Optimist Junior Anglers Club return to fish at ‘Ding’ Darling
For the second year in a row, summer unofficially started along the shoreline of Wildlife Drive on Monday as more than two dozen members of the Optimist Junior Anglers Club spent the morning fishing the waters of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Optimist Club, the Optimist Junior Anglers Club (OJAC) is comprised of youngsters enrolled in the Sanibel Recreation Department’s eight-week Summer Day Camp program who gather each week to do some fishing in local waters.
“I think that this is a great opportunity for children to get out there and learn a little bit about nature and the island environment,” said Optimist Club member Amy Wainwright. “Everything that we do is for kids, and this is a fantastic hands-on activity.”
Aimed at kids enrolled in fifth through eighth grades, the club is also sponsored by Bailey’s General Store (which provides bait), Tarpon Bay Explorers (which provides fishing rods and reels as well as two boat excursions), the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the City of Sanibel’s Recreation Department.
“When we went to Bailey’s to pick up the bait, they gave us twice what we asked for!” said fellow Optimist Dani Howard.
Monday’s debut outing proved a busy one for the OJAC participants. One after another, kids kept plucking the feisty fish from refuge waters. The first angler to land a prize was Billy Waichulis, who reeled-in a 14-inch ladyfish. All of the fish caught were unhooked, measured, photographed and released.
“Fishing helps me get better with my patience,” said Samantha Paxton, who thought she had caught her first fish of the day but instead reeled-in a large red leaf. “And I use my patience when I pull up something that needs to be unstuck!”
Several Rec Center counselors monitored the anglers, offering to help them bait their hooks or remove any of the fish caught. Volunteers from the San-Cap Optimist Club offered their advice on how to cast and helped identify some of the fish caught by the group.
“It’s great for the kids to get outside and enjoy the summer weather,” said Wainwright, who also noted that she was surprised to see how many girls were interested in participating in the activity.
“Some of them are REALLY good at it!” she added.
OJAC member Sam Arensman smiled broadly after landing a 13-inch pinfish, caught on the northern side of Wildlife Drive. Fellow angler Jacob Atkinson, although he had yet to catch anything but sunshine in the 90 minutes he spent fishing the refuge, remained optimistic about his future prospects in these waters.
“I got a lot of bites, but nothing caught,” said Atkinson.
Over the next seven weeks, the OJAC will fish from various locations around the islands, including Blind Pass, the Causeway Islands, Bailey Road and — next Monday morning — from a pontoon boat on Tarpon Bay.
“Last year, I caught a four-foot bonnethead shark there,” Atkinson added. “I hope to catch something big again next week — that’s my honey hole right there!”