One of a child’s most lasting memories is often of the first fish he or she caught. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) “Fishing Camp” program is one of many that help children make that first catch.
However, the program goes far beyond that by helping young people learn a healthy lifetime sport and teaching them the importance of conservation stewardship. Children love the fishing camps so much that they want to come back. For these reasons and others, the FWC is looking for more camp partners.
“This program was so well received that several businesses in the area have expressed an interest in becoming involved and expanding the camp,” said Lance Ramer, director of recreation for the city of Clewiston.
The Fishing and Basic Boating Skills Camp is based on a successful pilot program developed by the FWC at Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center, near Tallahassee. Since 2000, more than 900 youngsters have attended the Joe Budd camp, and surveys have shown the vast majority of participants continue to enjoy recreational angling and feel more connected to nature.
Fishing license funds, and more specifically voluntary donations to youth fishing and hunting programs that many anglers make when they buy their licenses at MyFWC.com/License, help support these camps.
For the past couple of summers, the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management has partnered with the cities of Clewiston and Oldsmar, Marion County Parks and Recreation, Miami-Dade Parks and the nonprofit Florida Fishing Academy to bring the fishing camp program to local communities. Last summer, partnerships were started with two additional nonprofits, the Gulf Coast Center for Fishing and Interactive Museum in Largo and the YMCA Camp Cristina in Riverview.
Clewiston is looking into remodeling the city boat basin to include buildings and facilities to host fish camps more effectively, Ramer said.
“This is a tremendous program that we are excited to be a part of, excited to see the growing interest in fishing among our young people and excited for the opportunity to assist the FWC with expansion of the program,” Ramer added.
Robert Carmona, a recreation specialist with Miami-Dade County Parks, said, “This second summer of fishing camp was a success not only because we operated at capacity for the four weeks the camp was offered, but also because we were able to introduce children to angling and instill in them a respect for the resources.” As part of Miami-Dade’s “fit to play” initiative, summer camp participants were previously taught sports such as tennis and bowling. By adding fishing camp to their summer offering they can now introduce children to a new, affordable lifetime sport.
“Part of Miami-Dade Parks’ mission is to create outstanding natural, recreational opportunities for this and future generations. By teaching about fish, water and healthy environments, we instilled a sense of responsibility for the environment that we hope will translate into advocacy for the parks department and green spaces in general,” said Carmona.
Capt. Rich Brochu, executive director and founder of the Florida Fishing Academy, said, “We had 72 students attend our summer camps this first year. Without the FWC’s leadership, guidance, training and professionalism, our students would not have had such an educational and fun experience.”
“Parents told us this was the only camp in which their child participated where they did not have trouble waking them up and getting them ready to go,” said Jim Simons, president of the Florida Gulf Coast Center For Fishing Foundation Inc. “The campers loved the week-long program so much that many wanted to repeat the program rather than attend a camp for a different sport that they were already registered for.”
The FWC is looking for additional partner groups who are committed to working with youth to provide quality programs and who will help document the long-term success of these educational efforts. In return, the FWC provides a “Fish Camp Implementation Template” and assists with purchasing camp essentials that are expected to last several years.
If you have staff or volunteers and facilities to support a Fishing and Basic Boating Skills Camp in your local community and are interested, please contact: Steve Marshall at 561-292-6050 or Steve.Marshall@MyFWC.com.