I was able to visit Hooked on Fishing in East Peoria where adults and kids learn about conservation while sharing memories.
“Hooked on Fishing is a 501C3 non for profit organization. We serve kids, seniors, people with special needs, and veterans, offering them free fishing opportunities to come to our park with everything that they need provided for them,” said Dan Gannaway.
Dan Gannaway, Executive Director, said their program also benefits local high school bass teams.
“A lot of these kids have started, came, practiced, and learned fishing and different things like that all from Hooked on Fishing Park. Some have graduated and joined higher teams and some have even went on to become state champions,” said Gannaway.
Ryan Ortega, coaches the Pekin bass team. He said the park is open to their teams during the spring for practice. He said fishing technique isn’t the only thing he coaches.
“You have to be a meteorologist to be a successful bass tournament angler. One of the weather patterns I always teach my kids and I quiz them on is: winds from the west fish bite the best, winds from the east fish bite the least, winds from the south blows bait in mouth, and winds from the north don’t go forth,” said Ortega.
In the park’s eleven years, Gannaway said he has seen successful kids come back to teach new anglers all their tricks while paying their opportunities forward.
“There is one young man that still volunteers with us today that was here when he was in junior high. In high school he eventually won the state championship and went on to join the Illinois State fishing team and even qualified for the national tournament there.” said Gannaway.
Gannaway and Ortega both grew up enjoying the outdoors and hope to pass on their love to others.
“It’s not just about fishing but getting outside and putting down the electronics to enjoy nature and what’s going on around them,” said Gannaway.
“Being able to have a child in your boat or on the bank with you… or being able to be successful catching a fish, or catching a fish of a lifetime, or their personal best fish. That’s where I get paid… in those smiles and their excitement when they are able to do what you taught them to do.” said Ortega.