Gone Fishin’: Students with special needs enjoy day of fishing

PELHAM – More than 200 students from schools throughout Shelby County gathered on Wednesday, May 8, for the 24th Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ event at Oak Mountain State Park.

The event, which took place May 8-10 and May 15, provided an opportunity for students with special needs to go fishing in the OMSP lake. Over the four-day period, Alabama State Parks Assistant Superintendent Davis Johnson said more than 1,000 students and hundreds of volunteers will attend the event.

On May 8, students from Shelby County attended, and Thursday and Friday is for schools in Jefferson County. On May 15 students from Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia will participate.

Whenever a student caught a fish, they took a photo with the fish, and the volunteer who helped them, before tossing it back in the lake. The lake was closed off by a gate and nets to keep the fish contained in a certain area.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources stocked the lake with 2,000 fish and an event sponsor provided 850 pounds of fish. Johnson said more fish will be added to the lake as the event continues.

“This event gives students an opportunity to get outdoors, socialize and learn how to fish,” Johnson said. “One day I met a guy who was out here fishing with his dad and it turned out that the first time he ever went fishing was at this event years ago. He developed an interest after that. That’s what it’s all about.”

For students who didn’t want to go fishing, a few fish were placed inside of a small boat filled with water for them to look at and touch if they wanted. Other activities included face painting, arts and crafts, a bouncy house and blowing bubbles.

Christina Bice, special education teacher at Pelham High School, said some of the students attending the event have never been fishing before.

“The high school students have participated in this event before, but some of our younger kids are fishing for the first time today,” she said. “Events like this not only introduce some of our students to something new, but it gives them a chance to develop their socialization skills and spend the day enjoying this beautiful weather.”

Students from Pelham Park Middle attended the event to serve as peer helpers. Bice said the collaboration gives the middle school students an opportunity to serve others and interact with students who have special needs.

Johnson said about 100 volunteers were needed each day to help the students fish and to oversee activity stations. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Spire and Alabama Power are three of the biggest contributors for the event, Johnson said.

“We absolutely could not do this without our sponsors and volunteers,” he said. “We have school fishing teams, local businesses and employees from other state parks out here volunteering their time.”

The volunteers will be invited back to the lake to go fishing as a way to thank them for helping out with the event. The remaining fish will be released into the lake.

The lake will open back up to the public on May 18, at which point people are encouraged to visit the park to go fishing.

Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ sponsors include: the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Power Company, Spire Energy, Airport Marine, America’s First Federal Credit Union, Alabaster City Schools, Bud’s Best Cookies, City of Pelham, Coca Cola, Consolidated Pipe and Supply, Golden Flake, Hoar Program Management, Jefferson County Adapted Physical Education, Jefferson County Board of Education and Transportation, Milo’s, Oak Mountain State Park, Outdoor Friends Forever, Pelham City Schools, Pelham police and fire departments, Shelby County Commission and Shelby County Schools.