The fishermen went out on the Caloosahatchee at 7 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. The red tide was there, but it didn’t stop 29 boats from weighing in their catch of the day. The Fallen Eagle Redfish Classic seemed to be quite the haul for its third year of fishing.
The Redfish Classic would not have been an ultimate success without the direction of its two lead coordinators and the more than 50 volunteers who participated.
“I kind of realized it’s not just about the tournament,” said Wyler Gins, the president of the FGCU Fishing Club and lead volunteer of the event. “It’s not just about the fishermen or how much we raised; it’s more about the experience.”
By the time Gins and Katie Hyer, the event coordinator, arrived at Fish Tail Marina, many of the volunteers were waiting for them.
“Our volunteers were there before I was, and I was there 30 minutes before I told them to get there,” Hyer said.
The Fallen Eagle Redfish Classic was created to honor the memory of Jesse M. Woodyard, a former FGCU student and fishing club member. Jesse loved catching red fish, which is the main reason behind the goal of this event, Hyer said. Hyer was among Woodyard’s closest friends.
Hyer fished in the original classic, and she wanted to get closer to the event by helping to organize it with Gins. Hyer was always looking for feedback from previous volunteers and coordinators. She owes much of the success to the help she gained from them.
“I was talking to people who were involved and involved this year, and they were just saying the organization was just so much smoother, and that was just a compliment to us,” Hyer said. “But, again, yes, we were the ones every step of the way, but without them, it would not have happened the way it had to happen.”
“The fishing club, they were like, ‘All right, what can I do? Like, we know that this is a big thing, and we’re just here to help,’” Gins said.
The total amount of money raised at the event is still being added up by Hyer and Gins.
Gins is confident about the money that the event was able to raise for the scholarship in Woodyard’s name, the Jesse M. Woodyard Academic Scholarship. Gins is friends with Tony Lee, the director of major gifts with the FGCU Foundation. Gins said he was instrumental in the creation of this scholarship.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, let’s make a scholarship in his name,’” Gins said. “So, we kind of brought that on board, and that was our goal last year to kind of keep Jesse always the beneficiary and making it around him. We wanted to endow it, so that if FGCU is here, his scholarship is here.”
Last year, the tournament saw 72 boats show up to fish.
“Our goal again was the same thing as last year, 50 boats,” Gins said. “And, with all the red tide coming out of the Caloosahatchee, we were a little worried it would hinder a lot of the fishing, and people wouldn’t want to fish because, ‘Oh, the fishing’s bad.’”
But, like last year, Gins and Hyer saw more boats leave the docks than they had strived for, and this year saw one more than last.
“Jesse was looking out for us again and couldn’t have given us any better weather,” Gins said.
Going into the captains’ meeting for the tournament, Gins said 56 boats were pre-registered. At the end of the meeting, 73 boats were signed up to fish compared to the previous year’s 72.
“Last year, we were charging fishermen for the shirts,” Gins said. “In all the local tournaments, you get a free shirt. We gave them out free this year, and everyone was so appreciative. And, I think that is going to really help for the longevity of the tournament because if everyone has a lot of fun and all the fisherman are happy and have a great time, that’s going to make people want to come back next year.”
Since Hyer and Gins will graduate from FGCU in the near future, they hope for longevity in these tournaments. There is also an emphasis on keeping Woodyard’s memory intact, the reason behind these events.
“The emotions may not be there anymore, so one thing we want is the students to stay involved and know that he was a student here,” Hyer said. “And even though they may not have known him, but the money who it’s going to, they may know that recipient because that recipient is going to be a marine science student.”