By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Picture-postcard weather greeted the youngsters and volunteer mentors last weekend for the Kids’ Free Surf Fishing Clinic at Gulf State Park.
David Thornton, renowned surf and pier fishermen, and Cindy Langston, Special Events Manager at Gulf State Park, wanted to see if the coastal community would respond to another kids’ event after a successful day teaching the youngsters how to fish the surf last spring.
The answer was a resounding “yes” with a huge turnout for Saturday’s event on the sugar-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
“Cindy and I have been talking about making this a biannual event,” Thornton said. “The participation has been fantastic with people wanting to try this, most of them for the first time. What I’ve really been tickled pink with is the support from the surf fishing community. A lot of these fishermen are just wanting to share their experience and seeing this next generation get plugged into it.
“It’s so much fun. You see so many smiles that it’s just a grand thing to be a part of.”
Thornton said Gulf State Park has embraced the event, which garnered the support from the fishermen and local businesses and the participation from the community.
Thornton said the clinic received donations of fresh dead shrimp from Christi Wallace at Hooked Up Bait and Tackle, Fish Bites from Brett Burford and Salty’s Pompano Rigs from Justin McCrory.
More than 50 youngsters were signed up for the event and more than a dozen experienced surf fishermen volunteered to help with the event that was held at the Gulf State Park Pavilion.
Fishing poles reached skyward for more than a quarter-mile east of the pavilion as the kids, parents and mentors enjoyed a morning of fishing and great weather.
“We contacted everybody through social media, primarily Facebook, to get the word out,” Thornton said. “We got everybody here on time. As the kids came in and signed up for the event, we had the mentors come out on the beach with a certain number of kids. We stretched out down the beach. Then we networked back and forth down the beach to make sure everybody was covered, making sure all the kids were catching fish.”
The mentors taught the kids the basics of fishing from tying knots to baiting the hook.
“Some of these kids don’t have any casting experience, so we start there,” Thornton said. “We just take whatever level they bring and take it to the next level for saltwater surf fishing so we can expand their experience and make them want to continue fishing and enjoy it like the rest of us have been. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ thing for us.”
One of the clinic mentors, Jordan Gooding of G2 Coastal YouTube channel, was in law enforcement for 10 years before deciding to make surf fishing his new vocation.
“I decided to chase a dream and I love fishing with kids,” Gooding said. “They’re the future of fishing down the road. I want to encourage them to get out and enjoy it.
“We just try to teach the kids how to tie rigs, what to look for along the beach in terms of structure, and how to cast into the areas where they are most likely to catch a fish.”