Fishing with Legends and Building the Future
Have you ever fished with Bill Dance?
This is a story about something a vast majority of our readers cannot imagine. It is about kids caught (there is no better word) in the machinery of foster care. And before you decide that the other story about catching a giant wolf-fish is more appropriate for the fishy mood you are in and click something to get off this page, give me a minute. We will get to the fishing soon enough. I'll drop some impressive names too, so hang in there. For now let's think about what I just said; think about foster care and what that means to a kid's life.
No matter how deep you reach into your pockets, or how compassionate and caring we can be in this beautiful nation, there ain't no amount of thinking that could put anybody into that foster care machine from the point of view of the young lives churning through it. I fished with a few of them today. In layman's terms, that means I was blessed to fish with a few of those kids on Monday, February 16th. Thanks to a lot of people working very hard, we spent the day fishing with a group of sixteen kids living – but being gently pulled from – that foster care system.
There are many beautiful stories that come out of children being protected and loved and gently handled out of the foster care system. Some get adopted quickly. Others grow to adults and exit their childhood moving from one home to another. Touching one life – just one – and seeing a child reach full and expansive and healthy adulthood is a very beautiful thing. Magical in many ways. When our editor Paul Kimpel told me I had a chance to fish with a couple of legends in the sport and that the event was for foster kids, there was nothing that would have stopped me from going short of a meteor making the Gulf move the thirteen miles east and fifty-two feet up it would take to wash away my house. Since that event would also wash away Clearwater, where we took the Double Eagle out for a half day of angling fun, I figured I was safe. Young minds full of hope and a few salty old angler friends; who would say no?
Name Dropping and a Bunch of Kids
The event was the results of the efforts of some incredible people. Misty Wells and her partner Tommy are the founders of A Reel Future, a 501c3 whose sole purpose is to get kids currently within the foster care systems away for a day of fun and learning. On the water, fishing with people that have some experience with both children and the sport, the children involved would begin to encounter adults who were safe; adults without any agenda other than teaching them the thrill of the pull, the friendship while you're patiently waiting for a Grouper bite, and the sense that not everybody is gonna' hurt them. On the contrary. The time on the water, the experience of catching their first fish, combined with the feel of that water, the smell of the air, and the thrill of the strike can become a life-changing memory.
Captain Tommy LaRonge – co-founder of A Reel Future was one of those kids. Not a kid anymore, the accomplished professional angler and yacht master came from that machine. Then a mentor – a lifesaving and caring man – brought him out on the water to wet his line and soften his life. That man, those fish, and a way out resulted in his bringing unique compassion and insights to the organization. His partner Misty Wells (a professional angler and hunter) and he did an amazing thing in bringing the fishing trip together. Although fishing with the likes of Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and Roland Martin – the big names I said I would drop – is fishing with the stars, the real stars of the trip today were the people that made it happen.
Thanks Misty. Thanks Captain Tommy. Well done.
Name Dropping - Fishing with the Stars
If you fish, especially if you fish for largemouth bass, the names Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin are ones that roll easily from the tongue. Between the three of them, many, many hours of information, education, and entertainment were created and enjoyed by our angling world. They have won all the big tournaments, they've caught the big bass, and they have created and starred in all the best fishing shows. Getting a chance to fish with any one of them, or spending a few hours telling and sharing stories with one, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an angler like me. Fishing with all three of them at the same time? You tell me how cool that is.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy before and had spoken briefly to Roland once upon a time. Bill Dance I had never had the pleasure of meeting. The three are largemouth legends, and their saltwater experience – not light – was courtesy of the many captains who have fished them over the years. When I heard the three of them were gonna' fish the same boat the same day, and a half day run at that, the thought of these guys doing a half day headboat trip was amusing, to say the least. I swear, I could not imagine what it would be like. I knew a lot of people that were gonna be there. My friend Todd from Naked Jigs, for example, or Terry Tomlin, the outdoor writer for the Tribune. These guys and lots of others had a lot of hours underneath their feet; they are serious Florida boys who I could see enjoying a half day close nearshore. We call them "Grunt Hunts".
The Grunt Hunt – Rods in the Water
On the water for a half day does not provide a captain all that much opportunity to put the kids on fish, and I could not help but be curious about the results. I was sure the kids would catch a few "Key West grunts", but the trio of legends was one of those real classics. I think every rod bent, and enough beautiful keeper grouper rounded out a day of great burgers, great fun, and kids who, while somewhat reluctant to actually kiss a grouper on its slimy lips, had an incredible experience.
Having Roland, Bill, and the inimitable Jimmy Houston in all his shaggy haired beauty along for the ride did not mean much to the youngsters from the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch. All they knew was that these three guys must mean something, considering the attention we were showing them and all the cameras that were constantly rolling. When the fish started biting (first drop, first fish!), Captain Chad Haggert of the Double Eagle and his crew delivered big time. He is a solid and very respectable man, an outstanding captain, and as much a recreational angler as I have ever been when he ain't running the hundred footer. Chad makes our community a better place. Thanks Captain Chad and your great crew. To the mates, Travis and Milos, job well done.
Lucky Weather Makes a Great Memory on the Water
It was supposed to be cold on Monday, but as if on cue, the sun came out and made it a perfect day for the youths from the Sheriff's Ranch to go out on a boat. We all had a great time, and the day ended with lunch at the Island Way Grill around 1 p.m., where myself and our editor, Paul, shared a table with some other great guys, one of which you may have heard of -- Captain Bobby Aylesworth. If you have ever used chum or sardines or bait in the Gulf of Mexico, you have been a client of Captain Bobby Aylesworth.
He is a wholesaler who provides baits to them all. Bobby is one of those guys who if you fished with him could be a bartender, a captain, or hell, the president of a fortune five hundred who happens to be fishing and not in the board room. The number of kids that his family has helped go to college is bigger than I care to mention. Suffice it to say this old Saint Petersburg family is one that has had an incredible impact on our community, and not just with frozen cigar minnows or menhaden oil, the author's personal favorite choices of their product line.
A Reel Future is something that is gaining major traction. Misty is a swirling entity of community activism, and the kind that saves lives instead of moving hot air or tracking votes. Her kind of activism, combined with the unique experience of Captain Tommy, will put more of these kids on those boats and give them a glimpse of the safe and healthy life we know so well and love so much.
And this old guy will be there, along with those other professional grunt hunters, bless their souls.
And to Bill Dance, Roland Martin, and Jimmy Houston:
Man, you guys are cooler than anybody could ever know. Great grunt hunting.