Five years ago, Nanaimo’s Mike Lawrence had a vision of giving kids from all walks of life the tools and the knowledge to get out fishing. Like many of us, Lawrence had a collection of mostly unused rods at home, and noticed kids watching him as he was fishing his favorite local lakes. He had nowhere to take his used rods nor any idea how to get them to kids who could use them. So he took matters into his own hands and started the Vancouver Island Fishing for Fun (FFF) Society.
He started gathering his own used equipment, then began talking to friends about donating their gear and organizing bottle drives to raise funds to buy rods for less fortunate youth. The program grew quickly, and he soon saw the need to offer kids’ workshops that covered topics like the basics of learning to fish, rod building, and fly tying. Today, the program has grown into a registered Society, with programs actively running in Nanaimo, Ladysmith, and the Comox Valley.
“If you had asked me five years ago if I thought this was going to blossom into three different branches (and growing), I would have laughed,” Lawrence says. “But here we are nearly 5 years later, having given out over 600 fishing kits and counting.”
The program donates fishing gear to kids in need, but that is just the beginning. The Society now organizes “wish-come-true” outings for exceptional kids, school group programs, gear donations to local high school clubs, field trips to local lakes in Nanaimo, and “streamkeeper” classes emphasizing the importance of habitat restoration. They also work on special projects like raising funds to purchase an electric reel for kids with disabilities.
Another recently launched venture is in partnership with the Nanaimo Visitor Centre, making fishing kits available onsite for local families. The kits include information cards, along with directions and hints and tricks for popular lakes in the area. Families and local visitors are welcome to borrow the equipment, head out fishing for the day, and return them in good condition as soon as they are done.
Just over a year after Lawrence began the Nanaimo chapter, Dave Pedersen, a father of four from Ladysmith, saw the program’s success. He decided to volunteer with his family at a couple of the Nanaimo events, and shortly thereafter began the Ladysmith chapter of FFF.
“I came from a low-income family myself; I often used hand lines to get out and fish, because that’s all I had. If someone had handed me all the gear that I needed to go fishing, that would have been a very big deal to me back then,” he said.
Today, the Ladysmith program is mostly spearheaded by Pedersen and his daughters, with some unique projects like the Youth Ambassador Program and the Family Giveaway every Christmas, where an entire family is outfitted with the gear and tackle every holiday season.
The Society is starting its own fundraising derby at Fuller Lake in Chemainus this September, with plans well underway.
The third Chapter Lead joined the program in the summer of 2019. Local Comox Valley sports fisherman Dave Kozakowski was gifted fishing gear from friends who had recently passed away. When he posted the gear for free on social media, a program participant looped in Lawrence, who gratefully took the gear for the Society. After that first meeting, Kozakowski was convinced, and the 18-year Scouter and active community volunteer began the Comox Valley Chapter of the program two weeks later.
“I remember when I was a kid catching a 10” pan fryer, and that it felt like the biggest fish in the world for me. I want kids to be able to experience that, too.” Kozakowski says, explaining why he jumped on board so quickly.
The Comox Valley chapter went on to provide its very first donated fishing kit to a grandmother who took her grandson fishing often, but with only one rod between them. This year, the program also will be sending a selected recipient on a donated 8-hour saltwater fishing charter. A local DFO staffer has offered to take out one of the kids in his Tyee pool rowboat in his personal time as well.
“We don’t have the same options (in the Comox Valley) of local lakes with wheelchair-accessible docks as they have in Nanaimo. Having local volunteers step up to provide these experiences for kids has been just fantastic,” Kozakowski explained, obviously pleased by the overwhelming support.
The quick success of Fishing for Fun has not gone unnoticed, with growing support from local businesses and government. Current corporate sponsors include Gone Fishin’, Cabela’s, Cliff’s Chinook Charters, West Coast Thumpers, Race Rocks Custom Rod and Tackle, Savage Rod Co., Van Isle Firewood & Recycling, The Lantzville Pub, and East Coaster Sportfishing. The DFO and The Freshwater Fishing Society of BC have also provided support at various levels, consulting with the group on a regular basis and offering print materials and swag for their workshops.
The effort does not stop there for this dedicated trio. Programs aside, they are working hard to meet the increasing need for funds to keep the Society growing. They continue to organize bottle drives and bullhead derbies. Kozakowski is even looking at going to market with his top-secret coho beach lure, with all proceeds going to Fishing for Kids.
Their largest annual event is typically early in June. Jam-packed with family fun, including a hotdog & marshmallow roast and plenty of prizes, this event is becoming more and more attended every year.
What’s next for Vancouver Island’s Fishing for Fun? More than anything, they would like to see the Society grow geographically. They are in desperate need of volunteers to come forward as Chapter Leads, expanding the program- ming into other Vancouver Island communities.
Donations are an ongoing necessity as well. Finding new corporate sponsors and continuing to receive individual donations of new or newer fishing gear are both crucial. This spring, when you’re cleaning out that fishing room, see if there is anything that might work for the program. In particular, 2’6” youth rods, spinning reels, and bait casters are needed to help supply the kids with kits at the events.
Ensuring the longevity of our sport comes in many forms. These three local fishermen are making sure that the generations to come are learning not only to love fishing, but also the importance of enhancement and habitat restoration along the way.
Follow the FFF Society on its website and check the Island Fisherman Events Page for upcoming events, and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram as well.