By Doug Clifford, Contributing Writer
Akron, Ohio — On a sunny day during an otherwise rainy week, The Fishing Foundation hosted a youth fishing event at Division of Wildlife District Three Headquarters in Akron. Three ponds at District Three headquarters that are designated for young people 15 and younger had 35 kids from the Boys and Girl Clubs of Northeast Ohio catching sunfish, bluegills, bass, and channel catfish.
Partnering in creating this free fishing day for the kids was Christine Royer, her husband Kevin, and their son, Emerson. Christine (Chris) is the stepdaughter of the late Richard “Dick” Kotis, who was president of The Arbogast Lure Co. from 1959 to 1991. But being president of a lure company is merely page one in the life of Dick Kotis.
Starting as a salesman at The Arbogast Lure Company in 1957, Kotis was named company president two years later. His ascension to this position was preceded by graduation from Kent State University, where Kotis also played varsity football from 1946 to 1948. He later served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
“Before college, he served in the Navy aboard the USS Intrepid during World War II and was also a Seabee in the Philippines,” Chris explained of her father. “Of course, he never spoke of his war experiences.”
The list of awards bestowed upon Kotis by state, national, and international angling organizations is endless, and all due to his tireless efforts to better the sport of fishing. In 1980, he was instrumental in creating the Fish Ohio award pins with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The Fish Ohio pins represented the largest angling awards program in the nation at that time. One interesting fact in a bio provided by Chris Royer stated that Kotis was a pioneer in organizing presentations at fishing shows totally aimed at youngsters.
Finally, Dick Kotis, the husband, father, veteran, coach, company president, and award recipient, was a fisherman. On his desk at the company office was a small sign that read “I fish often with myself because it’s easy to get lost in this world.”
When Dick Kotis passed away in November 2021, COVID-19 concerns delayed a remembrance service until the spring of 2022 where he left a message for those in attendance: “Instead of flowers, take a kid fishing.”
When Chris found the book, Learn to Fish, A Step- by- Step Guide for Beginner Anglers, co- authored by The Fishing Foundation founders Dennis Knowles and Gail Grizzell, she contacted the pair to see what projects were on the Foundation’s horizon.
“I told her about plans for a youth fishing day this summer and we were looking for sponsors,” explained Grizzell. “Chris told me they would cover the entire cost because that’s what Dick would have done.”
Not only did the Royer family sponsor the outing, but they also participated. Emerson Royer, a third year student at Purdue University, assisted young anglers throughout the entire event.
The idea that led Knowles and Grizzell to create The Fishing Foundation began forming in 2010, but it took two years before they held a fishing event.
“The paperwork for The Fishing Foundation to become a non- profit organization was a two- year process,” explained Grizzell. Their first outing was aimed at veterans, but that focus has shifted toward youth events.
The event held at the District Three ponds began with the arrival of the chartered bus that carried 35 kids from the Akron chapter of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio. The young anglers gathered in the information center that had once served as a Portage Lakes fish hatchery.
Before the fishing began, the kids heard presentations from three speakers. Knowles gave a detailed explanation of how a rod and reel worked. Dan Yoder presented his display of every Fish Ohio pin that has been awarded since the program began in 1980.
Chris Royer then told the very attentive soon- to- be anglers about the man who was Dick Kotis. She gave the kids a descriptive timetable of her stepfather’s life. Like them, Dick Kotis grew up in Akron, Chris Royer told the attentive youngsters.
“And he loved to take kids fishing,” she said.
Once it was time to apply worm to hook, the kids formed a single file line that led outside to the ponds where fishing poles were distributed. In addition to a rod and reel outfit, each young angler received a small paper cup jammed with earth worms and a fishing towel. Rubber gloves were optional for anglers less than excited about worm slime.
Casting skills were modest to begin the day, but the kids quickly improved. As the casting improved, so did the catching. The excited “I have a fish!” cry came from all directions as cooperative bluegills provided most of the action. Removing the small gold hooks from bluegill jaws became a full- time job for this part- time reporter.
Suddenly, the excitement across the pond elevated well beyond the bluegill level. “Bring it in!” “Oh, it’s a big fish!” One of the boys had hooked a largemouth bass that looked to be 15 inches long. The youngster’s name was Kash, and he had definitely cashed in what would be the biggest bass of the day.
Once his fish was unhooked, Kash accepted the challenge of learning how to hold a bass by its lower jaw. The third time he inserted his thumb into mouth of his trophy, Kash clamped down on that jaw like a seasoned bass angler. From the look on his young face, the excitement of the catch was heightened by the pride that came with overcoming the trepidation that accompanies every angler’s first “lip grip.”
Lunch followed the first hour of fishing. After lunch for 40 was served by Grizzell and her sister, Gay, the kids resumed fishing. The day’s next biggest fish was caught after lunch when a young lady named Jhazmere landed a channel catfish. Another outstanding catch during the afternoon round was made when Meiah caught a fat bluegill.
Even more impressive than the fishing skills on display were the attitudes of the young anglers. The kids followed directions, paid attention to safety, and thanked any adult who helped them.
When told how respectful the kids were, the manager for the Boys and Girls Clubs, Eboni Harris, replied, “we try our best.” Eboni and her counselors do more than try, they succeed. The Akron Boys and Girls Club is located at 889 Jonathan Avenue in Akron, Ohio.
The combined efforts of The Fishing Foundation, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Royer family, and a great bunch of kids created a day of memories that will hopefully see the young anglers return to the water with the rod and reel outfits they took home.