HARLINGEN — After the millionth kid goes through your program, just what more do you have to prove?
For Shane Wilson and the nonprofit he founded in 2007, Fishing’s Future, quite a bit, actually.
Wilson, a former educator who remains chair of Fishing’s Future, has embarked on a new parallel course for his nonprofit, which teaches fishing and takes people fishing, many for the first time.
“On July 28, 2018, we did our one-millionth participant,” he recalled. “I’d never set out to do a million people but we did that one-millionth participant at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
“It’s like, wow, we’ve done a million people,” he added. “The little boy’s name was Silas Hicks, he was 13 years old, and he just floored me. So, now, where do we go?”
Fishing’s Future received a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department co-op grant to expand the scope of the operation to helping the disabled and their families, as well as military families with a disabled family member, learn to fish.
The grant stipulates it will be used for 250 families with a disabled family member, and another 250 military families in a similar situation. Since June, Fishing’s Future has accommodated about one-quarter of its allocated number of families.
“If you’re a family with disabilities, they’re an underserved population,” Wilson said. “A lot of times you don’t get the opportunities to go fishing or to learn how to go fishing because first of all you don’t want to put you family member with a disability in with the general public, there’s just a fear in that.”
“We thought, well, we’ll just do something for those populations and teach them how to fish and give them the opportunity to fish,” he added.
Originally the plan was to hold face-to-face classes for participants, but COVID-19 put an end to that thinking.
Like all who fish, Wilson knows when conditions change, reshuffle your tactics.
“We have been running Zoom educational classes every week to the tune of four to six classes a week,” Wilson said. “Classes are always offered in the evenings, either on a Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday or Thursday, alternating.
“Like last night we did hooks and equipment, the first class is on hooks and knots,” he added. “One of the videos is how to make a practice hook using a coat hanger. It’s a three-minute video and they make their own practice hook and they have a shoestring and they tie knots and we watch them and help them learn to tie that knot.”
Once classes are finished it’s time for the big payoff.
“Then we’ll either put them on one of the boats here in the bay and take them bay fishing, and we’ll cover all expenses for the bay fishing, or for the select few that really have the real strong need and would never ever get a chance to do anything like this, we’ll put them on a sportfishing cruiser and take them out to the Rio Grande Valley reef and see if we can’t do a little deep-sea fishing out there with them.”
Wilson’s success and his dedication to bringing some of the arts of fishing to people who haven’t had the exposure to the sport hasn’t gone unnoticed by others in Texas and beyond. Fishing’s Future now has 28 active chapters in Texas and a grand total of 70 in 21 states.
For his contributions, Wilson’s induction into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame was announced earlier this year.
But for Wilson, it is the response of families to the wonders of fishing that provides his real reward.
“I worked with an individual last night, and he only has one child and he wants to fish and he’s never fished before, other than one time with his grandfather,” Wilson said. “He’s been to three classes and he’ll finish up his fourth class tomorrow, and the 13-year-old, he’s loving it.
“He said, “Dad, this is really neat.’ Now they’re doing their bike rides in the afternoon and they’re looking for places they can go fishing. How about that, huh?”
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