William Dunn, a fisherman from Lakeland, Florida, became a beloved father figure in his town after taking kids fishing. One day, he noticed his 8-year-old neighbor constantly storming in and out of his home. Dunn repeated this behavior so often that the 57-year-old decided to approach him. Dunn wanted to know about his life and if he could help in some way. After talking with the boy, he discovered that he had no father figure in his life. At that moment, Dunn felt awful about the boy’s situation and wanted to do something for him. He grew up fishing with his dad and had many life-changing experiences on the water. So, Dunn thought about taking the boy fishing to instill a sense of confidence and clear his head.
“Fishing always brought me peace, and it taught me how to be patient,” he explained in an interview with The Washington Post. “When you’re on the water, you can forget about your problems and just appreciate the moment.”
After getting the green light from the boy’s mother, the father figure began taking him fishing on the weekends. One day, the boy decided to bring his friends along for the ride. Pretty soon, all the kids in the neighborhood wanted to learn how to fish, too. Dunn taught them everything he knew about fishing, from rigging the line to reeling in their catches.
What began as a weekend tradition fifteen years ago expanded into something much bigger. Now, the kind-hearted man takes groups of children out on the water every weekend. Many of them don’t have stable father figures in their lives to support them.
Some spent years moving from one foster home to another and desperately needed a mentor. Fishing with Dunn allowed the children to build resiliency while fostering a sense of community.
The Beloved Father Figure Helps Children Heal Through Fishing
“They’d been through a lot, and they’d seen a lot, and their lives were difficult. But when they were fishing, all of that faded away,” he said. “Out on the boat, they’d be laughing and smiling and making new friends. I knew I was on to something.”
The selfless father figure enjoyed doing something to brighten the children’s lives. To fund the fishing adventures, he spent large portions of his paychecks from his job as a tire salesman. He didn’t mind spending his own money to help the children.
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But, in 2018, he decided to launch a nonprofit in Lakeland called Take a Kid Fishing Inc. The city offers the perfect fishing place, with dozens of lakes between Tampa and Orlando. The public and private donations would allow him to take more kids out on fishing trips. Now, he takes up to 20 kids at a time deep-sea fishing in addition to smaller groups on charter boats.
Over the past few years, the father figure and volunteers have taken over 2,500 kids fishing. Many didn’t have fathers in their lives and suffered trauma. However, the calming waters allowed them to decompress and live in the moment. It gave them a respite from their worries while also introducing them to the excitement of catching fish.
Dunn earned the loving nickname “Big Will” from the children who accompanied him on fishing expeditions. He said he felt grateful to have a dad who often took him fishing while growing up in Miami.
“I’m the youngest of six, and I always had a great relationship with my dad,” he explained. “He lives in Tennessee now, but I still carry the lessons he taught me. He told me that fishing isn’t about what you catch—it’s about the memories you make. That’s what I hope to pass along to every kid I introduce to fishing.”
Children Gain New Life Skills and Make Lasting Friendships
The father figure revealed that they release most fish back into the wild. He and a few volunteers cook the rest to feed the children fish tacos or other dishes for dinner. His commitment to improving the children’s lives garnered many people’s attention in the community.
For example, Tom Pichette, a former youth pastor who accompanied Dunn on numerous fishing trips, had nothing but positive words to say about him. He described Will as a genuine person who “meets people where they are.”
The children pick up on that authenticity, which makes it easy to feel comfortable around him. Even though the children have been given a difficult hand in life, the father figure doesn’t judge them. He accepts them as they are while helping them heal from a troubling past.
Terra Pryor of Lakeland found Take a Kid Fishing Inc. after her husband Richard died in a car accident. Her three children didn’t know how to cope with the loss, and her son Jayden took it especially hard.
“I was especially worried about my son, Jayden, who was 10 then,” the woman shared. “He was really close to his dad and felt he needed to take over the man of the house role immediately. He was trying to be strong for everyone and didn’t show his emotion. I was wondering what to do to help him, and then I learned about Take a Kid Fishing.”
After a few years of fishing trips with “Big Will,” Jayden has become quite the fisherman. He even caught a shark once that Dunn helped him release back into the water! Jayden grew up fishing with his dad, so the opportunity to continue the pastime means the world to him.
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Final Thoughts on Father Figure Who Takes Kids Fishing
Indeed, fishing gives children a sense of purpose and helps boost their self-confidence. However, Terra believes the opportunity to heal past traumas and make new friendships matters even more.
Dunn says he feels honored and privileged to help young children improve their lives. The father figure enjoys watching them grow and make lifelong friendships out on the water.
“There’s nothing like feeling that first tug on the line and seeing a kid light up with a smile,” he said. “I feel lucky to witness that every weekend.”