When Brian Atkins called back in March, 2009 with a request for Bassmasters of North Alabama to assist him with the 2009 Annual C.A.S.T. for Kids Alabama event to be staged at Lake Guntersville State Park, the answer was YES, but we had a conflict to work out. During the week of April 30-May 2, 2009, Bassmasters of North Alabama and our Junior Bassmasters of North Alabama were committed to helping BMNA member Clay Turner, Volunteer Coordinator and ABFN District Director Mike Macon with volunteers for the Bassmaster Southern Open held out of Ingalls Harbor, Lake Wheeler at Decatur....which included Saturday, May 2, 2009 the date of the C.A.S.T. for Kids event. Where there is a will, there is a way and BMNA and JBMNA were able to commit (7) boaters to act as Boat Captains, (4) non-boaters to assist with event staff, and (7) JBMNA members to work with the kids at the C.A.S.T. for Kids event. On Saturday, BMNA left Bassmasters Clay Turner and Steve Owen in charge at the Bassmaster Open Tournament with enough staff to get the job done for Chris Bowes, Tournament Manager.
The very first C.A.S.T. for Kids was held in Eastern Washington State in 1991 and the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation was formed three years later in 1994. The first C.A.S.T. for Kids event in the State of Alabama was held in May, 2008. C.A.S.T. for Kids is a one day outdoor statewide fishing event that provides mentally challenged, disabled, and special needs children an opportunity to fish because of limitations caused by their disability. The event is focused toward youth age 6 to 18 with little or no fishing experience. Parents and guardians are encouraged to attend the event with their children in order to provide future opportunities for them. Children are matched up with expert anglers from the Alabama B.A.S.S. Federation Nation and/or other fishing or service organizations who will take them fishing in their boats, or do some bank fishing, and teach them the basics of fishing, safety, and fishing ethics.
In addition to the fishing experience, everyone is treated to a picnic lunch with the participants awarded prizes and plaques. C.A.S.T. for Kids is not only fun for the participants but for all those who volunteer their time, boats, and sponsors the event. Kids learn to enjoy the outdoors and fishing while volunteers learn a valuable lesson about living with a disability, impairment, or other limitations.
BMNA and ABFN boaters Eddie Borden, Jason Borden, Steve Lowery, Michael Moore, Don Gowen, Alan Kyle, and Billy Pike had their boats lined up at the ramp at 6:00 am while non-boaters Andrew Lowman, Chris LouAllen, Jimmy and Renee Morgan, Daniel Sylvester, and Ken Westfall pitched in to assist Brian Atkins and his crew with the set-up for the event. Brian had the event totally organized and not even the rain could deter the young anglers and their mentors. The Junior Bassmasters of North Alabama, including Josh K., Mitchell G., John M., Dakota M., Hayden P., Jeff and Stephen T. started arriving to work with the other kids along the banks of the harbor at the park - teaching them methods of casting, how to bait the hooks, when they knew that a fish had bitten, and safety in fishing.
While a lot stories can be told by the volunteers and the kids and their parents involved in the activities, here is one by Don Gowen and his un-forgetful day on the water with his young angler - Matthew Frix and mother Brenda Sands of Anniston, Alabama:
"Early in the morning I was introduced and was paired with Matthew and his mother Brenda at the pavilion at Lake Guntersville State Park. Because of Matthew's disability, he was shy and it was difficult to get him to communicate with me. Photos were made of each boat's participants (which later were affixed to award plaques) and Matthew was supplied with a rod/reel, tackle box, tackle, life jacket, worms, crickets, and catfish bait. The weather held us off until about 10:00 am and Matthew was fit to be tied to the dock for the extended period of time. This was Matthew's first trip on a body of water in a bass boat. While he had previously caught some bream, today was to be his first attempt at catching a BASS."
"We finally made it off from the dock and across the lake we sped - both Matthew and Brenda somewhat apprehensive at the speed and the waves. Brenda was assigned the duty of photographer. Entering the Claysville Bay area, we selected a slough and began working the stumps and grass beds for some bream with crickets and worms. These were exhausted without a single fish being boated. The heat was on and my guide service was NOT producing and Matthew started looking down lake at the other participant boats. It was time to change strategy and fast."
