Classic anglers visit Tulane Hospital for Children

NEW ORLEANS -- The patients at Tulane Hospital for Children received a special surprise this Valentine's Day when they were visited by celebrity anglers Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Brian LaClair, Ryan Said Shaw Grigsby, Stephen Browning and Edwin Evers.

Regarded as among the world's best bass fishers, the men are in town for the Bassmaster Classic, known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing, which is set to begin this Friday in the Louisiana delta. During the visit, Bassmaster's Angel Anglers casted out goodies and reeled in smiles.

They also signed autographs, talked to the children about what it is like to be a competitive bass fisherman, and fielded questions from the curious audience. At one point, all the Angel Anglers crammed in 14-year-old patient Josh Castille's room to swap fishing and hunting stories.

Castille, a resident of Ville Platte, La.,, showed the anglers a picture of his most recent trophy buck. VanDam and Castille swapped stories and looks at each other's deer pictures. The anglers signed a tacklebox, magazine and hat for Castille, who shared a smile in return.

The soft spoken sportsman, grinning from ear to ear, remarked that the visit was "pretty cool." It was sure to be a day that he won't soon forget. Castille is planning on hanging the signed B.A.S.S. magazine cover in his room once he gets home. "I know what it can mean to put a smile on these kids faces and take their minds off things for a little while," said professional angler Kevin VanDam, who captured his third Bassmaster Classic title in 2010 and is competing in this year's tournament.

"We are fortunate to make a living doing something we love, and it is easy to take things, like good health, for granted. I have twins who were born premature and I know what places like this do." Children in the center's daycare were equally excited to receive their visitors.

One young child donning a yellow costume helmet thanked the group by lifting his gown to show the stitches from his recent procedure. All the children received kind word and keepsakes from the Angel Anglers.

The celebrity visit was a welcome reprieve for the patients who have few opportunities to "just be a kid" while in the hospital.

The Angel Anglers program was started in 2004 by Bassmaster Elite Series pro Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., as a way to bring joy and a good time to children and to promote the sport of bass fishing through positive, community service.