Patrick Harrington knows he was blessed to have been schooled in the outdoors when he was growing up. Older fishermen shared a lifetime of outdoors knowledge, and Harrington is intent on carrying on that tradition.
Six years ago, the former College of Charleston basketball player and physical education teacher saw opportunity in a large retention pond and began what has become the James Island Elementary School Fishing Club.
"The club is a real privilege for the students. I hold them to a higher level of behavior and school achievement. I will remove them from the club if they don't hold up their end," Harrington said.
Early in the school year, Harrington posts an announcement about the club, inviting students to fill out an application in which they must write a paragraph explaining their thoughts on the outdoors and give three reasons why they think they should be in the fishing club.
After studying the applications, Harrington selects three girls and three boys for each session, one in the fall and one in the spring.
On Fishing Club days, students head to Harrington's office when school is dismissed for snacks and drinks purchased by Harrington's wife.
Harrington teaches the students the differences between a Texas rig and a Carolina rig, how to tie a knot, about structure and the purpose a fish's lateral line serves. They talk about safety. The students keep journals on what they have learned. In that journal, they diagram the pond at the school and, as the year progresses, note where they caught fish and the conditions.
Wearing life jackets and carrying their rods and reels and tackle boxes, they then head to the Outdoor Classroom in hopes of landing a trophy.
"We plan our strategy. Early on we will start as a group, but I encourage them to explore and move around the pond. If they don't want to fish, they can collect tadpoles or find bird feathers. The kids write in their journals about how much they enjoy sitting in the sun, watching the different birds and just being outside in nature," Harrington said.
The 2017-18 session opened with a bang earlier this week when one of the participants landed a 5-pound largemouth bass.
"The time spent with the kids outdoors has been amazing. I've taught for 38 years and coached for 35, but this is the most enjoyment and personal satisfaction I've gotten," Harrington said. "They learn about birds and different wildlife. The looks on their faces when they catch that fish by themselves is amazing."
Harrington gives a lot of credit to the Charleston Coastal Anglers fishing club, which has supported his efforts financially. They begin the sessions armed with Zebco 33 reels, rods and tackle boxes filled with the proper equipment, items they get to keep upon completing the session.
The proof of the program is often found in the Trident Fishing Tournament, which annually recognizes the top freshwater and saltwater catches made in the waters of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Harrington's students have regularly earned plaques for their fishing club catches.
"The rewards have been immense for me, the time spent with the kids," Harrington said. "Kids come back from years ago and say the best thing they remember is the time we spent fishing."