Fishing – medicine for the mind and body

Jake and Clara Straight and their big catches.

LAKE WATEREE – In late April, 24 of the top fishing guides and tournament catfishermen from North and South Carolina converged on Lake Wateree for the 2nd Annual Lake Wateree Catfishing event for children with special needs.

Under the auspices of the United Special Sportsman Alliance, Inc. (USSA) 34 special needs children, along with their parents, were able to fish on Lake Wateree, one of the top catfish lakes in South Carolina.

The event headquarters was Lake Wateree Baptist Church on Dutchman’s Creek and despite high winds and cool morning temperatures, almost every boat caught multiple fish and catfish weighing up to 45 pounds.

It was four exciting hours of fishing the kids won’t soon forget.

The USSA is a not-for-profit dream-wish granting charity specializing in sending children and veterans with life threatening illnesses and disabilities on the outdoor adventure of their dreams.

Justin Whiteside, a Rock Hill, S.C. fishing guide who fishes several lakes in the Carolinas, came up with the idea for the all-volunteer event.

“My original idea was to give back to the sport of fishing in some way because fishing has meant so much to me and my family,” Whiteside said. “I wanted to share the outdoors experience. After talking to friends, including professional fishing guides and top professional catfish tournament anglers, the idea became reality.”

Fishing guides, tournament anglers, cooks and boat crews donated a day of peak fishing time to help with the trip.

Brian Snipes, who volunteered as a boat captain during the inaugural fishing event last June, did so again this trip. He said reactions from the kids have been incredibly positive both years and that the kids on his boat expressed the joy of several firsts including first fish, biggest fish or both.

“Turns out I had as much fun as the kids,” he said. “They enjoyed catching every fish regardless of size, and I enjoyed watching them.”

Lake Wateree and Santee Cooper Lakes fishing guide Scott Peavy of Blythewood said the youngsters on his boat were thrilled to simply have the chance to catch fish.

“It’s a great event and one that really puts the joy of fishing into perspective,” Peavy said. “What began as a day for helping these kids get a chance to fish, turned into a day where the guides and tournament fishermen were impacted in a very positive way.”

Peavy said the events have made him realize that it’s easy to take the sport of fishing and the outdoors for granted.

Whiteside said because of generous donations to the event, all the children received fishing tackle of their own, including rods and tackle boxes.

On Friday prior to the fishing trip, the kids and their families were treated to dinner, and the event wrapped up with a cookout.

“You never know when something we do now will impact a youngster in a positive way for the short or long-term,” Whiteside said. “It takes a lot of volunteers to pull off an event like this,” he said. “Everyone from boat Captains, cooks and clean-up crews made a real difference in a lot of lives, not just the kids’ lives but the parents’, too. USSA adventures give patients something to look forward to and help sustain them in their time of need.”

Peavy agreed that healing thru enjoyment of the outdoors is a reality.

“Enjoying God’s great outdoors gift to us all is a passion for many and I, one hundred percent, believe it’s one of the best healing opportunities in the world, not just physically but mentally and emotionally,” he said. “Participating in these events has been humbling, enriching and healing for the volunteers, too. As a fishing guide I take people fishing and get paid for it. I love guiding, but the opportunity to take these kids fishing has become much more valuable to me.”

At the end of the day all echoed the same sentiment – that it was one of the best things they’d ever been involved with in the sport of fishing.