During the pandemic, as the world isolated from COVID-19, Tatiana and Mario Cruz got hooked on kayak fishing.
When they lost their jobs — Mario as a chauffer and Tatiana as an event organizer — the Puerto Rican couple turned their hobby into a mission.
“We finally had the time to do what we liked most, which was kayak fishing,” said Tatiana.
Thus, Tampa Bay Kayak Anglers was born. The nonprofit foundation was created to educate people about fishing and kayaking. The organization recently hosted summer camps for children ages 8 to 16 in Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve in Oldsmar, north of St. Petersburg. Another camp has filled up for the week of July 25.
In 2017, Mario Cruz started a group on social media to share photos and information about how to fish safely.
Not only did friends and family call the couple to ask them what equipment and boats to buy, but the Cruzes suddenly began receiving inquires from others.
“We started receiving calls from people we didn’t know asking where to go with the kayak ... and most of the people were Spanish-speaking,” Tatiana Cruz said.
At that point, the Cruzes decided that their hobby could become a family business. Out of about 10 calls, nine would be from Hispanics asking if they taught fishing or if they could join the couple on kayaking trips.
“Many did not know that you need a license to fish,” said Tatiana, 38, who said people can be fined for doing so without one. “You cannot go with a fishing rod wherever you want. ... That is illegal. So we began to educate little by little.”
Last year they decided to invest their summer vacation money to go to Orlando for the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, the world’s largest sport-fishing trade show. The event helps drive sales of recreational fishing products throughout the year.
During the trade show, the couple began talking to different fishing brands and realized they could educate the community about kayak fishing.
The Cruzes also recognized “there was a great need for organizations to connect with the Hispanic community,” said Mario, 48, who teaches educational seminars in Spanish and English. The talks began in March and have been a success.
During the Orlando event, the Cruzes found guidance and financial help from other organizations when they explained that they wanted to do free seminars for the community.
“We promote everything in the clinics — the kayaks, the life jackets, the fishing rods,” Tatiana Cruz said.
The Cruzes recently started the summer camps, and like their seminar venture, seats filled up quickly.
Tatiana Cruz said the camps are run by her husband with two volunteers. Children have the opportunity to fish, and each child receives a fishing rod and a box of supplies.
“They are going to keep it after the camp so they can continue in the sport of fishing,” said Tatiana, who is the mother of two girls, ages 8 and 2.
“Fishing is good for mental health — it’s like meditating,” she said. “We go with the kayaks in such a beautiful area. For me, it is like a religion, being there in nature and contemplating things.”
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For more information, visit Tampabaykayakanglers.org.