The Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation continued its tradition of making kids smile at the Destin Fishing Rodeo this past weekend.

The Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation continued its tradition of making kids smile at the Destin Fishing Rodeo this past weekend.

The Memphis, Tennessee, based nonprofit has been coming to Destin each October for the past 26 years, bringing a group of foster children from throughout the southeast to the area for a fun weekend of fishing and friendship.

“The Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation is really about taking foster kids that have had traumatic experiences in their lives and we get to go on this big weekend vacation,” said 17-year-old Austin Lawson, who has been going on the trip for six years. “A lot of us say this is the best experience of our life, and we enjoy it a lot.”

All 100-plus kids and their chaperones and families got to go out on the American Spirit boat with Capt. Jim Green, according to president Bob Wilder. For some of the kids, it was their first time fishing, while for others it was part of their favorite yearly tradition.

“It’s fun to go out there and deep sea fish,” said Samuel McKeown, a foster child with Fostering Hope Florida, who was participating in the program for the third year in a row. “I don’t get to do that a lot.”

The children and volunteers are put up in condos for the weekend by Resort Quest. Wilder said he takes out children from local organizations as well, such as Children in Crisis and Claire’s House. After fishing all day Saturday, the crew filleted and cooked the fish for the group.

“To me, the most special part of this weekend is that some of these kids have never had any type of experience like this,” said Liz Lemley, treasurer of the Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation. “They’ve never seen the beach, the ocean, some of them have never even been to McDonald’s.

“When we have these kids say, ‘this is the best week of my life,’ that’s what it’s all about,” she added.