It’s that moment every veteran fisherman remembers: their first catch.
For some Baton Rouge youths, that happy moment came Saturday at the Waddill Wildlife Refuge, where the Downtown Kiwanis Club of Baton Rouge teamed up with the Big Buddy Program for a morning of fishing and fun by the lake.
“It was good experience catching them because I can see what they really look like,” Little Buddy Olivia M. said on the day she caught her first fish.
She also snagged the oddest catch of the day — a live crawfish that had no claws.
“This is one of the favorite activities for the program and the Big Buddies,” said Gaylynne Mack, executive director of the Big Buddy Program.
The Big Buddy Program provides adult mentors in Baton Rouge to children who need them, and offers after-school and weekend programs to build that relationship between the Big and Little Buddies.
The Big Buddy program asked The Advocate, as a matter of the organization’s policy, not to use last names of the children in Saturday’s event because of the difficult family circumstances of some of the children.
Mack said she enjoys the annual fishing excursion because it shows the Big Buddies that something as simple as spending time fishing with their Little Buddies can be a way to have fun and enrich the lives of the children.
Members of the LSU men’s and Southern University women’s tennis teams were on hand to fill in for Big Buddies who could not make it on Saturday.
In total, 23 fish, mostly perch, and Olivia’s crawfish were the final tally for the day. Per Waddill’s policy, any fish that were caught were released back into the lakes.
Kiwanis officials were on the lookout for any bass after someone caught a 4-pound bass a few years ago using a perch as bait, but their hopes for a repeat performance will have to wait another year.
After a brief tutorial by Kiwanis members on how to cast and bait the hook with the worms that were given out, the children and their mentors took to the lakes Saturday morning to try their hand with the rod and reel, and take a shot at the prizes for most, biggest and prettiest fish.
They scattered out around the two lakes, and after some rough initial tries baiting the hooks with the live worms and a few precarious casts, most found their spots and hit their stride with baiting and casting.
Clyde Smith, 26, of Baton Rouge, and his Little Buddy, Kyrun R., found a nice spot near some trees, and Smith began teaching the intricacies of baiting and casting.
Smith fished his whole life with his parents, so he had plenty of knowledge to pass on.
“It’s real fun, when the fish are biting,” Smith said. “I figured Kyrun would have fun, too.”
Under Smith’s tutelage, Kyrun began catching fish left and right, reeling in three small perch fish in about 40 minutes.
“It’s a little bit exciting,” Kyrun said.
Smith said he enjoys working in the Big Buddy Program because he can have an impact on the life of a child who may not have a strong male figure to look up to.
In the other pond, things were not going quite so smoothly for Ali Schreckengast, 20, of Raceland, and her Little Buddy, Ashanti M.
Ashanti had fished before, including the last time the Big Buddy Program was at Waddill, but was still looking for that elusive first catch.
She had a few close calls, including small fish that she could see nibbling her worm in the shallow water. But the fish swam away before she could get it on the hook.
Ashanti said she enjoys fishing because it allows her to sit back and relax.
“Just walking around here and seeing everybody, you can see how much the Little Buddies love it,” Schreckengast, a clinical psychology major at LSU, said.
Saturday marked the first time Schreckengast and Ashanti met after speaking on the phone for a few weeks. The clinical psychology major said she volunteers for a few other organizations and thought the Big Buddy Program would be a good fit for her.
“I never had somebody there for me when I grew up,” she said. “I like to get involved and help out anybody I can.”
The fishing program began in the early ’90s when a member of the Downtown Kiwanis Club began hosting fishing days in a pond in his backyard.
Since then, the Downtown Kiwanis Club teams with several local organizations, including local schools and local Boys and Girl Scouts to offer fishing programs at Waddill.
“Our purpose is to serve children,” said Gary Graham, former president and board member of the Kiwanis Club.
He said they enjoy sponsoring the program because it is something most of the children may not get to do and provides them with an opportunity to enjoy an outdoor experience with their friends and Big Buddies.