Big-hearted teen wins C.A.S.T. for Kids B.A.S.S. Humanitarian Award

Jake Klopfenstein receives the 2024 C.A.S.T. for Kids B.A.S.S. Humanitarian Award prior to the Day 2 weigh-ins at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors.

It’s hard to watch a friend suffer and not feel something; it’s harder still when the struggle reaches a tragic conclusion. Feelings of helplessness swirl with sorrow. While Jake Klopfenstein admittedly experienced such heart-wrenching emotion, he decided to turn his despair into action by founding Angling for Relief, a nonprofit organization that brings fishing activities to pediatric cancer patients.

For his efforts, Klopfenstein received the 2024 C.A.S.T. for Kids B.A.S.S. Humanitarian Award prior to the Day 2 weigh-ins at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors. Former Bassmaster Elite and 2002 Bassmaster Classic winner Jay Yelas, who serves as C.A.S.T. for Kids Executive Director, presented the award, which honors a B.A.S.S. member committed to underserved groups.

A senior at Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., Klopfenstein is the award’s youngest recipient. His objective: Bring light to a dark place.

“Kids fighting cancer don’t get to be kids,” said the 18-year-old Klopfenstein, the award’s youngest recipient. “We bring back ‘being a kid.’ We bring some light into their lives.”

The backstory

Klopfenstein founded Angling for Relief in 2018 after watching his friend Ryan Baker battle and ultimately succumb to Ewing Sarcoma. That 18-month period would define his mission.

“There wasn’t an exact moment (of inspiration), it was a buildup of emotion,” Klopfenstein said. “I felt helpless; for people fighting cancer, I can’t do anything.”

From age 11, Klopfenstein often discussed this gnawing thought with his mother, Toni, who finally gave him the wakeup call he needed.

“She told me, ‘Stop complaining and do something about it,’ so that’s when we started discussing how we can bring joy into hospital rooms where kids are fighting cancer,” Klopfenstein said. “We ultimately decided that bringing fishing to them was the best way to do that, because fishing is my family’s form of therapy.”

Multiple options

Klopfenstein and his parents have created options for kids at all levels of their medical journey.

Dry Fishing Kits: Equipping hospitalized kids for indoor activities, Klopfenstein delivers kits containing 3-foot Zebco Dock Demon rods, rigging and knot-tying materials with instructions and hookless plugs for casting practice. Sometimes, he responds to requests sent through Facebook or his website, but Klopfenstein will often visit the local hospital’s infusion center and chat with anyone who wants to talk fishing.

Family Seawall Fishing: These low-impact, land-based outings allow kids to bend a rod with various species.

“The smiles on these kids’ faces are amazing,” Toni Klopfenstein said. “They get so excited over catching these little fish — it’s like they caught a grouper!”

Occasionally, Klopfenstein gets to host kids previously confined to a hospital room. “That’s the best part, meeting a family in the hospital and then seeing them a few weeks later on a fishing trip.”

Inshore Fishing: For young cancer patients able to handle a boat ride, Klopfenstein coordinates with local guides for a full-on fishing adventure.

“A lot of the guides that run the inshore fishing trips have volunteered for our Family Seawall Fishing,” Klopfenstein said. “We offer to pay them, but most of them either refuse to accept payment, or donate their fee back to (Angling for Relief).”

A lifetime angler who grew up fishing South Tampa golf course ponds and eventually expanded into saltwater, Klopfenstein serves as the president of the Plant High School fishing team. His teammates and their individual networks typically provide plenty of helping hands, while Klopfenstein’s past work as a mate on local charter boats has provided key connections.

Heading to Florida State University in the fall to pursue an engineering degree and, later an MBA, Klopfenstein hopes to expand Angling for Relief to his soon-to-be Tallahassee, Fla., community. In the meantime, he’s training Plant High underclassmen to take the reins locally when he departs.

With his mom handling the volunteer coordination, Klopfenstein’s father serves as Chairman of the Board and organizes the Family Seawall excursions.

Reflections of impact

Understandably, meaningful moments have been many, but Klopfenstein said the first cancer patient he worked with, Finn Gray, fought the same cancer that claimed Ryan Baker — sadly, with the same outcome. Crushing as that was, it cemented the mission.

“Helping Finn smile through fishing and forget about what he was going through, I really felt that Ryan was helping this kid through me,” Klopfenstein said. “It made me feel amazing and solidified the passion that I want to help these kids forever.”

Here’s another one (get your tissues). Klopfenstein once hosted a pediatric cancer patient for a day of fishing at Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway Pier, during which the teenager told his parents he could feel his illness intensifying. Right after the fishing trip, the family rushed him to a hospital.

A month later … (man, it’s hard to write this kinda stuff.)

“Even though he could tell he was hurting, he wanted to fish the entire event and have one last time with his family,” Klopfenstein said. “We’re happy we could provide that for him and his family.”

Klopfenstein doesn’t do this for the recognition, but he’s hopeful his recent award will boost awareness for the cause he holds dearly.

“It’s a massive honor to be able to tell my story to the huge Bassmaster audience,” he said. “It’s going to provide great things for Angling for Relief, and it’s just an honor to be recognized by such a huge organization.”

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