Eddie Morgan, owner of Harbor Docks, a beloved family-owned marina and seafood restaurant in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida, will wake up Sunday and head to the docks nice and early. It’s the November weekend he treats 300 local children ages 7-13 to Take-a-Kid-Fishing Day, which his own father started 27 years ago.
On the trip, which heads out into the waters off the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” as locals call it, the kids get the chance to fish again or fish for the very first time aboard 50 charter boats. The trip is free, the kids get a fresh fish lunch and a fishing rod to take home. The chaperones are all volunteers, many of whom are local firefighters and police officers.
“We had one year that we had to cancel due to weather. So we’ve been very fortunate to be able to host it every other year going on our twenty-seventh year,” Morgan tells CNN while on a quick break from preparations for the big day.
They invite children through local media channels and community groups, Morgan says. Many of the kids have never been on a boat or even seen the Gulf of Mexico.
“We put a big emphasis on trying to get kids that otherwise might not have this opportunity,” he says. “We’re in a resort town. There’s plenty of people with money. So we try to get to the people who don’t get this opportunity.
Beyond a fun excursion, Morgan hopes to pass on a sense of local history.
“The fishing industry is what makes our area so special. And people growing up in our area should know what that is and appreciate it,” Morgan says. “A lot of these kids have never been fishing before. So if they go, they go fishing and they love it. And we give them a fishing rod when they leave so they can do it on their own.”
Morgan says he loves seeing the enthusiasm in the children and enjoys asking what they think they’ll catch.
“They all think they’re going to catch giant sharks, enormous fish, sea monsters,” he laughs.
Growing up, Morgan was part of his father’s business that sells fish locally and across the country.
“We were actually hanging some pictures at the restaurant today, and one of them was made when I was a year and a half old on the dock,” he says.
With the support of the community, volunteers, and donations, more than 7000 children have now learned to fish through the family’s efforts.
Morgan’s favorite part of the tradition is reserving a top-of-the-line boat for local special needs children.
“Seeing them come back in, that’s always the highlight,” he says.
Whether or not the kids actually catch any fish has become secondary to the spirit of the event, which, according to Morgan, has definitely caught on.
“We’ve had a lot of people who, as they got older, came back to volunteer to help out, come back and brought their children in,” Morgan says.