Let's face it; you don't need me to tell you that we are living in uncertain times right now. COVID-19 has changed everything...how we work, how we shop, how we socialize, everything has changed...quite possibly for a very long time. COVID-19 however, is just another platform for some to exemplify the resilience of people. Regardless of the challenge before us, we will rise above it for the greater good. In March, I, along with my best friends Jean McElroy and Matt Lewin, decided to put something together a fishing tournament to help our friend Kwanza Henderson who is currently battling Stage 4 Small Intestinal Adenocarcinoma. We reached out to some of his sponsors, and many came to the rescue with "Greater than Expected" donations! Aftco and YakAttack provided unbelievable swag to giveaway, and Johnson Outdoors went above and beyond with the contribution of an Old Town Topwater 120 Kayak, Carlisle Magic Angler Paddle, and an Old Town Treble PFD. All of these great items would be up for grabs. Then it happened...COVID-19.
Before we knew it, COVID-19 started to take hold of local communities, cities, states...the world. Worry began to set in. Would we be able to gather enough participants to make this a "Worth While" event, one that would not only benefit Kwanza but also host an event worthy of the gracious donations that the event sponsors had donated? When we announced the event, a few entries trickled in, and each week, as we grew closer to the event start date of 5/9, a few more entries would trickle in. Our conversations quickly turned to wonder how many anglers would not want to register due to their area's closures of ramps and parks, impacting their ability to participate. Not only was it hard to get access to the water, but so many people were being furloughed or lost their jobs entirely. How would that impact people's ability even to be able to pay the $40 for the entry fee? Was our event's timing going to be the demise of what would have been a great event? I was initially hoping for 50 anglers to participate, but we were only 34 with only a week to go. At that time, I felt that if we just made it to 40, it would be a small victory, although it was short of our original goal of 50 anglers. But then again, NEVER count out the anglers of the kayak fishing community.
For years, anglers within the kayak fishing community have gone above and beyond for various causes. For example, they have orchestrated local and national organizations that benefit our veterans, cancer foundations, environmental cleanups, toy drives, helping fellow anglers, the list goes on and on. What is it about this sport that causes so many who participate in it to give back quickly and easily. Perhaps it stems from one simple reason, to celebrate the lifelong joys created from within this sport! Can you recall catching a new personal best fish, winning our first tournament, sharing the water with loved ones, fishing in remote locations that take your breath away, or fishing with someone new who would become a lifelong friend? There is no shortage of memories for us when we are kayak fishing. Maybe because of that, perhaps because participating in this sport gives us so much, anglers, in turn, try to "Pay it Forward" so we can give back to others. Maybe they can receive the same joy or relief that we are afforded by partaking in kayak fishing.
I'm no expert, so I have no answers here. I can tell you this, that with just nine days to go until the start of the event, 43 more anglers signed up. Seventy-seven anglers from 21 states, 27 more than we had hoped! It was great seeing so many different varieties of freshwater fish from around the country submitted, 314 fish to be exact, and when it was all over and the dust had settled, Matt Lewin's 102 inches took home top honors. Three of the top five anglers gave back their winnings, Kayak Fishing with Christ had provided a monetary donation from their members. When it was all said and done, we raised over $2,200! Once again, this demonstrates that when there is someone in need, the kayak fishing community comes together regardless of the challenges we are facing. I am proud to be part of this great big family, and I am grateful for all of the anglers who came through and supported our friend in need...#4KWANZA!
-Written by Bill Sikora
- FishOn ProStaff