A local nonprofit hopes to spread its mission further by getting more youth involved in outdoor fishing activities.
The Kids Can Fish Foundation, a nonprofit formed in Brunswick in 2021, offers camps and other programming that teach youth about many kinds of fishing, cast netting and more.
The organization is hoping to bring more local sponsors on board as it expands it programming opportunities this year.
The next camp will be hosted March 18 on St. Simons.
“We have a following,” said Tom Lewis, founder. “We have a foundation set, and we have a lot of great national support. But now we’re hoping to bring in more local support.”
Numerous local organizations have helped sponsor the nonprofit so far, including Southeast Adventure Outfitters, Sea Island Forge, Halyards restaurant group, Morningstar Marinas and more.
Lewis and his daughter, Caroline, recently sat down with The News at Coastal Kitchen on St. Simons to share the vision for Kids Can Fish and the nonprofit’s upcoming plans.
The idea for the foundation began on an offshore fishing trip several years ago, when Caroline, who is 12 today, reeled in a rare catch and shouted in excitement, “Girls can fish!”
The moment sparked a vision, which soon became the “Girls Can Fish” initiative, through which Caroline shared fishing tips, photos and videos on YouTube and Facebook. Her dad manages her social media presence, which has expanded to include Instagram and other sites.
Today, she’s sponsored by Promar and Ahi USA, Fishbites, Big Bite Baits and others.
From a young age, Caroline gravitated toward animals, preferring stuffed animals to dolls and taking any chance to explore the natural world around her.
When their family moved to Glynn County from Missouri, she and her dad took full advantage of the outdoor opportunities available on the coast. Their new backyard has a pond perfect for fishing, and trips to the beach and out on the ocean for offshore fishing became a regular pastime for the family.
Caroline picked up the skills quickly, her dad said. She learned to cast net after just a few attempts, and her species identification skills surpass even her father’s.
When they go offshore fishing, Carline is rarely in any hurry for the trip to end.
“At 7 years old, she started going on offshore trips, and when you take a young kid offshore fishing you usually find that they don’t like being out there for long,” Tom Lewis said. “She likes to stay out for 8, 10, 12 hours if the weather’s right.”
“Girls Can Fish” eventually evolved into “Kids Can Fish,” to make it more inclusive, and sponsorship opportunities also began.
Kids Can Fish hosted its first event, a fishing camp for local youth, in March 2020.
At fishing camps, Caroline teaches her peers about fishing, cast netting and more, and she’s able to connect with them in a way adults cannot, her dad said.
“That’s important to us at Kids Can Fish, that when we talk to kids and we’re teaching them we’re teaching at a child’s level,” he said. “And she does a large part of the instruction.”
Caroline said most of what she knows she learned from her dad.
“You’re selling yourself short on that,” Tom Lewis said with a laugh, adding that he often comes home from work to find her watching a fishing program or educational YouTube video posted by professional fishermen.
“I just love doing anything with animals,” Caroline said. “When I started fishing, there was just a connection. I liked doing it, and I would go out after school and cast a line and fish, and it was something that really clicked with me.”
And she enjoys sharing this passion with others her age.
“I just like to show kids how much fun and how carefree you can be when you’re out on the water,” she said.
Kids Can Fish aims to offer youth an opportunity to get outdoors, away from their phones and computer screens, and to learn skills like patience.
Tom Lewis said he rarely sees anyone on their phone during any of their fishing camps.
“I’m probably on my phone more than all the rest because I’m taking photos and videos,” he said.
Kids Can Fish plans to host more local camps this year and hopes to find more local sponsors who can support these events and the ongoing mission of the foundation.
Camp participants often also receive free gear along with the knowledge they gain.
“For example, with our fundraising, if I had a cast net camp and I had 50 kids my goal would be that every 50 kid leaves with one of the nets, for free,” Tom Lewis said.
To learn more about events as well as volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, visit kidscanfish.net.