Big Cedar hosted the CATCH A SPECIAL THRILL (C.A.S.T.) FOUNDATION for a C.A.S.T. for Kids fishing event at Bent Hook Marina on Sunday, September 30. The event gives special needs children the opportunity to fish and boat with area Bass fisherman on Table Rock Lake. Sponsors included U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Bass Pro Shops, Camp Barnabas, Table Rock Lake Bassmasters, Ozark Rivers Heritage Foundation, Western Taney County Fire and Developmental Center of the Ozarks.
Each child received a free rod and reel, C.A.S.T. t-shirt and hat, a tackle box, and tackle to take home. All children, no matter their disability, had the opportunity to fish the lake from a boat. Upon return, the families and volunteers were treated to a fish fry provided by Bass Pro Shops; and as a special keepsake, the children received a mounted picture of themselves with their fishing guides.
The Bryant family from Arkansas found out about the event through Camp Barnabas, a summer camp geared towards the needs of exceptional children. Both of their children, Seth and Shai, have special needs and attended the camp this past summer.
“Camp Barnabas gave our children a chance to be normal,” explained Tonya Bryant. The children were able to zip line, rock climb, and take part in other activities not usually available to them.
“There was someone with the kids at all times, and it was good for them to gain some independence from us. But also my husband and I felt completely comfortable with the care and supervision they received.”
So when they found out about the C.A.S.T. for Kids event, they really wanted their children involved. Rusty and Tonya used to love boating before having children, so being out on a boat is very special to them.
Seth, the couple’s oldest child, was born with cerebral palsy. “He is physically fine, but mentally special,” Tonya states.
Seth is the first to drop his line in the water, and from his excitement, you’d never know that convincing him to come had been a challenge. Tonya explains that he didn’t want to come because he suffers from separation anxiety. The family is split up into two bass boats, but they remain within a few feet of each other.
Shai, the younger of the Bryant’s children, was three-years-old when she was involved in an accident resulting in a brain stem injury. For two weeks, the family was unsure if she would make it. She spent months in a wheelchair and had to relearn to walk and talk.
“She struggles with balance,” Tonya states. “I have to keep my hand on her to steady her.”
Once situated in the boat though, Shai is all smiles. When the Bass Pro hands her the fishing-pole, she patiently watches the bobber.
“Patience is one of the traits you have to have to be in our family,” states Tonya. Although Shai is in 4th grade, she has only recently learned to ride a bike without training wheels, skip, and is now playing on a softball team.
“I’m not a very good fisherman,” Shai comments. We’ve been out on the water for almost an hour and haven’t had a nibble.
“Just watch your bobber,” Tonya responds. And as if on cue, the bobber immediately goes under! Shai begins reeling, but whatever is on the end of the line wants nothing to do with joining us in the boat. Fishing Pro and guide, Dave, steps up and helps her reel in a 21” catfish.
“I love to fish!” Shai exclaims. Suddenly she has forgotten all about the conditions that challenge her; suddenly she is just a little girl catching her first catfish!
“Girls rule, boys drool!” she shouts to her brother. There is some playful bantering back and forth, but the simple joy of seeing her face makes the entire group smile.
“If we had only fished from the shore, we wouldn’t have come. It means all the difference in the world to fish from a boat,” Tonya explains.
And here is where the fishing pros come in—by providing boats and guides, these children experience fishing in a way that would not normally be available to them. Many of the boats are specially outfitted for wheelchairs, and the guides focus their entire attention on the kids. Dave and Rick, the Bryant family guides, belong to the Table Rock Bassmaster Club, and every year they get a call for volunteers.
“We know there are lots of families in need of opportunities like this,” Rick explains. “We’ve been involved for five years, and we keep coming back because of moments like these!”
After catching her fish, Shai is content to play with the items in her new tackle box. Dave asks if we would like to go on a boat ride, and soon we are clipping through the water at a pretty good pace. Tonya’s hand rests instinctively on her daughter’s leg as we skim across the water.
“I’m proud of myself,” Shai states.
Tonya looks down at her daughter and smiles. “I’m proud of you too, honey!”
Tonya and I make eye contact from across the boat, and no words have to be exchanged. The reason the Bryant family traveled to Big Cedar Lodge for this event wasn’t just to catch fish; it was so their children would know they CAN catch fish.
Since 1991, C.A.S.T. has given exceptional children the opportunity to catch fish; but more than that, they’ve given them the confidence to know they CAN! On behalf of Big Cedar, we thank all the volunteers, families, and children who made the day special!