Fifty families came down to Peter Pan Park to learn the ins and outs of fishing during the first of three Vamos a Pescar events, Saturday morning.
Vamos a Pescar — which translates to “let’s go fishing” — is in its fifth year in Emporia, thanks to a collaboration between the Emporia Migrant Education program, What’s In Outdoors, Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Migrant Education Coordinator Patricia Saenz-Reyes said the program began after a conversation with Phil Taunton of What’s In Outdoors about getting more people from the Hispanic community involved in fishing.
“When we started we could only afford to invite 12 families because of the funding,” Saenz-Reyes said. “When they come to these, everything is free. The fishing rods, the tackle boxes, their gear so they can get started; it’s all free.”
This year, the program was expanded thanks to a “generous” grant received through the George H.W. Bush Vamos A Pescar grant program. That program funds state and local initiatives that focus on engaging Hispanic families in fishing, boating and conservation activities. According to the program’s web site, only 3.3 million anglers out of about 46 million total are Hispanic.
Saenz-Reyes said, because of that funding, they were able to open up the program to 50 families this year — and 50 families signed up.
“We got a good amount of funding that opened it up to more families in our community, and not just Hispanic families,” she said. “We have a very diverse group here.”
Taunton said the Vamos a Pescar program has been a fulfilling endeavor for him personally, and he’s learned a lot about the local Hispanic community since kicking off the program.
“Fishing is the glue and the bond that these kids and their families will have all their lives,” he said. “We call it, ‘catching smiles and memories to last a lifetime.’ I got goosebumps awhile ago just watching a little lady get her fishing pole, and you could not believe the smile of wonder, like, ‘I got a fishing pole.’”
Taunton, who hosts the “What’s In Outdoors” radio show on KVOE, said he puts his salary from that show into his fund at the Emporia Community Foundation to fund education projects like Vamos a Pescar.
He recruits help from fishing enthusiasts from all around the state to help out with the event, too, to talk about everything from equipment to casting methods to boating safety.
Mike Schmitt, of Paola, was on hand to talk about the various types of fishing rods as well as the Leave No Trace initiative.
Schmitt said it was important for novice fishermen to have the right equipment to get the most enjoyment out of the activity. While some rods might look neat, they might not be practical for someone just starting out.
“I’ve even gone as far to take [the equipment] apart and show them if there’s a knot inside and how to fix it,” he said.
Schmitt also demonstrated how items such as plastic water bottles could be modified into a makeshift reel. Part of the Leave No Trace initiative, he said, is leaving the outdoors in better shape than you left it.
Saenz-Reyes said one of the big benefits of Vamos a Pescar is, for families who have immigrated from Mexico, Central and South America and have fished before, learning the rules and regulations of fishing in Kansas or even some of the equipment.
One family Saenz-Reyes works with is from Mexico, and while the father had used fishing nets often, he had never used a fishing rod and reel.
“Today we were able to show them how to put the rods together and how to use them so they can go fishing,” she said.
Saenz-Reyes said she feels fishing is an outdoor activity that families can enjoy together. The more people that have those skills, she said, the better — especially when COVID-19 is still a concern. Fishing, after all, is a COVID-safe activity.
“This is really bringing people out and encouraging family engagement,” she said. “Especially for our families that are working 10-12 hour shifts — that doesn’t leave too much room for family engagement. Programs like this opens up room for family engagement outdoors.”
For Taunton, Vamos a Pescar is the type of program that helps spread the enjoyment of fishing to more families and it’s getting more younger people involved.
“With this, we’re getting more younger people involved and they’re the ambassadors,” he said. “They represent the future. This is one program that we can give a strong sense of ethics and responsibility.”
The next two events are set for 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Aug. 21 where participants will learn about boating and water safety, and Sept. 25 for Outdoor Appreciation Day, for the annual fishing derby and picnic. Both events are held at Camp Alexander.