More than 40 years ago, as an eighth-grader Jim Simons remembers sitting on a lawn chair fishing with his mother on the Tom Stuart Causeway in Madeira Beach. Those early fishing experiences helped develop Simons' lifelong love of fishing.
Through a new non-profit, the Florida Gulf Coast Center for Fishing & Interactive Museum, Simons and his team plan to teach about life through fishing. Simons still owns a world-wide fishing tournament company, but his focus is on the new fishing center and museum, he said.
"Fishing teaches participation in society, patience, perseverance, pride and passion. These core values can make you be successful," Simons said.
The new museum, at the former site of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, is next to the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. The museum plans to have a soft-opening on April 2.
For the April soft-opening the center plans to have the movie theatre open for marine life films. The gift shop and art gallery, with a focus on local emerging artists,will also be open. There is no admission fee for the museum at this time, Simons said.
The center will offer classes for children and adults. Upcoming classes include a fish rubbing art class for adults on April 14 and summer camps for children.
The fishing center will eventually have a memorial garden, museum exhibits, function space, more classrooms, fish hatchery, fish culinary institute and more. The five buildings with 33,000 square-foot of space are all built. The center is currently renovating the space to meet its needs with a grand-opening planned for this fall.
The museum space of the fishing center will feature the history of fishing in the Tampa Bay area. The fishing center is working with the Florida Studies program at USF to tell impactful family stories of the legacy of fishing in this area. The museum space will cover the history of boat building, boat motors, marine electronics, lures, rods and more, Simons said.
Currently about 90 percent of the fishing center's work is off campus in the Pinellas County Schools. The center has fishing clubs at 14 high schools in the county with more than 1,000 students participating. The center plans to expand into the middle and elementary schools, Simons said.
No prior fishing experience is needed to join the fishing clubs. The fishing center helps schedule guest speakers and fishing tournaments. The center also provides fundraising opportunities for the school-based clubs, Simons said.
The non-profit needs volunteers to help with programs. The center is approved to offer Bright Futures volunteer opportunities, which include making t-shirts for the fishing tournaments and building frames for the art gallery, Simons said.
If you go:
- Hours: Monday- Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the museum (starts April 2). Functions/classes from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.
- Hours: Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the museum
- Address: 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo
- Phone: (727) 365-4660
- Facebook page