NEW PORT RICHEY — Hundreds of Pasco residents capitalized on last weekend's sunny weather with a day of fishing, crafts, food and fun.
Tackle boxes and fishing rods were abundant at Sims Park on Saturday courtesy of the James P. Gills YMCA in Trinity. The eighth annual YMCA Kids Fishing Festival provided all of its 260 participants with a fishing gear, lunch and entertainment.
The only thing missing was the fish.
"I mostly got nothing but I did get a few nibbles," 6-year-old Michael Ambrosio said. "My dad takes me fishing, like, 10 times a year but this is the first time I've ever done this here. I really liked it."
The open event benefits the YMCA's scholarship programs for children and families who cannot afford YMCA memberships. Tournament participants received a fishing rod, reel and tackle box donated by Fish Florida, a nonprofit organization that promotes efforts to teach people, especially children, about fishing and Florida's environment. The tournament was so accessible, in fact, that some participants who cannot afford so much as the $10 entry fee were welcomed without charge.
"The focus here is family fun," YMCA special events coordinator Lynn Sweeney said. "For 10 bucks for people to get a brand new rod, reel and tackle box is great, and we have raffles so you don't even have to catch a fish to walk away with something. We never turn people away even if they can't pay. I'm certainly not going to tell someone their kids can't fish cause you can't afford the entry fee."
The setting at Sims Park was a bigger element of the event's success than the fish. While most were disappointed by the lack of bites on their line, everyone was pleased with the fun family atmosphere and the variety of entertainment.
Andy Ross is the father of two boys: Dylan, 4, and Logan, 6. In his family's first fishing festival experience, Ross said the park was one of the best aspects of the event.
"It's a good thing to do for our kids," Ross said. "Sims Park is great for this event. We didn't catch any fish but this park has more to offer than just being on the water. It's good for us as a family to do things together. A day of fishing and being outdoors is a way of bonding."
The experience does more than teach kids about fishing and provide them with the equipment to do it. It's part of the YMCA's efforts to help families connect through activity in an age of computer entertainment, declining family values and childhood obesity.
"People really do want to get out and enjoy the weather and do things with their kids," Sweeney said.
"This turnout proves it. You don't need a competitive event with big trophies to get people to do something. We were even more fortunate to have great weather, which of course helps the draw."
David Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.