Inspired by Friends to Serve Through Catfishing
by Ron Presley
#CATFISHCLASS – A thread of kindness passed from angler to angler.
Acts of kindness have a way of growing. An act that began a few years ago with GTO Fishing in Kentucky now runs through Indiana, Alabama, Tennessee, and Ohio. It may be destined to travel further.
When I heard that Tyra Eger Williams and her husband Craig were taking their love for catfishing to a higher level, I followed the thread of kindness to its origin. Moved by friends, they began a service to provide veterans, individuals with handicaps, and kids with a free catfishing adventure. Their mission is to provide a trip for individuals that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to go catfishing by boat.
“The idea is not new,” explained Tyra. “We were inspired by our good friends, Brent and Carolyn Jones.”
After contacting the Jones, I found that their motivation to provide youth fishing trips
came from a fishing acquaintance of theirs at GTO Fishing. At the same time, I was reminded of my first encounter with Reesha Little-Oakley and Jessica Little-Oakley.
I knew that the GTO Fishing name came from the initials of their brother Grant Thomas Oakley. They lost their cherished brother in a work accident on November 3, 2016. What they have done since for kids is in his honor (See CatfishNOW, August 2017).
The GTO Fishing Connection
“I’ve always wanted to help kids,” explained Reesha. “Especially those kids that don’t get a chance to go fishing or boating or otherwise enjoy the outdoors. Now we make that happen in honor of our brother.”
“When I spoke with Brent and Carolyn Jones about helping with a project, they got really excited and wanted to help,” continued Reesha. “They loved it. They have been taking kids ever since. GTO Fishing donates to the benefit tournament that they hold in Indiana. Our brother would have wanted it that way. He is the reason we started it.”
Reesha explained that Brent and Carolyn were keeping her dream alive as she recovers from a health issue. She expects to recover soon and hopefully be there for some of their events, even if on a cane.
“Brent and Carolyn are truly wonderful people and great friends,” concluded Reesha. “It makes me so happy that they are doing what I can’t right now. It makes me feel like Grant has made a difference through us. My brother is smiling from heaven. These events make it seem like he is still a part of us doing something that he loved.”
The Indiana/Alabama Connection
Brent and Carolyn started taking kids with medical issues fishing about a year ago. The venture quickly turned into taking underprivileged kids, or just kids who don’t have an opportunity to fish. Their goal is to keep kids interested in the fishing world.
“For us, the journey began about two years ago,” confirmed Carolyn. “We were asked by Reesha Little-Oakley to take a young man with a medical condition fishing on Watts Barr Lake. This trip began our adventure of taking kids out. The joy seen in the kid’s eyes and the excitement when they reel in a catfish is worth the whole trip. It’s priceless.”
“Every kid we have taken has been able to catch several fish,” offered Carolyn. “Watching them work to get the fish in the boat is as exciting for us as it is for them. Many of the kids have only caught bluegills and when they get a big catfish, they are ecstatic! Being able to share this experience and watch the kid’s excitement is most rewarding to us.”
“We met Craig and Tyra last thanksgiving on a fishing trip to Wheeler Lake,” explained Brent. “We described to them what we were doing, and they wanted to be a part of it. They are doing in Ohio what we are doing in Indiana and Alabama.”
The Ohio Connection
Tyra and Craig are motivated by the smiles and happiness that their simple gesture of kindness produces. It’s one of those things where the rewards flow both ways, to givers as well as the receivers.
“I enjoy doing things for other people,” explained Tyra, a nurse of 20 years. “Craig and I decided to start this service because we enjoy sharing our love of fishing and conservation with others. I love teaching others and I love learning from others. I love sharing priceless experiences with people that make them smile, and make their days a little bit brighter.”
“Taking people fishing that might not otherwise have the opportunity has been an absolute blast,” added Craig. “The venture is something we really enjoy. The smiles are priceless and something we will never forget.”
The husband/wife team’s attitude toward caring and sharing brought some happiness to a family with two autistic boys (Timothy and Trey) who were the focus of a trip in August.
“It was our second trip,” recalled Tyra. “Our guests were two autistic boys, a brother of the autistic boys, their mother, and stepdad. Only one of them caught a fish, but he was so excited. Later the mother told me that it wasn’t about the fishing. It was about the boys being included in something.”
The mother on the trip, Lori Runion, explained what the trip meant to her family and by extension what similar trips mean to other families.
“What Tyra and Craig did for my son and his friend was more than take them fishing,” Lori said. “They accepted them and welcomed them into their world for a day. That’s something not all special needs kids get to experience.”
“They also let my other son, who is not disabled, relax and have a fun day,” continued Lori. “He didn’t have to worry about his brother. He was able to just be a teenager fishing. I can’t express how much all that means to a mom. Words of thanks are not enough for the experience we all had.”
One component of their plan is to include a goodie bag for their guests. Anyone interested in helping out can contact Tyra through Messenger and support their worthwhile efforts.
“I’m looking for smalls gifts,” explained Tyra. “Things that I can give these individuals so they will remember the trip. I’m not looking for handouts, just affordable stuff.”
With Craig working 5 days a week and Tyra working 3-4 days a week, it makes for tight scheduling as they want to continue tournament fishing too. Nevertheless, their goal is to do this at least once a month, and more often, time permitting.
“If you know of anyone that would be interested in fishing with us, send me a private message,” concluded Tyra. “I think we’re a lot of fun.”
Be it luck or destiny, Reesha and Jessica ask the right people to help them. And then Craig and Tyra made new friends on a fishing trip to Alabama where they met Brent and Carolyn through a mutual friend. The result of that thread of friendship is a continuation of similar acts of kindness to other states through catfishing. GTO Fishing has delivered trips in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, Brent and Carolyn have been active in Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana, and Tyra and Craig are keeping the dream alive in Ohio.