Early morning before sunrise a barn owl hoots, making it's call heard on the other side of a calm black-water Florida lake.
All is quite until the silence is broken by the sound of gravel being crushed under truck tires. The first of many fishing boats arrive at the launch ramp of the former Mercury Marine testing site known as Lake X. Long since abandoned as a testing facility, the Lake X property is now managed by the charitable organization of the Kirchman Foundation.
Lake X-travaganza is one of the many ways the Foundation introduces awareness and understanding of nature, wildlife, and old Florida to kids and parents.
On April 12, 2014, myself and 40 other boat captains arrived at the Lake X property to take a group of nearly 100 kids fishing and to share the outdoors. Another group of volunteers provided educational programs and workshops at the recreational facilities on shore.
I was to captain twin sisters Giovana and Giomara, high school seniors a month away from graduating. Neither of them had ever cast a fishing pole, let alone fished any kind of tournament.
The tournament organizer, Neal, allowed me to use two Zebco 202 push-button rod and reel combos for the girls. Being they were new to angling, I had hoped to spend the day teaching them to cast and just enjoy a nice morning on this undeveloped private lake. I never knew the trip would turn out the way it did.
We were boat 35 and at takeoff I motored my Triton boat across the lake to a Cypress tree line in water only two feet deep.
My experience had taught me that shallow water areas hold the most fish, so I chose an area to give us the highest odds of catching something. To keep the girls from snagging all the grass and trees along the shoreline I tied on artificial worms. Using a weedless Texas-rig technique, I buried the hooks deep into the plastic baits.
The Zebco reel is a classic beginner fishing reel of many anglers. It is easy to operate and cast. This push-button style reel was created after World War II when the "Zero Hour Bomb Company" (ZeBCO) begin using its factories to make fishing tackle.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the girls master casting after only a few tries, and they even developed the ability to cast the worms between Cypress trees.
Giovana, the oldest twin by 1 minute, caught the first fish of her life, a twelve inch bass!
Within a half hour her sister Giomara had hooked and lost two nice bass before landing her first fish ever, a thirteen inch bass!
I was proud to be teaching these first-time anglers all about the great outdoors. The girls battled it out all morning hooking and losing more fish, asking who's is biggest and keeping track of who got the most bites.
Occasionally, while the girls cast to shallow water, I would make a pitch out to the deeper grass line with my flipping rod. On one pitch I felt a fish hit the bait, so I handed the rod to the closet girl Giovana. When she reeled down to set the hook the fish nearly pulled her overboard. A five-pound bass came rushing out of the grass like a lassoed bull. Giovana faught with all her might and her sister Giomara helped hold the rod during the battle. After what seemed like forever I netted the bass. The girls squealed and celebrated at having landed such a big bass on their first fishing trip ever. I was astonished at the size of the bass these "first timers" had landed!
Not to be outdone by her sister, Giomara began concentrating harder at catching a big fish too. She hooked two bass in the three-pound class that simply pulled off. She continued to get bites but the bass were short striking and threw the hooks.
After having fished the first area for several hours the bite slowed. I moved to another area to keep the girl's excitement up. It worked, and the sisters began fishing around the new set of Cypress trees with renewed energy.
It wasn't long before Giovana let out a yell that she hooked a fish. I turned around to hear the drag of her Zebco reel scream as the fish peeled the ten-pound fishing line off the reel like thread. At first I thought it was a mudfish, a species that also inhabits the shallows of Florida blackwater lakes. Then my eyes widened as I could see it was a bass worthy of any experienced tournament angler!
Giovana fought the fish around the boat and wore it down so I could net the giant bass. The bass easily weighed over six pounds, and later at the weighin it earned her the event's "Big Bass" award for the 14-17 yr age bracket.
Because the tournament was a "one-fish-per-angler" event, Giovana had to cull out and release her five pound bass. Having landed two big bass on artificial worms was an amazing feat for such novice anglers.
Giomara, the younger sister, was not afraid of touching fish and helped her sister release all the culled bass.
Giomara had fun casting and catching anything, and ended the day by catching her personal biggest bass just before weigh-in.
While her fish did not beat her sister's big bass, Giomara did hook into the most bass of the day and earned bragging rights among the sisters.
These young ladies had landed two quality bass despite having never fished. I was so proud of both girls and their ability to listen to my coaching.
It was a joy watching the wonder in their eyes as I explained the roles that each bird, plant, and dragonfly played in nature.
Thanks to the Kirchman Foundation, many kids and parents were able to experience the beauty of nature and it's healing powers at the Lake X property.
A special thanks goes to Neal Lazarus and Bass Pro Shops for allowing Giovana and Giomara to take home their Zebco combos. The memories attached will likely last a forever.
In addition to the Osceola County Sheriff’s department, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Teen Sportfishing Association (TSA), and Fishing Florida Radio were key partners at introducing youth to the outdoors and making the event successful. It was a pleasure working with all the groups.
To learn more about the educational and outreach programs, click on the links below: