PORT ORANGE, Fla. – Florida is the fishing capital of the world. Our state holds more record catches than any other state or country and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 2.4 million fishing licenses in 2020.
This week’s Getting Results Award winner wants to make sure even more people get to participate.
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The Halifax Sport Fishing Club has a long history of community service projects. One of them, the annual Kids Can Fish Too program, is open to kids and teens right before the holidays.
Participants learn some basic techniques and receive a free fishing rod.
Gina Hesch is the director.
“My motto is get them off the cell phones and get a fishing rod in their hands,” Hesch said as she welcomed about 100 kids and their families to the clubhouse in Port Orange.
The club organized five stations that explained everything from how to throw a cast net to the importance of conservation.
Groups of kids gathered around, wide-eyed, as club members went through tackle boxes, explaining every item.
Hesch says she fishes just about every day and can’t wait to introduce the sport to others.
“It all started when I was a kid. My uncles wouldn’t take me fishing. They said you’re a girl. So I sold them worms,” Hesch remembered. “Now they’re in their 90s and I send them pictures.”
Club member Joe Allen helped volunteer at the knot-tying station.
“When I was growing up my dad took me fishing. It kept me off the streets,” Allen said. “I joined the club because they give back to the community.”
Allen said Hesch’s energy and passion for the sport help make the Kids Can Fish Too program so successful.
“She’s something else,” Allen said. “She’s like the Energizer Bunny. But she’s one of my best friends here. She’s an advocate.”
The Halifax Sport Fishing Club organizes river clean-ups, veteran and senior tournaments, free fishing contests, outings for those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and they also hold fundraisers for other nonprofits.
Club member Helen Klenk organizes the special needs tournament which takes place in May.
“It tugs at your heart,” Klenk said. “They just love it. When they catch a little fish you’d think it was huge. They get so excited.”
Joe Zimmerman volunteered to teach cast netting.
“This water has been part of my life since I was five years old,” Zimmerman said. “Kids today don’t have a lot of experience with things outside. Technology is good but doing things outdoors, learning skills and practicing stuff, you can’t take that away.”
Hesch says she knows she can’t get cell phones out of the hands of today’s kids but maybe she can help change the way they use them.
“Everybody is like this on their phones,” Hesch said, looking down at her hands. “Get them up here and use it to take pictures of that great catch.”
At the end of the hour-and-a-half session, families walked back to their cars with a new rod, reel and dreams of a big catch.
“The first time you see a kid catch a fish that’s the best feeling ever,” Hesch said. “Everyone usually tells me on the way out, thank you and we’ll see you at the next event. That’s what keeps me going.”
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