Pam Dudding Contributing writer
Like many kids in Craig County, fishing becomes a favorite sport at a young age, especially when one gets taught by their dad.
Nine-year-old Hunter Ponton is no exception to this, however, he has become exceptional.
Hunter’s interest into fishing goes back to the young age of three. His dad, Bub, shares his story.
“Every year Howard Hales Hunting Camp would put on a little fishing rodeo there behind my homeplace at the CC camp on Barbours Creek. Hunter’s paw-paw Jimmy Williams wanted me to bring him down to fish,” Bub shared. “It had been a family tradition since they started hosting the event in 2010.”
Hunter’s first fishing rodeo there was in 2013, where Hunter caught his first fish.
“It was a nice rainbow trout,” Bub said. “I recall the memories of him been so excited. Little did I know this would be the start to Hunter’s fishing lifestyle.”
As time passed, Hunter always enjoyed “catching fish of any kind.”
Bub shared that he grew up trout fishing and “doing a little bit of everything but my passion was hunting.” And, yes, Hunter likes to hunt with his dad too.
Bub recollected, “It was ten degrees one day in snowy and windy weather. Me and Hunter went to get in a deer blind but the whole time he wanted to fish. I told him it was freezing. Still, I took him fishing and he fished till dark and never complained once.”
He told his wife, Angie, one evening, “I think I know what Hunter loves, he may hunt but his true love is fishing.”
Sadly, it was during this time Hunter had a minor bump in the road after receiving some required children’s vaccines.
His parents shared that he suffered through many complications and continues to battle daily.
“Now he is also legally blind in his right eye,” Bub shared. “I had to teach him to shoot left-handed although he’s a righty.”
Bub and Angie shared that Hunter just wasn’t himself for months.
“It was breaking our hearts watching him go through this. He would have to touch his ears and nose before he would talk, he would repeat over and over and cry for hours sometimes for no reason,” they said. “He handles it differently now, but he still fights it. We tried everything. We prayed and prayed for things to get better and they did.”
During this time, Bub said he would ask Hunter all the time, “What do you want to do?”
One evening Hunter said he wanted to go fishing. “So, we did, and he caught some fish. I will never forget the happiness I saw it bring to Hunter’s face, and I could see him being a kid again,” Bub said.
So just like kids playing baseball and basketball and their parents pushing them, Hunter watched Bass Masters along with many fishing shows.
“He said he wanted to be a professional fisherman and Marine biologist,” Bub added. “So, it slowly began.”
Bub then told Hunter they needed a boat to go down in the weeds.
The new chapter began as Hunter’s paw-paw, Jimmy Williams gave him his Dads boat, a 1972 Sears which Bub and Hunter totally refinished, including its trailer. “It’s very special to us!” they shared as Bub patted the side.
Bub continued, “Then, Hunters interest in musky fishing grew fast with the size and the talk of the fish. Hunter told me he wanted to catch one, so I reached out Luke Kesler and he gave me plenty of tips and information to help get us started.”
Luke holds the Jesse Carper Memorial Musky Tournament every year, and is an advent musky fisherman.
“Well needless to say, Hunter and I got a rod and reel, a few musky lures and away we went,” he said. “I remember the day Hunter finally hooked his first one. We got it netted and I remember Hunter saying, ‘they are real.’”
Just in case though, Bub always kept a small rod and reel in the boat for Hunter to catch something like a bluegill or bass to pass the time.
“It makes me laugh now,” Bub reminisced. “Jesse had invited me to go musky fishing and I laughed and said I didn’t care about catching one. Now, it seems that it is all that me and Hunter do.”
“They say the musky is a fish of 10,000 casts. I think it was more like 30,000,” Bub added with a laugh. It didn’t take long until both Hunter and Bub were on the fast pace of musky fishing.
“We got more gear, joined the local musky club, met so many great friends along the way and began to learn a lot about musky fishing,” Bub shared. “Then we started fishing musky tournament’s and spending countless days fishing.”
In May of 2019, they received a message from T.L. Wagner and Brandon Briggs that was a surprise and became a blessing beyond imagination.
Their shop, W.B. Musky, had been following Hunter’s fishing and hearing much about him, wanting him to become their first youth ambassador to show and advertise their products.
“Last year in the First Annual Jesse Carper Memorial Youth Tournament, Hunter placed third. This began an itch to find more youth tournaments,” Bub continued.
“Then shortly after that a well-known business, Figureight Musky Gear, announced they would be hosting their First Annual Musky in the Mountains Youth Tournament. Hunter was ready and said, ‘I’m going to fish as hard as I can to try and win first-place.’”
And, he did. “He gave it his all, catching a 37½-inch musky that just barely got first place,” Bub shared.
