Fishing coaches and volunteers helped special needs students from across Shelby and Jefferson counties catch fish during the 20th annual Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' event at Oak Mountain State Park. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)
Fishing coaches and volunteers helped special needs students from across Shelby and Jefferson counties catch fish during the 20th annual Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' event at Oak Mountain State Park. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

Archived Story

Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ brings joy to students

Published 3:43pm Friday, May 16, 2014

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—For the 20th year, Exceptional Anglers brought the joy of fishing to hundreds of special needs students from across Shelby and Jefferson counties with the annual Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ event at Oak Mountain State Park from May 14-16.

“The kids have been looking forward to this all year long,” Jefferson County Adaptive Physical Education Specialist Dr. Pamela Rush said, adding that leading up to the event her students practice casting to prepare.

During each of the event’s three days, dedicated fishing coaches introduce the students to fishing, teaching them basic techniques such as casting and helping them reel in their catches.

“This gives our students with disabilities a chance to come and fish,” Rush said. “It’s the first time (for many of them), and the only time for some.”

An area of Double Oak Lake was closed off and stocked for the event, guaranteeing each student at least one fish, and some of them even more.

“A lot of them are trying to increase their numbers,” volunteer Cinda Lewis said, noting one student who caught two fish last year had caught seven this year.

Volunteers with cameras were on hand throughout the day, photographing and printing pictures of students with their fish.

“The kids get to take home a picture memory of what happened today,” Rush said. “They love it.”

In addition to fishing, students get the chance to participate in a variety of other activities, including painting, jewelry making, music and dancing. The interaction throughout the day “benefits (the students) tremendously,” Rush said.

The three-day event is a big production, and relies on the work of more than 300 volunteers each day. Second year volunteer Ginger Whaley estimated students created nearly 300 paintings each day and Rush said volunteers cook more than 900 hotdogs each day.

“It takes everybody to make this happen,” Rush said. “But everybody does it for the kids.”

As much as the students love Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’, volunteers enjoy the experience too.

“It’s fun watching them fish, and it’s a blessing watching the smiles on their faces,” veteran volunteer Tammy Johnson said.

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