Bryan’s Camp an Educational Experience 2007
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 1994 World Champion!
“It’s only fitting that his parents, Ray and Ronnie, founded the Bryan Kerchal Fishing Camp on Candlewood Lake in 1998 four years after Bryan’s tragic death in an airplane crash,” says Mike Wiston an active Connecticut Federation Angler committed to ensuring Bryan’s Dream lives on today in the hearts and souls of every youth camper attending the week long day-camp.
According to Wiston, Bryan Kerchal spent countless hours dissecting the contour lines of the nutmeg states famed Candlewood Lake, developing his angling skill. “I can’t tell you how many tournaments Bryan won on Candlewood Lake, however I’m told that he spent ever minute he had learning how to pattern bass which lead to Bryan’s bass angling skills and Bryan’s back-to-back Bassmaster Classic berths via the Bassmaster Federation tournament format!”
Under the guidance of newly appointed 2007 Camp Director, Jennifer Sposta paired with dedicated input framed with the organizational skills of Connecticut’s Federation Nation’s Mike Wiston and teamed with Connecticut’s TBF Federation’s Fred and Amy Perry, campers divided into four levels of angling experience participated in an array of week long educational programs.
“Our youth campers ranging in ages from seven to thirteen learn at an individual level which encourages them to have fun while developing self confidence in their angling knowledge coupled with skills at identifying specific lures, tying knots, as well as casting techniques tied together with an appreciation to respect, protect, and preserve our natural environmental resources,” claims Jennifer Sposta.
Campers are registered into structured classrooms based on their angling knowledge. Group ‘A’ campers are usually those who have no fishing experience or in most cases are first year campers. This year twenty-one campers were registered in Group ‘A’, according to Sposta. Group ‘B’ are campers who have a basic understanding of fishing in general, while Group ‘B-1’ campers, eight this year, require a refresher class. “Our elite or most knowledgeable campers are registered in Group ‘C’. These campers more often than not are attending for their third year and usually graduate into becoming camp councilors or join federation youth groups,” suggests Wiston.
Fred and Amy Perry spearheaded the classroom programs, which were divided into morning and afternoon sessions for each group. Monday, the entire day was spent familiarizing Groups ‘A, B, and B-1’campers with basic rules, organizing them into specific groups, and walking them through each station. Group ‘C’ campers, after a brief refresher course spent the day fishing with Volunteer Boat Captains.
“Our classroom sessions, held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, this year utilized Connecticut’s C.A.R.E. fishing program, which incorporates Connecticut’s Aquatic Resource Educational format,” says Amy Perry. With campers spending one half of the day in classrooms and the other half of day enjoying fishing as well as other water activities, volunteers demonstrated a variety of educational hands-on experiences not soon to be forgotten!
Fred Perry, Mike Wiston along with twenty-seven year old Jim Morgan, a former camper himself, instructed campers in areas such as equipment care and maintenance, knot tying, lure presentations and rigging techniques for specific angling conditions. The camps unique stepping stone format allows individual campers interest in fishing to be self motivated. As campers advance their interest and technical knowledge in the sport of bass angling, councilors paired with bass fishing instructors move unto specific bass techniques, such as developing precise casting abilities, accurately placing their bait in specific locations within the camps casting pool.
“The campers were certainly busy this year and their enthusiasm level continued to grow with each hands-on presentation,” claims Amy Perry. “The Candlewood Lake Authority brought over a colored display whereas the campers participated in constructing homes around a lake, fertilizing the grass areas, installing run off barriers, then actually sprayed water unto their newly constructed area witnessing the effects and benefits of the environmental regulations allowing for more conservation and preservation of our natural water resources.”
Other classroom activities included, taking water samples, then viewing the samples under a microscope, and identifying important zooplankton needed for the growth of a fishery. D.E.P. representatives displayed taxidermy samplings of every species swimming within Candlewood Lake, including other freshwater species found in the state of Connecticut. Explaining each species underwater preference for specific habitat relating to structure, cover and seasonal water depth activities, D.E.P. representatives enticed reaction question from just about every camper!
Candlewood Lake Patrol had no problem holding campers interest level at an all time high with their hands-on demonstrations. “It’s really amazing as to how much the campers learned and retained,” claims Amy Perry. Adding, “A walk through one of the patrol boats, their equipment and why they need specific items, ending on a running response with siren whelping, as the campers standing on the docks applauded their departure was definitely one of the highlights most appreciated.”
According to Jennifer Sposta, “The first camp was two weeks long, on the final day Ray and Ronnie Kerchal held a tournament where youth anglers were taken out in bass boats with volunteer Federation Boat Captains as their guides. (Note: In 1998 there were two separate camps lasting one week each.) Obviously, the bass tournament grand finale is still incorporated within our one week day-camp!” “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,” adds Mike Wiston.
With approximately sixty youth angler/campers participating in this years Bryan Kerchal Fishing Camp, class instructors, management staff members, and volunteer Federation Boat Captains were pleasantly surprise when campers registered in groups ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘B-1’ made their final decision as to which category they chose to compete in.
The goal of the Bryan Kerchal Fishing Camp is to encourage youth anglers into becoming activity involved in fishing. “Although we concentrate on pursuing Black Bass with artificial lures with our advanced Group ‘C’ anglers, we also expose our other three groups to artificial lures as well as live bait since its imperative their interest in catching and releasing fish continues,” smiled Camp Director Jennifer Sposta. Interjecting with a chuckle, Wiston replied, “However, usually the majority of our first year campers have always chose to participate in the live bait most fish category, (pausing for a brief moment with laughter)…Except this year only seven of the twenty-one first year campers chose this category, while the remaining balance of campers chose the Black Bass category, where only artificial lures may be used in the tournament!”
“In my many years as a volunteer Boat Captain, I have never witness a more enthusiastic group of youth anglers eagerly seeking to utilize artificial baits, especially plastic worms, in their efforts to catch bass,” claims Marine USA Nitro Pro Staffer Chris Blais.
With each Volunteer Boat Captain Guide paired with two Angling Campers, three flights ventured out unto Candlewood Lake to test their newly learned angling skills. Returning to the docks every boat claimed a limit of smiles as each camper made their way to the scales. When the scales were officially closed everyone including the campers parents gathered together for an awards ceremony.
At the Bryan Kerchal Fishing Camp every camper is a winner, as each camper receives their own donated rod/reel combinations and a tackle box filled with assorted baits. Plaques are awarded to fifth place in each category, as well as most and largest fish. Claiming the Largemouth ‘Big Fish’ title was Cody Gillotti with a 4.61 lb smallmouth bass, while first year camper Katie Stawiasz amazed everyone when Katie’s bass, caught on artificial baits, tipped the scales at 8.04 lbs. winning the overall tournament.
Katie’s smile indeed modeled the Bryan Kerchal Fishing Camps motto, “Give a child a gift of joy, Give a child the gift of fishing”!
God Bless and Best Bass’n
Sidebar: The Fishing Camp a totally free camp is funded solely through the Bryan V. Kerchal Memorial Fund, allowing inner city children as well as emotional challenged children the opportunity to experience the thrill of catching their first fish. For additional information and or to make donations log unto www.bryankerchalfund.org.
Northwood’s Sporting Journal
Bill Decoteau is an outdoor journalist with a strong passion for pursuing the Black Bass. His activities include covering and photographing professional bass trails, the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Trail, as well as emceeing benefit tournaments. Bill may also be found holding bass seminars or sharing winning techniques utilized by some of the nationals’ top-bass pro’s at many of the regional sportsmen shows.
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