry and barbecue for family and friends at their waterfront lot in Cannelton on Aug. 25.

However, it’s not just the fishing and antics of Willy that make the Klines’ spot at Rocky Point Marina feel like home. It’s the gatherings and conversations they’ve had with people all over the country who come boating down the Ohio River. The best get-togethers are the fish frys that pop up almost every weekend.

Shelby samples a piece of fried fish on Aug. 25.

Almost everyone seems to host at least one fish fry per summer, and the Klines have hosted several times before. But this past summer, they had a huge showing at the one they hosted in August, with family members, Rocky Point neighbors and friends from Dubois County showing up to participate in the extravaganza.

Matt cooked different types of fish, like catfish, bluegill and gar — whatever people wanted.

After the gathering started with the Kline’s family prayer — “Come Lord Jesus be our guest, let to us this food be blessed” — in both German and English, the food was served and the kids in attendance screamed with jubilance. Some of the adults did, too.

“We eat like kings down here,” Matt said with a laugh. “We’re always ready to have everybody dig in.”

No matter the weather and no matter what activities the Klines have planned for any given weekend, it’s a guarantee they’ll have a good time at their home away from home.

The outdoors run deep in their blood, so it’s only appropriate it’s where the family spends the majority of its time — and there’s nothing quite like the challenge that being on the river brings.

“I grew up [on the river], and it’s where I got my roots from,” Matt said. “I love the challenge — if we caught a big fish every weekend, we wouldn’t even be down here. You learn to take the worst possible situations and make the most of it.”

With a view of his fishing rods and the Cannelton Locks and Dam, Shelby rests with his feet dangling over the edge of the boat on Sept. 23. Shelby prefers being on the water to being on land. “The water is just so calming,” Shelby said. “The moon really shines on the water at night.”


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