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Youngsters catch plenty of reel fun with Tarpon Bay Explorers

By Staff | Jun 14, 2011

Captain Steve Maddix, right, teaches Savanna how to cast a net at targets on dry ground before going out on the water. This was one of four lessons Savanna’s group from Florida Baptist Children’s Home learned before going on a fishing expedition.

Good things come to those who bait.

For a group of 25 lucky children at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the warm and sunny day became an adventure. The children, all from the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, were treated to a fun-filled day of fishing in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

“We love to do this event,” said TBE co-owner Wendy Schnapp. “This is a wonderful group of kids.”

Before heading out on the water, the kids spent time learning about fishing skills, boating safety and the marine life in the bay. In the Explorer’s Touch Tank Exhibit naturalist Donna Yetsko taught the kids about small critters that inhabit Tarpon Bay. They got their hands wet and learned about sea stars, horseshoe crabs, seahorses and snails like the true tulip.

An important aspect of boating safety is wearing personal flotation devices, or PFDs. Refuge interns Joe Stack and Rachel Krauss gave the group of children a fun lesson on property fitting and wearing their PFDs. Two important skills to know for a day of fishing are cast netting for bait and tying knots in fishing lines.

Naturalist Donna Yetsko teaches a group of children visiting Tarpon Bay Explorers around the live touch tank. They got their hands wet while learning about small critters that inhabit Tarpon Bay.

TBE Captains Andy Pollack and Steve Maddix helped each child learn how to handle and throw a cast net at targets on dry ground while Ranger Becky Wolff and STAR teacher Kinti Snider taught the group how to tie the easy but strong Palomar know in their fishing lines.

After an hour on land, the group was eager to get out on the water and their new skills. The water was calm and the sky was sunny as the group departed on four of the Explorer’s family-sized pontoon boats, accompanied by Captains Pollack, Maddix, Tom Florence and Joe Mirabile, along with Ranger Becky and several others.

The kids fished with 2,000 live shrimp as bait, donated by Shallow Bait. All of the children caught a fish and some of them caught more than 10 fish. There were reported sightings of stingray, jellyfish, birds, and manatees with one group joined by a dolphin that swam around their boat the entire adventure.

“The fish stories kept growing on the boat,” said Ranger Becky. “It was a great day for the kids.”

Upon their return to shore, a final tally revealed a total of 99 fish caught and more than a dozen different species including Sea Trout, Redfish and several Bonnethead Sharks had been spotted.

Jasper, Jazzy and Sonia practice tying a Palomar knot for their fishing lines before heading out on Tarpon Bay Explorer’s pontoon boat for a little fishing adventure.

“The idea is to get kids connected with nature, which is something they don’t do often enough,” noted Ranger Wolff.

The program was designed to give kids experiences they may never otherwise enjoy. After a day of learning and fishing fun, the kids received a fishing pole and bag of goodies to remember their experience at TBE. As the kids enjoyed a lunch prepared by sponsor and “grill master” George Schnapp of George & Wendy’s Corner Grill, they were joined by their foster families, refuge staff and TBE staff and shared tales of their fishing adventure.

“We caught catfish, grunt and trout,” said Trevor, a member of the visiting group who had never been on a boat fishing. “I want to do it again.”

Richard and Denise Shelton, relief parents at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, were thankful for the exciting day of adventure for these children.

“We appreciate all the groups that came together to provide this opportunity for the kids, not just to fish, but to learn about fishing skills, boating safety and the marine life,” the couple said.

Tommy and Trevor, two out of a group of 25 kids from Florida Baptist Children’s Home, stand with a sign naming the sponsors who support the mission of connecting children with nature.

Other sponsors of the day were The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Over the past eight years, TBE has offered visitors to the refuge a variety of nature-themed activities, including Tram Tours of Wildlife Drive, a Nature & Sea Life Cruise, kayak, canoe and bicycle rentals, educational programs (including their Touch Tank) and Sunset Rookery Paddle Tours.

The Explorers also operate a Gift & Nature Shop, selling a wide array of wildlife and nature-themed items. There is a vast selection of books for children and adults, clothing, toys and elegant home décor and jewelry.

Stop by to see what the Explorers have to offer at 900 Tarpon Bay Road, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on tours and rentals to explore the Refuge, call 472-8900 or visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com.