Hunter said that he was both excited and nervous wondering if his fish would be big enough to win. He has the plaque and trophy that he is proud of.
Bub added, “Just one-inch difference in the fish separated him and Luke Kessler’s son David Lee which was pretty cool, having two local fellas win a WV/VA musky tourney with the only two muskies caught.”
This gave Hunter more exposure in his life’s love of fishing.
He has fished with some men who have won bigtime musky tournaments including, Tony Grant, Gregg Thomas and Lance Seasor. They have all won the PMTT, Professional Musky Tournament Trail Championships and are well-known musky fishermen.
“He does videos of lures and wears gear for companies,” Bub said. “Lure Builders build him things to try and advertise.”
Some companies send him lures to try and apparel to wear. This excites Hunter.
Also, Muskie Inc. Magazine had the picture of Bub pulling in a 43-inch musky with Hunter’s hand on it. They called Hunter the “Muskie Hunter.” The magazine editor added, “This is one of my favorite images that have ever crossed my email inbox. I knew as soon as I saw it that I would have to find a way to feature this on the cover. For me, this image is all about body gesture. Hunter’s facial expression conveys that he’s pretty awestruck. Even the way he’s leaning his chin on his hand gives us a sense that he’s in deep contemplation over the beauty of this fish. Then, to top it all off, his outstretched hand – that’s placed ever so gently on the back of the fish – further conveys the enormity of the moment for Hunter.”
“Then something special happened,” Bub shared. “We received our Muskie Inc. Magazine and through our Chapter Club, I entered the fish that Hunter caught in a log well. We noticed Hunter was in the top 10 so we set out to try to win.”
This was for the Muskies Inc. Youth Nationals, age 12 and under. There were 73 kids that participated throughout the U.S.
Bub explained, “Needless to say, we spent as much time fishing as we could. He missed winning and came up just a little short in second place in the youth nationals which was an amazing achievement.”
Hunter said that it made him “super happy and that all the time spent paid off.”
COVID-19 put a damper on the 2020 tournaments and gatherings; however, Luke still had the Jesse Carper Memorial Tournament and the Second Annual Youth Tournament.
Hunter said he was grateful to his sponsors, his mom of Guthrie Insurance, WB Musky Shop and Steve Gould of Trophy Time Leaders and Lures.
Also, Hunter took third in their year-long Muskie Club Chapter Tournament which is judged on points earned by the fish you catch.
When one visits Hunter at home, he is more than happy to give a tour.
In the garage, there are rows of lures. Hundreds and they are all different, yet Hunter will explain each one individually and tell you what he caught with them, or who made it for him and how each works.
“This is my suicide sucker,” he said as he held it high. “I named it. It is one of his favorites amongst all his lures.”
Bub added, “The tail kicks off a vibration as musky fish have lateral lines in their sides which help them to feel the vibration, letting them know there is something moving in the water.”
Hunter held another lure which was a top water lure. “It pops on the top of the water like this,” he explained motioning the lure. “It’s called the ‘walk the dog’ as you twitch the reel side to side to make it walk.”
Then he told of his purple spinner, which he caught another musky with.
As you enter Hunter’s home, there is what Angie calls, “The wall of Hunter’s fame,” which is fully covered with his fishing pictures.
He quickly started sharing the story of each.
“This one I caught with the top water, and this is my biggest one at 47 inches at St. Clair. I went to fish in Kentucky with a guy who won the professional musky tour, we were using live suckers and I caught that one that was 37 inches,” he shared with excitement.
Then his bedroom hosts many captures. Amongst all the fish he still had his dear skulls and horns that he had gotten during seasons.
Hunter already has 10 or 11 citations for rainbow, trout, catfish, large mouth bass and musky.
He explained that “Santa got me this” as he turned page after page of a journal where he had his pictures of his fish and description of each that he had caught. He could explain every page without looking at its details. He had a difficult time picking out a favorite, as all of them seem special to him.
Already, businesses and people have contacted Hunter’s dad to have Hunter sit in their booths at major upcoming shows, to promote their equipment and lures.
“I’m going to have to go to that one, then that one, then that one,” Hunter explained with a grin.
Hunter’s parents believe that he will continue to chase his dream of been a local fishing guide, fishing professional and biologist.
“I think it’s a big goal and I told Hunter nothing stands between you and your goals. You need to work hard, learn from your mistakes and continue to climb to the top, always putting others before yourself and keeping God leading you, and you’re unstoppable,” Bub shared.
Hunter invites anyone to follow him on Facebook at Hunter Pontons Outdoor Adventures. Plus, Hunter said he is going to be on U-Tube soon. Who knows, one day he may be on the Big-tube!