It’s not that Frank Watkins believes that fishing has healing powers, or that reeling in a big sport fish off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland makes children with terminal illnesses forget about their own internal fight.
“But you get out on the boat and these kids, and their parents, get to think about something else for a little while,” Watkins said. “They get to make some memories.”
Watkins is a lifelong sports fisherman and the President of the Atlantic Coast Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association.
“I’ve been fishing since I could crawl,” Watkins said, of growing up on the New Jersey Coast. “I’m retired now and I get to fish a lot more for tuna and mahi offshore, flounder in the bays, black sea bass. Pretty much, if it’s going to bite, I’ll go fish for it.”
He also gets to work with children a lot more, teaching them how to fish, and volunteering with the association, where “we provide education and help improve the environmental habitat for fishing. It’s all so we have fishing – recreational fishing – available for our children and grandchildren.
“God’s blessed me,” said Watkins. “My kids, my grandkids, are all healthy and smart. I’ve had such a good life, and I enjoy fishing, that this is how I give back to the community.”
His favorite projects?
“We taught an entire sixth grade at a local school how to cast. Went out into the field next to the school building. Set up a couple of stations. It was amazing to see. We had almost 200 kids.”
For the adult fishermen, “we have guest speakers come to our meetings to show us how to, for example, handle flounder so they don’t get killed when bringing them to the boat. You have to minimize mortality of fish getting released, especially if your catch ones that are undersized.”
The association also works with local environmental groups to build mad made reefs off the coast of Maryland.
“We received a grant to build what looks like these giant jacks made of concrete. Off the shore here in Maryland, unlike North Jersey and New York, we don’t have structure, like rocks and boulders, to support habitat for black sea bass and a host of other species of fish. These reefs on the bottom create the nooks and crannies for marine life to get in.”
It may sound like a lot of work, Watkins said. But it’s important work.
“Fishing is important. It’s relaxing. Whether you’re on a boat or fishing from a stream, it’s a place you can go to get away from it all.”