"I looked in the rod locker and found a rod tied with one of Kevin Langill's new Hover Trap lures that had never been in the water. While Matthew continued with the last of the worms, I cast into the middle of the lake a couple of times to get the kinks out of the line. When I turned around Matthew had put down his rod and reel and said, "Let me try it." - some of the first words he had spoken to me. I questioned him about his ability to cast the bait casting reel but he was determined. I handed him the rod and reel and showed him how to press the release, keep his thumb on the line bar, and when to release the lure during the cast. He reared back and sent the lure sailing a good 50 feet from the boat with NO backlash. I was astounded! But this story isn't over with yet. Matthew made about five turns of the reel handle and I had to grab him from falling out of the boat. His rod was bend almost double, he was smiling from ear to ear, on the end of his line was a lunker bass tail-walking across the water, and me hollering "bring her to the boat" which Matthew did just like a PRO. I did a good net job and we put her on the scales at 5.1 lbs. Number ONE bass of his lifetime and our hearts were in all of our throats."
"Photos were taken and I placed the bass in the live well. Turning around I found Matthew back on the front deck, rod and reel in hand and a smile on his face. Who am I to question a new Bassmaster and he had another go at the cast.....this one about 20 feet to the right of where the prior bass had hit. About 25 feet from the boat the second bass - on Matthew's second cast hit like a freight train and it was all Matthew could do to hang on. She tail-walked, ran from side to side taking line and just as I was to dip the net, she jumped and the 15 lb. test line broke like sewing tread....a good 7 lb. bass if I ever saw one. Matthew dropped his rod, grabbed the net and was going over the side to get bass and plug when I caught him. The lost plug was the only one given me by Kevin and I pulled out another rod with lipless crank bait for Matthew to cast. He caught one more small bass and then lay the rod down. When I questioned him why he was quitting, he had a simple answer - "the bass would not bite that lure." Time to go in."
"Now another first was to come. When asked if he would like to drive the boat, Matthew first declined but then changed his mind. I fired off the 225 on the Triton, sat Matthew down in my lap, showed him the hotfoot and explained the procedures of operating the boat. We brought the boat to plane with mom sitting on the cooler at the front deck shooting photos and Matthew IN CHARGE. Never once from takeoff, across 2 miles of lake, and to the dock did I touch the steering wheel of the boat....I only issued instructions to Matthew by pointing left or right. FRIST trip in a bass boat, FIRST time bass fishing, FIRST bass caught and FIRST time operating a boat by himself - Matthew was on cloud nine and I was too."
"At the dock, we put the boat on the trailer and went to the live well for Matthew's bass. Before we could get it in the weigh-bag photographers surrounding the boat. We made it to the covered pavilion where lunch was being served and along the outer edge was a bench. Kevin Langill, the Elite Series PRO had failed to make the cut at the Bassmaster Open at Decatur and had taken his time to bring his bass boat over to Guntersville for the kids to enjoy and to talk with them. He met Matthew and I at the bench and without saying a word, we lifted Matthew upon the bench, took his bass from the bag, and helped him hold it up slowly for the crowd to see. Immediately, everyone was on their feet and Matthew got a standing obviation - he was shaking like a leaf. The flashes were going off from so many cameras it looked like Christmas lights in December. Matthew became center stage of the show and came away with a life changing experience. But he was just one of many that days who received a gift that few receive - the kids developed a new outlook on life and the individuals who were fortunate enough to be there and experience and share the joy and triumph that the kids experienced will never be the same."
On behalf of the kids, I thank Brian Atkins and his crew, the Bassmasters of North Alabama, the Junior Bassmasters of North Alabama, Dixie Land Bassmasters, Locus Fork Bassmasters, other service organizations, the C.A.S.T. for Kids Sponsors, Kevin Langill, and Bassmasters everywhere that make events like this possible. Kids are what bass fishing is all about. EVERY KID IS A WINNER!