Outdoors | Lakewood Ranch Anglers' Club hooks the next generation on fishing

Anglers' club teaches kids benefits, responsibilities of sport

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 9, 2014 

BRADENTON -- As president of the Lakewood Ranch Anglers' Club, Jeanette Wirz is well aware of the benefits of fishing.

It's relaxing.

It's fun.

It's a sport for anyone of any age.

That's a big reason she and other members of the club, founded in 1998, are all about sharing their passion for fishing with a younger generation.

The anglers' club, along with the Lakewood Ranch Community Activity Corporation, hosted a youth tournament and seminar last month on Lake Summerfield.

Fish Florida, a non-profit organization, provided rods and reels.

A local Kiwanis Club barbecued some lunch. And trophies were dished out to some of the nearly 100 participants.

The most important part, however, was it educated kids ages 5 through 15 on the right way to fish and treat the environment around them.

"It's about teaching them responsibility and about ecology," Wirz said. "With every sport, you have a responsibility, to the fans and to whatever you are attacking. For a hunter, it's the same way. You don't leave a wounded animal. Just like if a fish is an improper size, you throw it back."

The seminar was split into two one-hour sessions Feb. 15 at the Summerfield Park Pavilion and broken into four classes: fishing and tackle, hands-on casting, knot tying and how to be a good angler. The last of the classes, which was taught by Lad Slapak, a club member and the director of the youth tournament, focused more on conservation and safety than actual fishing.

"We tell the kids to leave their fishing area in as good condition," Slapak said, "or better than when they found it."

The club helped install white PVC piping around some of Lakewood Ranch's waters for fishermen to dispose of their lures to prevent wildlife from choking on them. Slapak points them out to young fishermen, as well as the dangers of plastic lures that fish cannot digest when swallowed.

"One of the main parts is conservation and safety," Slapak said. "We want to bring fishermen along, but we want to try and do it the right way."

Other club members feel the same way. Wirz and Slapak said there was no trouble finding volunteers or rangers to sacrifice a couple of Saturdays to work and educate some fishermen-in-waiting.

"It's a good portion of the club," Wirz said. "There was no push comes to shove with this. We just asked if they wanted to help with a youth fishing tournament and they said, 'Sign us up.' You look at the kids' faces, and you can't help but want to come back year after year."

Neither the seminar nor the tournament were hurting for participants.

"We get so many kids," Slapak said, "we have to have a cut off."

The hope is that these kids grow into fishermen -- safe, responsible fishermen -- who may start their own club one day, navigating the local waters just as the current members of the anglers' club do now.

"We all have a love of fishing," Wirz said. "Even when you're old and decrepit like most of us all, you can still sit by the water and drop in a line, which is very rewarding to me. Children, it's something they can do. ... The kids come away very happy, and if you see pictures, the parents are in rapt attention, too."

Consequently, Wirz said the seminar and tournament will become an annual occurrence for the club. Slapak said it has been going on for about eight years, and he has been a part of it for the past three.

"We enjoy helping them a lot. All of our rangers are very experienced," Slapak said.

"We're just really proud we can pass it along."

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