Walking through the double doors of Destin Middle School on a recent Friday, the energy of the more than 30 members of the new fifth grade Fishing Club was almost electric.
The miniature Marlins of the fishing club, along with their sponsor, fifth grade team leader and math teacher Terry Gulledge, Principal Diane Kelley, School Board member and restaurateur Dewey Destin and various other DMS staff eagerly awaited the arrival of Kevin Ogle of Coastal Angler Magazine and Marty Wilson, the well-known marine artist who was donating one of his paintings to the school.
Kelley said that, to her knowledge, DMS is the first school in Okaloosa County to start a fishing club, and the art presentation was a celebration of that fact.
When asked how he became involved with the fishing club, Gulledge looks very proud when he talks about fishing, his students and his club members.
“I’ve been fishing since I was a little boy — really how could you not with this town’s history?” said Gulledge.
The group currently meets on the first Friday of every month. As of now, they don’t take part in any fishing competitions, but they would like to if other schools form similar clubs. Gulledge told The Log that the community’s support has been overwhelming, “the support from The Destin History and Fishing Museum, especially from Kathy Marler Blue, Bass Pro Shops, who donated rods and reels — everyone’s been great.”
Considering the city’s rich fishing heritage and with two ponds on the campus property, a fishing club was a logical choice for the school, which is situated right next to the Choctawhatchee Bay.
“We don’t really know who stocked the ponds on the school property really, but the kids have caught bass and some brim,” said Gulledge.
Gulledge told The Log that he wants the kids to get to experience saltwater and freshwater fishing.
“We’re planning a trip to go pompano fishing sometime in December probably.”
The club has a student democracy of sorts — Brock McPherson, president; Madison Pridgen, vice-president; Lauren Slattery, secretary and Jared Marquez, treasurer.
One member 10-year-old Allison Colvin told The Log her favorite part about being part of the fishing club is being outside with her friends. She also likes "to catch and touch fish."
The club isn’t just catching fish, though. They also caught the attention of the town’s leading fishermen and Wilson the artist.
When Ogle and Wislon walked into the school late last month, the room exploded with applause.
After introductions were made, a few photographs were snapped and the Fishing Club design shirts were given out, the time to unveil Wilson’s painting arrived.
The students began to do a literal drum roll with their hands as Wilson pulled the white cloth off of the painting, uncovering the large blue canvas dotted with two marlins.
Once again the room erupted in a sonic boom of cheers for the painting that Wilson named "Deja Blue."
Wilson said he only paints what he's seen, real life images and this painting is no exception.
"Everything I paint is personal to me, they are my real life experiences," said Wilson.
He continues, saying, "It was a phenomenal experience to see those two marlins like that, it was nature at it's best."
Wilson has been fishing and painting "forever" but he said he has been making a living with his art since he was about 16 years old.
And with children spending almost seven hours a day watching television or playing video games, Wilson maintains that fishing is a great way to get kids excited about being outdoors.
Ending the presentation with an anecdote, Wilson shared the story of the blue cast on his left arm — "I was out tuna fishing, and when I pulled the fish up to the boat to gaff it, the fish took my gaff and left me with a broken arm."
To learn more about Marty Wilson and his art go to www.martywilson.com.