Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ celebrates 20 years

Volunteers and fishing coaches taught special needs students from Jefferson and Shelby counties how to fish during the annual Gone Fishin', Not Just Wishin' event. (Contributed)

Volunteers and fishing coaches taught special needs students from Jefferson and Shelby counties how to fish during the annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ event. (Contributed)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—On May 14, Exceptional Anglers will celebrate 20 years of making kids’ fishing dreams come true through its annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ event held at Oak Mountain State Park.

The three-day event teaches more than 1,000 special needs students from Jefferson and Shelby counties how to fish.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Exceptional Anglers event coordinator and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources representative Jerry Moss said.

The event sees more than 400 students, ages 5 to 21, each day. Nearly 350 volunteers, including between 70 and 80 specialized fishing coaches, help run fishing trips, art projects and other entertainment throughout the day, Moss said.

Although a variety of activities are offered, Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ focuses on fishing.

“Most of these kids have never caught fish before,” Moss said. “Every kid catches at least one fish, more than one most of the time.”

Students get their picture taken with the fish, which is then printed as a keepsake for them to take home.

“We want them to have a great time,” Moss said. “We want to promote fishing, it’s fun and it’s good for the whole family.”

The event has grown significantly since it was inspired by a group of teachers 20 years ago.

“I’ve been there since the inception, we had 80 to 100 (students) for the first one,” Moss said. “It has become so popular with the teachers, parents and our staff.”

Although the event has been a “tremendous success,” Moss said the “biggest challenge is always money.”

This year, Pelham will support the event, as “a few corporate sponsors have backed out over the years,” Mayor Gary Waters said.

The Pelham City Council approved a $3,000 donation to the ADCNR during an April 21 City Council meeting.

“It’s something we’re proud to be part of,” Council President Rick Hayes said during the meeting.

The 20th edition of Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ will take place May 14 to 16 at Oak Mountain State Park, with Governor Robert Bentley attending on May 16.

“Teachers say its (the students’) favorite activity all year,” Moss said. “It’s great seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces.”