FLORENCE, Ala. — For the last decade, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Tim Horton and two B.A.S.S. Federation Nation clubs have been introducing fishing to children and adults with special needs.
Horton held his first Fishing For Kids tournament at Pickwick Lake in 1999, and since then, more than 1,000 children and adults have participated in the event.
"I get more enjoyment out of Fishing For Kids than anything I do in the sport," said Horton. "We have a lot of fun with that. It has almost become like a family reunion. We have a lot of the same group homes come each year with their patients, and a lot of the same anglers who are volunteers from the local Federation Nation bass clubs are a big part of it."
Belgreen Bass Club members have served as volunteers for the fishing derby since its inception, and the Bassmasters of North Alabama has been involved in the event for the last five years.
"When you see the enjoyment [the participants] get out of it, it makes you want to keep going back," said Don Gowen, member of Bassmasters of North Alabama. "We are becoming attached to those folks."
Each year, about 50 participants are paired with volunteers, some of whom bring their boats and serve as boat captains for the kids. Event participants have been referred from the Arc of the Shoals, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muscle Shoals, Boys and Girls Club of Florence and special education departments of local schools.
"When they go fishing, they fish for anything that will bite," said Gowen, who ranked the weigh-in as the highlight of last year's event. "The anglers looked like pros when they were awarded their prizes and trophies. Everyone got a trophy because they were all winners." The participants were also treated to hot dogs, pizza and ice cream.
The event has become a highlight of the year for the volunteers and the participants. "I was out to eat one night and one of the group homes was there with all its patients," said Horton. "When I saw them, it just brightened my day. They all know my name, and it has really become a neat deal."
The 11th annual Fishing For Kids is scheduled for fall 2009.