­UF Fisheries to host Fishing for Autism event

UF's Fishing for Success program will host a special Fishing for Autism event on Saturday at the UF Fishing Ponds in Gainesville.
UF's Fishing for Success program will host a special Fishing for Autism event on Saturday at the UF Fishing Ponds in Gainesville.
Photo by Suzette Cook

The University of Florida’s Fishing for Success (FFS) program is hosting a special Fishing for Autism event on Saturday, May 18.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the UF Fishing Ponds located at 7922 NW 71st St. in Gainesville.

The idea for hosting an event specifically for children with autism and their families was started three years ago by Fishing for Autism Founder Katy O’Connor, whose son Chase, 8, is autistic and non-verbal. O’Connor lives in Ontario, Canada, with her family and started taking Chase fishing at a small pond because of the calming effect of the experience.

“That was our bonding time and form of therapy for us, so I started Fishing for Autism in my hometown, and it expanded from there,” she said.

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In 2019, O’Connor said professional nuisance alligator trapper Ron Sanderson of Gainesville reached out to her after he learned about her efforts from her Instagram account.

“He saw my event photos and asked if he could branch it out to Gainesville.”

Coming from a small town, O’Connor said it was incredible that the University of Florida offered to host Fishing for Autism at the UF/IFAS Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences ponds off Millhopper Road.

“Biologists use these ponds for their studies, and I’m excited that my event has made it out there,” she said.

­­­­On the day of the event, there will be stations for attendees to go pond fishing, dip netting for invertebrates, various games and activities, sensory bins and toys, arts and crafts, prizes, and food.

Sanderson said he will be there helping families with fishing equipment and to see the kids and families enjoying the activities.

“It’s about seeing the joy in the kids’ eyes and watching them react when they catch a fish,” he said about why he likes to help out at the event.

Hall of Fame competitive bass fisherman Shaw Grisby will be there. Grigsby is one of the most popular, well-liked anglers in the country,

FFS Program Coordinator Bethan Gillett said the event offers a peaceful and relaxing experience that attendees can enjoy as a family. “Fishing can be therapeutic, and the kids get so happy and excited when they catch a fish.”

“There will be passports for kids to take from station to station to get stamped and then trade it in for a goodie bag.  Fishing gear, T-shirts, and other prizes will be raffled off,” Gillett said, and reiterated that the May 18 event is only open to children with autism and their families, unlike the monthly FFS events which are open to the public.

For more information on FFS, contact Gillett at bgillett@ufl.edu or 352-273-3622. To help support Fishing for Success, make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

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