William Dunn of Lakeland, Florida, couldn’t help but notice his eight-year-old neighbor storming in and out of his own house across the street. Dunn became concerned when the boy did it so often.
“I wondered what was going on in his life, so one day, I decided to ask him,” he said. “He told me that he didn’t have a father, and I realized there might be something I could do for him.”
Dunn, now 57, was raised fishing with his father and had previously assisted him with his lobster business in Florida Keys. He said that fishing has always brought his peace and taught him patience.
“When you’re on the water, you can forget about your problems and just appreciate the moment,” he said.
Dunn, a father of three, reached out to his young neighbor’s mom and asked permission to take the boy fishing.
One Saturday afternoon on the water soon led to another, and soon enough, Dunn found himself teaching the boys’ friends and other school kids how to hold a fishing pole, rig a line, and reel in a catch.
This was 15 years ago.
Dunn has taken a number of children fishing weekends since then. Most of them didn’t have father figures and had never fished before. Some were foster children who had lived in different homes for years.
“They’d been through a lot and they’d seen a lot, and their lives were difficult,” Dunn said. “But when they were fishing, all of that faded away.”
Dunn said that the children would have fun and make new friends while on the boat. That’s when he knew he was on to something.
Dunn used a portion of his salary to buy tires to pay for weekly charter boat fishing trips. In 2018, Dunn started Take a Kid Fishing Inc. in Lakeland. The city has dozens upon lakes.
In the last three and a half years, Dunn and a few volunteers have introduced over 2,500 children—most without fathers around—to spending peaceful time on the water and the excitement of capturing a fish.
Dunn, known to the kids as “Big Will,” said he always felt lucky to have a father to take him fishing when he was growing up in Miami.
“I’m the youngest of six and I always had a great relationship with my dad,” he recalled. “He lives in Tennessee now, but I still carry the lessons he taught me. He told me that fishing isn’t about what you catch — it’s about the memories you make.”
“That’s what I hope to pass along to every kid I introduce to fishing,” he added.
Dunn’s dedication to mentoring these young anglers has earned the praise of his community.
“Kids can sense that he’s genuine,” said Tom Pichette, 59, a former youth pastor who has accompanied him on many fishing trips as a volunteer.
“They’ve been dealt some hard cards and they climb aboard with some tough stories. But Will always accepts them as they are.”
Terry Pryor (32), a mother of three, said that her children were all emotionally affected by Richard Pryor’s death in a car accident in January 2020.
Jayden, Jayden’s 10-year-old son, was a particular concern for her. He was close to his dad and felt that he should be the man of house immediately.
“He was trying to be strong for everyone and didn’t show his emotion,” Pryor said. “I was wondering what to do to help him, and then I learned about Take a Kid Fishing.”
Jayden, now 12, has turned into a passionate fisherman because of his weekend trips with Dunn.
“Will has helped me to grow by taking me fishing,” he said. “I hope he knows I mean it when I say, ‘Thank you.’”
Every child in the program receives their own fishing poles, tackle boxes, and other gear. But more than that, it’s the relationships they build and the healing that happens on the water that is the true highlight of the experience.
“There’s nothing like feeling that first tug on the line and seeing a kid light up with a smile,” Dunn said. “I feel lucky to witness that every weekend.”
These children are equally fortunate to have such a mentor. Thanks, Will Dunn, for changing the lives of these children—one fishing expedition at a time.
Visit the website for more information about Take a Kid Fishing.
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