Bryan's Fishing Camp 2006

Tournament Winners


Bryan’s Song -- A Champion For Kids
By Bill Decoteau
October Issue 2006 in Woods & Waters USA

There is a passion that lives within every individual who pursues the allure of angling. For some it may be an escape route from daily repetitive activities, for others it’s the gateway to an inner world filled with imagination that only they can script and for most it is simply ‘Good Medicine!"

In 1998, nearly four years after the tragic death of their son Bryan in a plane crash, the seed was planted along the shorelines of Candlewood Lake in Danbury, Connecticut, by Ray and Ronnie Kerchal sprouting the foundational roots for "Bryan’s Fishing Camp".

Funded solely through a Memorial Fund (, Bryan V. Kerchal B.A.S.S. 1994 Bassmaster Classic Champion’s parents tied together with a host of B.A.S.S. Federation volunteer Boat Captains and set out to share Bryan’s enthusiasm and compassion for fishing with youths who might otherwise never have the privilege of experiencing the thrill of landing their first fish.

"The first camp was two weeks long, on the final day we held, and still do today, a tournament where our youth anglers are taken out in bass boats with volunteer Federation Boat Captains as their guides," says Ray Kerchal.

"The difference in our tournament concept is that the youths have several categories they may compete in against youth anglers of the same age and angling experience," he added.

Divided into four groups, youth campers ranging in ages from seven to thirteen learn at a level which encourages them to have fun while developing self confidence in their angling knowledge, and skills at identifying specific lures, tying knots, as well as casting techniques. Also with an appreciation to respect, protect, and preserve our natural environmental resources, a trait Bryan V. Kerchal himself practiced on a daily basis.

With an average of sixty campers now participating in the program, "Bryan’s Fishing Camp," obviously has an ever growing waiting list.

"Although our program is open to any child, and we have never turned a child away based on his/her parent’s monetary status, most of our campers come from low income families, single parent households or inner city environments where they may never have had the opportunity to experience either camping or fishing," states Ronnie Kerchal.

Adding with a smile, "And remember that our program is entirely free to all of the children!"
Dan Bielert, a member of the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Federation Nation has been volunteering his time as both a boater and instructor at "Bryan’s Fishing Camp" for the past eight years.

"There are no words which can express the fulfillment of witnessing the individual growth that each of these children achieves, while attending Bryan’s Fishing Camp." Then with a tear in his eye he replied, "Except for maybe their smiles, when they learn a new technique or land another fish?"

The motto of "Bryan’s Fishing Camp;" "Give a child a gift of joy. Give a child the gift of fishing," was indeed the lifeline that inspired Bryan V. Kerchal to excel as a bass angler, becoming the only Grassroots B.A.S.S. Federation Angler to ever win the coveted Bassmaster Classic, thus being crowned the World Champion!

Bryan never lost his enthusiasm to excel as a bass angler. Everyday on the water to Bryan was a learning experience, whether or not the fish were biting.

"To Bryan the mere enjoyment of being on the water, paired with the challenge of enticing bass to take his baits in their underwater world motivated Bryan not only to becoming a better bass angler, but more importantly a better person and role model for all bass anglers," claims Chris Mann, a personal friend of the Kerchal family, who continues to run and preserve Bryan’s 1994 Ranger Bass Boat.

A unique concept to the camp’s format is the stepping stone arrangement placing each child in one of four distinct groups, A-1, A-2, and C, allowing the individual child’s interest in fishing to be self motivated.

"We have Group A-1, which is designed for first year campers, this group of children more often than not have never fished before, so we work around safety issues such as the importance of wearing life jackets, being cautious with the sharp hooks, looking behind you when casting and we concentrate our fishing with live bait for active species like sunfish," says Camp Director Ray Kerchal.

All first year campers receive their own rod/reel combination and a tackle box filled with assorted baits.

As campers attending "Bryan’s Fishing Camp" advance their interest and technical knowledge in the sport of bass angling, councilors teach.

Mike Schmitt, Jr. is one of those campers who have developed into a prime example of how "Bryan’s Fishing Camp" has inspired these youth anglers into becoming active role models and outstanding bass angling individuals!

"There is no doubt attending ‘Bryan’s Fishing Camp’, with my parents as volunteers have molded me into a Bass Fanatic," claims Mike Schmitt Jr., who competes regularly with his Dad in the highly competitive New York Northeast Team Bass trail.

Schmitt’s desire for learning bass behavior, advance bass fishing techniques, coupled with sharing these tactics with others led to his becoming first an advance member of the elite "C-Group," where youth anglers are only allowed to utilize artificial baits, making all of their on-the-water decisions during competition days, to becoming a camp councilor, to his present active role as both a camp instructor and Boat Captain.

Venturing out onto the waters of Candlewood Lake, I observed first hand what has become a "Dream Comes True-Children’s Fishing Camp," that only the loving parents of a World Class Champion Bass Angler could have envisioned!

Echoing laugher rode the waves as ear-to-ear smiles, and high-five hand slaps were given when the number 100 sunfish was landed in the ‘Most Fish Category’, while adrenaline accelerated to the leaping antics of Bronze Back Smallmouth Bass that fell victim to drop-shot techniques dragged in twenty feet of water by youth anglers competing in the advanced Group C Division.

Feeling the spirit of his son Bryan in each and every child that came forward to receive their awards during his final day as "Bryan’s Fishing Camp Director," Ray Kerchal addressed a room filled with youth campers, parents, grandparents, camp councilors, instructors, and Federation Bass Boat Captains as he ended his tenure with the same words utilized in 1998 when ‘Bryan’s Fishing Camp’ was started.

Referring to the youth campers and their camp experience, it seemed "A World beyond their own; accomplishing something they thought was impossible; finding out that they were important!"

THE BASS BUREAU, wishes 2007 Camp Director Jennifer Sposta, the Bryan’s Fishing Camp Board of Directors and its entire active volunteers the very best as they carry on the Bryan V. Kerchal’s Dream for many more years to come!

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