Catfish Kids: Low Country Field of Dreams
by Ron Presley
It’s all about the kids
Low Country Field of Dreams started out providing deer hunts for kids. Now, in their 13th year they still provide deer hunts, but have expanded to offering turkey hunting, dove hunting, and two fishing trips – a striper trip and a catfish trip – to seriously ill and disabled children.
Their mission is simple. They offer children, ages 10 to 15, with lifelong/life-threatening illnesses an opportunity to get outdoors and make memories by hunting and fishing.
The organization dates back to 2005 when Billy Wayne Chambers and a group of interested hunters wanted to do something that would introduce kids to the outdoors.
“This is our 13th year,” reported Chambers. “We actually started out providing deer hunts. We took 8 kids deer hunting that first year. It was fun. It was just something to do. Then one weekend we decided that we needed to do more stuff for kids that did not have the opportunity to do what we did. It just got stronger and bigger each year.”
“The following year we started to increase the number of kids,” continued Chambers. “We went up to 10, and then15, and then 20. Now we target a maximum of 25 kids.”
“We have a camp that can accommodate 25 kids and families,” offered Chambers. “We started out calling ourselves Camp Happy Days, Camp for Kids. The camp went from kids with cancer, to military kids, to kids with lifelong illnesses.”
“We actually lease an old German prisoner of war camp in Ridgeville, SC,” explained Chambers. “It is Camp Duke and it actually housed prisoners of war back in the day. We have about 6 buildings that we use. The camp will sleep about 55 people.”
“There are so many kids that need what Low Country Field of Dreams offers, we figured that one weekend was not enough for what we wanted to do. That is why we expanded. We now do 7 weekends a year with kids involved with different events.”
Once they hit 25 kids they wanted the opportunities to be more than just deer hunting.
“A couple years ago Terry Fussell came and said he wanted to take some of the kids fishing,” explained Chambers. “He was willing to get it started and we supported him. Another Santee Cooper guide, Capt. Darryl Smith, is in charge of lining up other boats and captains, and helping with the kids. He has recruited captains from North Carolina and Georgia to come and help.”
“So, we did a test run with 10 kids,” recalled Chambers. “Some of them have greater illnesses than others. All of them can’t do everything, so you put so many kids to a boat, and leave a spot for a deck hand.”
“My son Hunter has come along as a chaperone,” explained Fussell. “It all depends on the kids and their abilities. If we have the need we will put two chaperones on the boat. It is always helpful to have another adult on board.”
The organization plans their catfishing trips based on how many people they can accommodate at Camp Duke. That is the only limiting factor.
“We bring em’ out on Friday night and camp out at Camp Duke. We have a fire pit and have things for the kids to do. They play together and have fun together. We feed em’ breakfast supper and dinner.”
As more people see what the organization is doing, more volunteer to help.
“We could get more boats,” offered Chambers. “But I would rather not put one kid on one boat. I think they have more fun when they are with other kids. Our trips are not about a catfishing tournament between boats. The event is about the kids enjoying their time on the water and learning about catfishing.”
The catfish trips have been going on for three years. They include a little competition between the kids ─ like who caught the biggest fish and the littlest fish. It is a way to make the adventure a little more fun.
“This past season we had three nice fish caught,” said Chambers. “When you have a 10-year-old kid that has cancer or some other illness, you know that fish doesn’t have to be too big to be a monster!”
The fishing program is growing too. It went from 8 kids the first year to 23 last year. The first catfishing adventure was on Santee Cooper at Canal Lakes Fish Camp. They started out with one Capt. Now, this past year there were 7 boats participating. Jimmy Holbrook, a well know angler on Santee Cooper is one of the latest to come aboard.
Chambers told one memorable story of a small boat and some big catfish.
“We had a 17-foot boat that took out two kids and a dad,” reminisced Chambers. “They came in and one of those kids had caught a 22 pounder and the other caught a 23 pounder.”
“They came back to the dock with a little bit of the big head,” joked Chambers. “They done thought they had the big fish. Then the other boat came in and had a 28 pounder that a kid had caught.”
“The catfishing is a night trip,” added Fussell. “We start at 6:00 in the afternoon and have them back at midnight. We caught 78 fish last year and 68 this year. It is just one heck of an adventure for the volunteers and the kids.”
“It is actually hard to get the kids,” said Chambers. “It is because of the privacy laws and such. There are a lot of hoops to jump through.”
For Low Country Field of Dreams, no hoops are too difficult. And, they believe they can accommodate almost any child. They lease Camp Duke annually, so they can use the facilities any time they need to.
None of what they do is for personal recognition, it is all about the kids.
“The reaction of these kids is priceless,” said Fussell. “Just priceless. There is no way to describe it.”
“My kids and Terry’s kids get to fish and hunt all the time,” concluded Chambers. “We don’t target kids like that. We want kids that have some kind of illness, some kind of disability. We want those children that don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors like others do.”
Epilogue: How you can help
Low Country Field of Dreams conducts their own banquets and raises their own money. And, they can always use more volunteers and support.
“It used to a bunch of old county rednecks,” joked Chambers. “After about the fourth year we started getting other people wanting to help. Now we get interested people calling us all the time offering to help.”
“We need more sponsors,” said Chambers. “It would be nice to get some new sponsors to help us with what we do. We welcome new sponsors and new volunteers that want to come and help out.”
The kids that participate in the programs come from private referrals. Anyone knowing of a child with a serious illness or disability that might benefit from the Low Country Field of Dreams programs can contact Chambers directly at 843-908-3874.
The organization raffles off 28 guns every February. That’s one a day. If you want to support them go to http://www.lowcountryfieldofdreams.com/february-gun-draw.html and buy a $35 raffle ticket for your chance to win one of a large selection. The proceeds help them fund their outdoor activities for the children.