Capt. Ed Walsh broke out a big grin and waved to a family of would-be anglers cutting across the parking lot at Jones Beach Field 10.
“Ready to give this a try? “he asked to the approval of nodding heads and nervous chuckles. “There’s free bait, rods, chum and crab traps on the docks right behind the shop — plus some expert fishermen out there to give you a hand.”
Walsh, a retired NYC firefighter, runs the Jones Beach Fishing Station (631-559-5938.) Wednesday evening the shop hosted its Third Annual Nassau County Police Athletic League Special Needs Unit (PAL-SNU) Fishing Trip.
“It’s a way for us to give back to the community,” he said while overseeing a dozen volunteer master anglers who frequent the docks here work to quickly get everyone’s line in the water. “We draw about 40 participants for this event, which includes special needs kids and adults, plus their family chaperones or aids. The idea is to get everyone outdoors, maybe catch a few fish or crabs, and break free of daily routines.
Which is exactly where things seemed headed at the 5 p.m. starting time. Leaning comfortably against the west pier rail, Chris Sciarratta and his 13-year old son, Christopher, were fishing with each other for the first time. The younger Sciarratta has previously attended PAL-SNU (516-241-3197) programs for football and bowling. This, said his dad, was an opportunity to try something new while spending time together. It wasn’t long before the Oceanside Middle School student discovered he had a penchant for catching green crabs with both fishing lines and box traps.
Nearby, Michaela Roper of Elmont, a community habilitation worker, was enjoying time with ten-year old Ben Davis from Williston Park.
“This is cool,” said Ben enthusiastically while examining a large calico crab. “I would do this every day!”
So, apparently, would Roper. “What an amazing program; so simple and fun,” she said. “It gets everyone out to mingle and socialize while the fishing teaches patience. These are important points for many people here to work on. Ben and I have done basketball, soccer and horseback riding with the Nassau County PAL-SNU. We did the fishing program last year, too. There was only one sea robin caught but we still couldn’t wait to come back.”
The fun and learning would continue on this humid evening — and the catches would be greatly improved.
“She has a monster!” came a shout from the east dock as a crowd gathered to cheer Natasha Greenbaum, 17, in her battle with a huge porgy weighing nearly 3 pounds.
“It fought hard,” she said with a smile that seemed to span Jones Inlet while Walsh helped her steady the beast for photos. “That’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught!”
A few minutes later, a second large porgy, this one on the west dock, came over the rail. In between, anglers caught sea robins, green crabs and calico crabs. Aside from the porgies everything was released, usually with the aid of 14-year-old Daniel Caminiti of Levittown, the youngest of the shop’s volunteer crew.
“This is a great day,” said Roper as the sun began to slide below the horizon, “and programs like this one really make a difference in people’s lives. We need more good stuff like this in the world today.”