Everyone needs at least one good fish story. Whether it’s the one that got away or the one that gets bigger with each telling of the tale, these stories become part of our history but they are also a vital link to the present. Capt. Don Dingman created the Hook the Future Foundation to introduce the sport of fishing to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity. The mission is simple but the benefits last a lifetime, especially when kids finally have their own fish stories to tell.
The sport of fishing helps develop responsible anglers by promoting a fit and healthy lifestyle while protecting our environment, but that’s not the real catch. Encouraging parents to spend quality time with their children helps them to create family memories that will last a lifetime. “Fishing is just the tool,” Dingman says. “I teach kids to fish but it also shows parents that they should do something fun with their kids. Enjoy their company and the common goal of catching something together.”
As an experienced angler with over 23 years experience, Dingman started Hook the Future as a cable fishing show on the Sportsman Channel that opened up the world of fishing to a new crew with a new destination every week. The show has featured a trip out of Jacksonville for giant bull reds, a trip to Homer, Alaska for halibut, salmon, and lingcod, and a journey to exotic Guatemala to battle rooster fish and big pacific sails. In each episode, the kids are the prime movers – from piloting the boat to landing fish as big as they are. Hook the Future airs at 8am on the Sportsman Channel. “It’s more fun to watch a kid catch a fish than catching a fish yourself,” he says. The program abruptly changed directions in 2004 with the loss of Digman’s 22-year-old son, Brian. He was inundated with letters and emails from parents, many of whom had also lost children, while others simply wanted to share a kind word. “The show took on a different meaning after that,” Dingman says.
In 2010, Capt. Don started the Hook the Future Foundation to expand his mission of teaching kids to fish but this time with an emphasis on the importance of parents spending time with their kids. For Capt. Don, the best way to teach a child to do something is to simply let him do it. “When you take kids fishing let them drive the boat, let them fight the fish…that’s how they learn,” he says. “When you teach them basketball or football, you don’t watch TV all day. You let them get in there and play.” Going out fishing three times a month with his own father taught Capt. Don firsthand the value of the parent/child connection. “Our kids are a gift,” he says. “Take a step back and hug your kids. Let them hug you back.”
Hook the Future also focuses on community outreach programs that help raise funds to provide fishing gear for middle and high school organizations and has donated over 10,000 rod and reels to children this year. The campaign regularly sponsors fishing tournaments to help encourage children in fishing, through education. Dingman recently hosted a free fishing event for kids at the Jacksonville Beach fishing pier. Prizes have included a trip to Disney World and a new boat.
He also sponsors events for kids battling terminal illnesses so they can enjoy time away from hospitals, treatments and just enjoy a normal memory for a few days. “If I painted, I would help kids through painting,” says Capt. Don. “Not everyone can paint or catch a football but everyone can catch a fish.” Visit www.hookthefuture.com for a schedule of upcoming events, photos and video of events. Go to their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/HooktheFuture.