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Just fishing & dreaming

A retiree hopes to keep kids out of trouble by getting them into fishing.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 2, 2002


INTERBAY -- Fishing was different when Dan Creacy was a kid.

In Oklahoma during the Great Depression, fresh-cut branches became poles and Prince Albert tobacco cans served as tackle boxes.

Creacy, 74, makes sure kids in his South Tampa neighborhood don't go through all that trouble.

He gives away poles.

Just check out the sign in his front yard.

"FREE FISHING POLE TO LOCAL CHILDREN, 5 TO 13 YEARS OLD," it promises.

"BRING MOM OR DAD OR GRANDMA."

How many poles?

Nearly 300 in just two years, he says, a bit uncomfortable about boasting.

Creacy, a retired Air Force master sergeant and father of three, has ideas about what children need in life.

"If a young boy's fishing," he says, "he won't be in trouble."

Most of the poles are new. Some are rehabilitated after Creacy finds them at flea markets. Each comes with sinkers, bobbers and fishing line -- and a brochure on fishing rules.

The cost to Creacy: about $10 per pole.

An adult must be present because Creacy wants to be sure the child's guardian approves. He doesn't provide hooks because of the liability.

"I give 'em everything they need except the hooks," he says.

Many poles have gone to boys and girls at the low-income Rembrandt apartment complex down the street, and the mobile home park around the corner.

Sometimes people drive up from who knows where. Creacy doesn't mind; he doesn't put strict boundaries on what "local" is.

He doesn't keep track of names, either. Too many kids to remember.

"Sometimes I have six or seven standing out there," he says.

He remembers two boys from Liberia; they spoke French. He remembers Juanita, the woman with 12 children.

"She got 10 poles off me," he says.

Creacy keeps cane poles on hand for adults, and tiny, toy-like poles for toddlers.

In the shed behind his home, he listens to Cajun music while he fixes poles that will eventually land bass and bream. Dozens of poles stand on racks or lean in the corner.

It looks like a workshop for one of Santa's elves.

Creacy started giving away poles when he quit going to church.

He was an usher at the MacDill Air Force Base chapel for 25 years. But kidney problems made visits unbearable. Now Creacy goes to dialysis three times a week and reads his Bible at home.

Giving away fishing poles is how he pays his tithe.

"It's just what I do," he says. "I'm a Christian."

But there's more to it than that.

"I wanted these kids to start fishing," he says. "When a kid's fishing, he's dreaming."

When Creacy was a kid, he made bobbers from dead wood and used bolts for sinkers. He went down to the creek when the chores were done. Channel catfish were waiting, and tasty bream locals called "punkinseeds."

"I was going to catch the biggest one," Creacy says.

He has been an avid fisherman ever since.

Two years ago, when the state began planning a new pier for the pond at Bobby Hicks Park, Creacy was a familiar face at public hearings and a familiar voice calling state officials for progress reports.

"He was calling me about once a month," says Paul Thomas, an urban fishery project leader with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission office in Lakeland.

Somewhere along the way, Thomas heard about the fishing-pole giveaway. He thinks Creacy or his wife mentioned it in passing.

"You don't find people that selfless," Thomas says. "He sees a lot of kids that don't have a lot of opportunity."

The pier was finished in June and become an instant hit.

Creacy says sometimes he sees kids riding bicycles to the park, their fishing poles on the handlebar basket.

Once he stopped two boys and asked them what they were using for bait. They showed him a handful of clams.

Clams? Creacy thought. Now that's pretty resourceful.

"You give those boys a chance," he says, "and they'll use their head."

-- Writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

Dan Creacy

  • OCCUPATION: Retired.
  • AGE: 74.
  • FAMILY: Madge, wife of 48 years; three children, Daniel Jr., Belinda and Rhonda.
  • PAST LIFE: Air Force master sergeant; landscaping contractor; maintenance supervisor at Britton Plaza.
  • FAVORITE FISH: Channel catfish.
  • WAY TO EAT 'EM: Southern fried in flour and cornmeal, with hush puppies.
  • TOP FISHING HOLE: Lake Seminole in Pinellas County.
  • WHISTLES WHILE HE WORKS: Cajun two-steps.

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