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Kids fish for fun at ‘Ding’ with Tarpon Bay Explorers

By Staff | Nov 24, 2010

TBE naturalist Steve Yetsko, second from left, shows children from the Boys Club and Liberty Youth Ranch a horseshoe crab in the Touch Tank.

On Nov. 13, Tarpon Bay Explorers (TBE) hosted 10 children from local Boys and Girls Clubs and eight children from the Liberty Youth Ranch for an exciting day of fishing at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The day began bright and early on the waterfront of Tarpon Bay when the group of children was welcomed by TBE co-owner Wendy Schnapp and Refuge Ranger Becky Wolff. Schnapp and Wolff were joined by TBE staff and fishing captains, additional refuge staff and volunteers from the Sanibel Island Fishing Club as the children were split into groups to learn skills and knowledge that would help them on their upcoming fishing excursion.

Each group was treated to a visit to TBE’s Touch Tank exhibit, where naturalist Steve Yetsko taught the children about the small marine organisms — such as sea stars and horseshoe crabs — that live under the bay’s waters. Wolff and a refuge intern explained the importance of wearing life jackets when boating. They helped each child learn how to wear a properly fitted PFD, or personal floatation device.

Sanibel Island Fishing Club volunteers and TBE Captain Tom Florence took time to teach the children how to tie knots – like the palomar knot – that would be helpful for tying hooks onto their fishing lines.

Finally, TBE Captains Andy Pollack and Steve Maddix, along with a Fishing Club volunteer, taught each child how to throw a cast net to catch bait. Of course, the kids didn’t actually need to catch their own bait because Shallow Bait donated 1,500 plump shrimp for the fishing adventure.

TBE Captain Tom Florence, right, helps the Girls Club’s Grecia and Anahi learn how to tie a palomar knot.

It was a beautiful, breezy, sunny day as the children boarded TBE’s four pontoon boats with Refuge staff, Fishing Club volunteers and TBE Captains Steve Maddix, Andy Pollack, Tom Florence and Wally Mulka to find the fish in Tarpon Bay. And find the fish, they did!

Almost immediately, all of the groups were reeling in trout, ladyfish, bluefish and more. According to 9-year old Timothy from the Boys Club, Captain Wally’s group caught nine fish… and a boat! Twelve-year old Dee from Liberty Youth Ranch said he caught the “smallest and the biggest fish” on his boat. And 9-year old Angela from the Girls Club said with Captain Tom, her group caught “two gynormous fish!”

Upon returning to the dock, the children and volunteers were treated to a picnic lunch. George Schnapp of George and Wendy’s Corner Grill and Chef Kevin Decker were grilling fresh hot dogs for the entire group. Everyone stayed hydrated throughout the sunny day thanks to the water bottles donated by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society and Gatorades from TBE. The kids had a wonderful time sharing their fish tales with their friends, new and old.

At the end of the afternoon, each child was given his or her very own fishing pole thanks to the Sanibel Island Fishing Club. All of the volunteers and staff agreed that the kids were absolutely amazing, and the children were overjoyed from their fun-filled fishing adventure.

Many, many thanks to the event’s sponsors: Tarpon Bay Explorers, George and Wendy’s Corner Grill, the Sanibel Island Fishing Club, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society and Shallow Bait.

TBE Captain Andy Pollack, left, helps Liberty Youth Ranch’s Jared throw a cast net as Joseph looks on.