When Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida with 155 mph winds and a 15-foot storm surge on Sept. 28, it devastated much of South Florida’s prime fishing region, along with its infrastructure and fishing-boating operations. But a plan for action immediately came into play in the close-net national fishing community when it became known of the thousands of homes, businesses and livelihoods that were devastated.
Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Charlotte Harbor experienced record flooding and a 500-year storm surge, wiping out neighborhoods and displacing entire communities. But the outdoor industry and fishermen from all over rallied to deliver assistance and hope to the hardest hit areas.
Costa Sunglasses and Captains For Clean Water (CFCW) were among the first groups getting relief supplies delivered to those who desperately needed them. Captains Nick Jones and Cody Rubner of Costa were at the forefront of beginning efforts collecting donation supplies from throughout Florida. They helped establish state drop-off centers for goods, including the D.O.A. Lure headquarters in Stuart, and the West Palm Beach Fishing Club.
Dropoff locations quickly were established throughout Florida and elsewhere, and truckloads of essential items began flooding daily into storm impacted areas.
Capt. Benny Blanco of Miami was among the first to set up a donation center at his home, and spearheaded supply delivery across the state to the hurricane hit region.
“When I finally got through to Fort Myers on that first trip, the roads were flooded and clobbered with debris, bashed up cars and boats,” he said. “The power grids were shattered, buildings shredded, it looked devoid of life—it was surreal. I realized there were a lot of people in desperate situations, so I started trying to help however I could.”
Other fishing guides helped, too. Capt. Court Douthit of Clearwater, Capt. Bear Holeman of Sugarloaf Key, and CFCW Co-Founder Capt. Chris Wittman were assisting people out of unimaginable situations. It was the beginning of a mountain of support from the nationwide fishing community and outdoor industry.
Donations from many outdoor brands such as Yeti, Simms, G. Loomis, Nautilus, Costa, AFTCO, 4Ocean, Patagonia, Columbia, Pelagic, Olukai, and dozens of others sent crateloads of clothes and marine equipment for guides who lost most of their gear.
Noted fishermen such as Carter Andrews, Brandon and Jared Cyr, Flip Pallot, C.A. Richardson, and Kevin VanDam offered once-in-a-lifetime experiences and gear packages for auctions to generate money for relief work.
Anglers as far away as Montana came to help. Guides from North and South Carolina, Georgia and other regions donated fishing trips for funding to aid storm recovery. People from across the nation found unique ways to send support. Artists, fishing ambassadors, tackle shops, and brands launched social media auctions to raise money for a Hurricane Ian Relief Fund.
Ian was devastating, but it couldn’t crush America’s angling community – a nationwide family united by fishing. Storms like Ian can destroy buildings, bridges, and power grids. But in their wake there is always community hope, that inspires strength and recovery.
Not even 155 mph winds or 15 feet of storm surge can ever suppress that among anglers.