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Fish for Life inspires, teaches children how to fish

The Sept. 20 Fish for Life trip with special needs kids prepares to take off on the Dana Pride boat for a half day of fishing and life long memories. Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne Ansari
The Sept. 20 Fish for Life trip with special needs kids prepares to take off on the Dana Pride boat for a half day of fishing and life long memories. Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne Ansari

By Suzanne Ansari

Do you remember catching your first fish?

I can still feel the tug on my fishing line, the thrill of reeling and wondering what kind of fish I caught. I was 9 years old on a small lake in Illinois when I caught my first fish, a tiny blue gill. I was afraid to touch it.

My little brother, on the dock in a wheelchair, helped me take it off the hook. Fishing was a respite from the hospital and needles. That memory still brings great joy.

Fish for Life, a south Orange County-based nonprofit, was founded to bring joy and introduce fishing to children with special needs. They seek to enhance the lives of special needs individuals by providing love and inspiration while teaching kids how to fish during free half-day fishing trips.

“I have a friend who has cerebral palsy,” said Fish for Life founder Jim Holden. “I asked him what he really wanted to do and he said, ‘I would love to go fishing.’ The lights went off, bells rang and I thought, ‘Let’s go big, rent a boat, red carpet treatment with special guests,’” Holden said. “That’s how Fish for Life started.”

For 30 special-needs children and young adults ages 8 to 25, catching their first fish was a special memory made possible during the Sept. 20 Fish for Life trip aboard the rented Dana Pride vessel operated by Dana Wharf Sportfishing.

“There are so many fish in the sea, it’s like one of those wheels you spin and you don’t know what you’ll get but I expect to catch a few fish today,” said Simon Huntington, a 10-year-old with Autism from San Clemente.

Huntington was paired with 90-year-old John Jocker, a volunteer who helped him catch the first fish of the trip.

“It’s a blessing to teach kids how to fish and see them happy and fishing on their own,” Jocker said.

All participants and chaperones enjoyed special VIP red carpet introductions. They were each assigned a fishing team leader who taught them how to bait, hook and catch fish.

“This trip will inspire you and this won’t be your last day fishing,” said Carrie Wilson, a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. Wilson gave participants fishing passports and stamps to identify the type of fish they caught.

Barracuda, bonito, kelp bass, lingcod, mackerel and yellow-tail tuna were some kinds of fish caught during the Fish for Life trip, sponsored by Amigos de los Niño’s.

“The ultimate goal is to create positive memories for kids and parents and a safe haven for them to be loved and not judged,” Holden said.

The next Fish for Life trip is Oct. 18 in Dana Point. Contact or call 949.285.8819 for more information or to volunteer. Sponsors are also needed to fund additional fishing trips to continue to spread the love one boat at a time.


Suzanne Ansari is the coordinator of the Community Resource Center of San Clemente. She currently serves on the San Clemente Collaborative Leadership, Youth and Senior Affairs Committees.

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