Foundation lets foster kids feel 'happiness of catching a fish' at Destin Fishing Rodeo

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

In October, more than 100 foster children will get the chance to fish in the 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo as part of the Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation.

For the past three decades, the foundation has taken youth out for a day of fishing during the Rodeo, Destin's oldest tradition.

This year, the plan is to take 114 youth fishing Oct. 22, according to Bob Wilder, president of the foundation.

"We can't all fish at the same time, but myself and the volunteers … we make sure every kid catches a fish," Wilder said. 

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These two young men show off the fish they caught aboard the New Florida Girl's American Spirit during the Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation Day at last year's Destin Fishing Rodeo.

How the Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation got its start

The Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation, a nonprofit, was formed in 1990 after Wilder's friend Larry Hatchett, who loved to fish, died of a heart attack at 34. 

Hatchett, who was from Memphis, Tennessee, loved to fish and especially in the Gulf of Mexico. He often took children fishing with him, as he enjoyed teaching them as well as seeing the smiles on their faces.

After his death, "a group of us got together and we took 25 foster-home kids in that first year," Wilder said.

The youth with the Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation got a chance to come aboard the Destin Fishing Rodeo weigh-in station barge last year and have a photo taken with weighmaster Bruce Cheves, pictured at far right.

From that first trip, the event has grown, with this year being the 32nd year for the LHFF to take kids fishing as part of the rodeo.

Wilder said they used to hire 12 charter boats and take two half-day trips to get all the kids on the water. But that got to be too much, "we just couldn't keep up … that kept me running," Wilder said. 

In 2005, they switched over to the New Florida Girl's American Spirit, which can hold 149 passengers.

With the bigger boat, all the children could be together. 

"Although they were from different homes, they got to be friends, swapped addresses. … They connected. It was really meant to be, that they all be together," he said. 

'It brings a lot of joy to our heart'

The crew aboard the American Spirit are thrilled to be a part of the special day. 

"For all of us on the American Spirit, it brings a lot of joy to our heart to be able to give these kids a chance to enjoy what we get to experience every day," said Capt. Jim Green.

"We are so blessed in Destin with the access to the Gulf and its resources. It is a special experience for them to be able to come out to deep sea fish and participate in the Destin Fishing Rodeo," Green said. 

The most children Wilder has taken on Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation Day has been 179. They utilized two boats, the New Florida Girl and the New Florida Girl's American Spirit.  

However, they soon realized 179 kids were "too many to manage," he said, noting they now limit the trip to 120 kids. 

Out of 114 children participating this year, about 70 are from Florida, while the rest are from Tennessee and Mississippi. 

"They get to stay in beachfront condominiums. Most of them have never seen the ocean, most have never been to the beach, never in a condo, most have never caught a fish. So, it's a bunch of firsts for everybody," Wilder said. 

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How this year's event will work

The youth will stay at SunDestin in Destin and will arrive Oct. 20 and fish on Oct. 22.

The kids will be treated to a pizza dinner Thursday and then Friday night head over to Back Porch for dinner and a chance to play on the beach.

On Saturday, fishing day, the kids will have breakfast at 6:15 a.m. and then fish from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. After making a stop at the rodeo for certificates and a free rod and reel, the youth will have free time at the beach. 

Then at 5 p.m., it's back to AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar, home of the Destin Fishing Rodeo, where they will get to eat the fish that they caught, Wilder said. 

"We love being part of the rodeo," Wilder said. 

Foster children enjoy a day of fishing aboard the New Florida Girl's American Spirit as part of Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation Day during last year's Destin Fishing Rodeo.

And Green and his crew are happy to accommodate the group. 

"To me, the Larry Hatchet Fishing Foundation is such a worthy cause. This trip every year reminds us how fortunate we are to live in such a unique 'fishing village,'" Green said. 

"To see the excitement and happiness of catching a fish brings to anyone that does not have the opportunity or means to do so always humbles our team on the American Spirit," Green said.

And because of their dedication to bring the children to fish each year, the city of Destin is going to issue a proclamation in October to declare the third Saturday in October each year as Larry Hatchett Fishing Foundation Take a Kid Fishing Day, Wilder said. 

"It's very near and dear to my heart," Wilder said of LHFF, noting his sons are part of the foundation as well. "We'll be here forever."