Fishing probably isn't the first sport that comes to mind for many middle school and high school students, but Fishing4Reel aims to change that by bringing bass fishing into the community.
Found Maliek Carrington started Fishing4Reel in 2009 with the goal of empowering youth and bringing the community back outside. The group held a tournament for youngsters Saturday at Laurel Park.
"We travel the country trying to reach out to a demographic that's not really into bass fishing. We want to introduce it to all people and put diversity into the sport of fishing," Carrington said.
"It's about getting Gainesville back outside, getting our youth inspired, getting our schools involved, and just networking with the community so that all kids have the opportunity for success. We just want afford opportunity to all people and have a good time."
Carrington credits fishing as an outlet for his energy and a way of keeping him out of trouble when he was a kid.
"As a youth, I ended up getting into trouble. If you don't have something that can occupy your time mentally, spiritually, or physically, trouble will find you. Fishing saved my life and that's why I try to change other lives one child at a time. Fishing doesn't cost you anything," Carrington said.
Fishing4Reel was joined by the Bass Fishing League, both organizations holding a fishing tournament where the winners were determined by the size of the catch as a whole, and who managed to catch the single biggest fish.
"There are almost 170 boats out today. Everyone gets the experience. Maybe a kid will say, ‘I can do that.' There are scholarships involved. If you're not Fishing4Reel, what are you doing?" said Carrington.
Bass fishing isn't just for the boys. The women of the nonprofit organization Fishanistas aim to prove that girls can fish, too. Founder Jeanine Blair has been fishing since age 3, when her uncle first taught her the allure of the reel.
"We are an all-girls organization, stared in 2009," explained Blair. "Basically, the schools don't offer kids who may not be as comfortable with football or track alternatives. I wanted to introduce fishing."
For Blair, fishing holds a deeply personal significance.
"My Uncle John taught me how to fish. It's something that's stayed with me all my life. We'd get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to fish and I absolutely loved it. It's something that I kept with me, feeling that fish on the end of the line and him just spending the time with me. I know that he would be so proud of me now," said Blair.
The Fishanistas are not a competitive fishing team, but some of the girls are itching to get into the game.
Fishing isn't just a fun pastime; it also teaches lessons such as patience and sportsmanship.
"There's so much more to fishing. Kids need to learn to cast their cares, cast them out and take them out on each other. They need to learn sportsmanship, and not just in a competitive sport. Get out and introduce yourself to someone you haven't met. Don't stay in those cliques," Blair said. "It builds confidence."
Debbie McGarvey and her two grandchildren were among the onlookers for the afternoon's fishing contest. She learned about the Fishing4Reel event through J&J Foods.
"We meet them outside the store," McGarvey said. "My husband took me fishing on our honeymoon and that was the first time I've fished in my life."
Both her grandson and granddaughter were looking forward to seeing the fish, and the boy won a fishing pole in the raffle.