Tracy Webb loves to fish. Raised by a single mother who taught her older brothers to fish, Webb caught the fishing bug at a young age when her older brother Kevin taught her the ways of the water. Webb continued the tradition when she became a single mom, teaching her own son to fish.
These days, Webb works as a nurse, but she still heads out to the water with a rod and bait whenever she can. In fact, she enjoys the hobby so much that she recently began a grassroots organization called We’re Fixin’ to Fish, with the vision to teach Detroit’s children the art of fishing.
It all began in May after some curious kids approached Webb while she was casting her line.
“I was at my favorite fishing spot, Lake Muskoday on Belle Isle, when I looked behind me and saw a row of kids eager to fish,” Webb told me. “Some of their parents came up, and I started letting them use my extra poles.”
Webb snapped some photos and later shared them with her sister, who posted them to Facebook. That caught the attention of Wes Smith, owner of the Metro-Detroit Walleye Stalkers Facebook group, of which Webb was a member. Smith saw an opportunity for Webb to teach more kids to fish.
Smith texted Webb: “Get you a page tonight; I’m gonna get the word out. Get ready.”
Four days later, Webb convened a passionate coalition of family, friends, and bait shop owners to help her bring her first fishing event to the youth of Detroit at Bishop Park. They named the group “Were Fixin’ to Fish.”
With support from local bait shops, Webb provided each child a free fishing rod plus fishing supplies.
Webb aims to create an environment where Detroit children feel comfortable and are inspired by nature, and learn hobbies that get them off the streets.
Parents that grew up in urban areas may have never had the opportunity to learn or teach their kids fishing due to time constraints or lack of knowledge, Webb told Planet Detroit.
“I’m trying to save the inner-city children because some of those kids have never left the block. They don’t even know that Belle Isle exists,” Webb said. “I get a lot of single mothers with sons who take on both the parents’ traits, and it’s sad when they can’t participate in this hobby.”
To recruit families, Webb spends time strolling along the beach areas on Belle Isle, handing out fliers after work. Other people contact her on Facebook. Sometimes, parents express doubt, only to have their children exclaim, “I want to learn how to fish.”
According to Webb, fishing is an excellent activity for all ages because it encourages socialization, time in nature, and learning problem-solving skills. But it’s not without its dangers. Water safety, baiting, and harvesting are areas where children need supervision to learn, have fun, and pay attention to their surroundings.
We’re Fixin’ to fish bridges that gap by giving the parents access to all the tools they will need and passionate volunteers knowledgeable about their craft.
Smith, a charter boat captain who works for the Walleye Federation, sees a need that Webb’s organization is helping fill.
“I saw a woman that’s doing something awesome for the community,” Smith told Planet Detroit. “This is something that just wasn’t afforded to a lot of inner-city kids. And that’s something that holds near and dear to me being from Detroit.”
At We’re Fixin’ to Fish, Smith’s role is to help monitor the children and parents as they enjoy their day on the water. He’s also used his industry connections to secure donations of fishing equipment for the kids.
For Webb, helping these kids is personal. She hopes getting kids out in nature and helping them connect with an outdoor sport will help steer kids away from the wrong path.
She’d like to see more of Detroit’s Black youth find their way to the water as a way to teach patience.
“I love nature. I love fishing. I love the water,” she said. “Fishing would teach them patience. How to get their worm on over the hook. A little patience so they’re not so quick to argue and fight.” Webb has four grandsons, and she’s proud that they all know how to fish.
Family is an integral part of the atmosphere at We’re Fixin’ to Fish’s events. If it weren’t for her volunteers from the community and her family, the organization wouldn’t exist, Webb told me.
Webb’s sister Debbie Webb is the youngest member of the family. It took her a while to catch on to fishing. But once she did, she never looked back.
“The first time I ever caught a fish, I was hooked,” Debbie Webb said. “It gave me tranquility. It gave me peace of mind. It taught me patience. It taught me to focus. And it taught me to take my time because nothing else is that important. That’s what fishing taught me. And so I love it.”
At least a dozen of Webb’s relatives, from grandkids to siblings, are involved with the fishing events. Some are junior anglers, helping the newer kids with basic fishing tips like baiting and casting, while older relatives greet the parents and handle registration.
Webb is concerned that the pandemic has stunted children’s social and educational development. Fishing, she believes, is one way to counteract that damage.
“It’s more of a learning experience coming out to fish; kids are going to learn so much about problem-solving, socialization, getting to know the environment, than sitting in front of a computer or tablet,” Webb said.
On a sunny afternoon at Lake Muskoday, one small girl catching her very first fish. It was a small bluegill not worth keeping, but her face lit up with the sheer joy of accomplishment. That look is why Webb formed this organization.
“It’s summed up with our logo, the joys of fishing, the joys of connecting to nature,” she said. “Seeing that your hard work can pay off is inspiring for children and sets them up for success.”
For Webb, it’s all about helping the kids.
“If we’re not helping the children, we’re not doing nothing,” she said. “Because that’s our future. That’s our future.”
Check out their Facebook page to find out more information about We’re Fixin’ to Fish or sign up for an event.
This story was produced with support from the Race and Justice Reporting Initiative at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.
Reporting for this article was supported by an award from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources www.IJNR.org.