Everyone should have the opportunity to fish. That is a sentiment shared by both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Rods and Reels in Need, an organization whose mission is to provide free fishing gear for military and underprivileged families. The Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and this fantastic non-profit have teamed up on multiple fronts to back up that sentiment with action, which includes providing access to gear and opportunities to learn essential skills and gain experience.
This partnership was first formed in 2019 when the Service worked with Rods and Reels to provide free fishing gear for underprivileged families through a holiday gift drive. Over 120 rod and reel combos as well as other tackle were donated through that effort, which no doubt led to more holiday cheer and future casts.
Together, Rods and Reels and the Service continued to address the lack of gear obstacle while also tackling the knowledge and skills barriers to fishing. This effort included planning and implementing two fishing events for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. Pairs of adult volunteers and children and families on the waiting list were provided with free fishing gear, essential skills instruction, and fishing access. Rods and Reels in Need founder, Larry Stamp, brought his fishing tackle trailer out and distributed the free equipment while the Service and other partners provided the instruction and lake fishing support. Smiles were not in short supply as the youth participants were surprised by the free gear as well as the tugs of fish on their lines.
“While COVID has heavily impacted all of our community, the youth in Big Brother Big Sisters, often from single-income homes, felt the strain even more. This activity provided an opportunity to get outdoors and engage in a positive, pro-social activity with their family or mentor,” said Moriah Chandler, program manager of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. Through these events, program pairs and families now had the gear and knowledge to continue fishing long after these events ended.
While highly successful and rewarding, events such as these have limits as to how often they can be implemented, who is involved, and how many people can be included. To further broaden access to gear, the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office started a fishing tackle loaner program with the Timberland Regional Library. In 2021, the Service partnered with one library to pilot the program, providing fishing kits with the essential gear as well as skills and lake fishing access information. By 2022, the program was expanded to three additional libraries and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. Plans are in the works to expand the program by two more libraries in 2023.
Two challenges associated with expanding the fishing tackle loaner program include the need for gear and support for new libraries and their staff. Rods and Reels in Need has generously agreed to be an additional source for technical assistance along with gear maintenance, repairs, and replacements. This will be particularly critical when libraries need a quick turnaround on gear support and Service staff are unavailable.
The Service has been very fortunate to have such a valuable partner providing essential support. And as with any healthy partnership, the Service has been enthusiastic and active in providing relevant support in return. One of Rods and Reels' biggest needs is processing and prepping donated gear. Most of the donated gear is used and is often unorganized and includes some tackle that is in poor condition. While free gear is very much appreciated by program recipients, no one should receive rusty hooks or a non-functioning reel. As such, it is important to take the time to sort through the gear, determine what is appropriate to redistribute, organize it, and prepare it for recipients. The Service has been happy to assist with this process.
Rods and Reels in Need recently received a massive load of gear, so Service cavalry was called in for much needed help. A Service employee and two all-star AmeriCorps Service interns, Hannah and Eric, showed up and sorted through over 25 donated tackle boxes that were loaded with hooks, weights, bobbers, lures, and other gear. Four hours later, they had sorted all the usable tackle in bins based on gear type and target species. The team then scrubbed out, rinsed and dried the tackle boxes and organized them in the supply room. Rods and Reels in Need does not have a staff, so it would have been an overwhelming task for Larry Stamp to handle by himself. And the sooner the gear is prepared, the quicker it makes its way into the hands of future anglers who couldn’t otherwise participate in the sport.
This support in the fall of 2022 was well timed for transitioning into the gift giving season. Rods and Reels in Need eventually teamed up with Northwest Fishing Partners to host a fishing gear giveaway and lake fishing event on December 10th in Lacey, WA. While the Service could not be there in person to support this event, we did provide staffing support to prepare gear, including loading up over 40 tackle boxes with new and used tackle. We also provided all the bobbers, complete with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logos. Providing both the initial gear sorting, cleaning and organizing as well as preparing the gear for the gifting event was much appreciated.
“The relationship with the Service has been an absolute blessing for Rods and Reels in Need. The enthusiasm, caring and genuineness they bring to the table is contagious to all around them.” Says Rods and Reels in Need founder and president Larry Stamp. “Without the help and support of the Service, I doubt our past events would have been as successful as they were. I look forward to more events to come in the next year and the continued opportunity to work with the Service.”
These partnerships are a perfect example of how more can be achieved through combining efforts towards common goals. We are looking forward to continuing our work together in maintaining and expanding existing programming as well as developing new programs to increase fishing opportunities for anyone who needs instruction and gear. Everyone should have the opportunity to fish!
Note: Significant gear for the library fishing tackle loaner program and Big Brothers Big Sisters events was also purchased by our partners, the Friends of Northwest Hatcheries. We thank them for their impactful and continued support.