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Illinois hunting and fishing

Rob Smith of Virginia takes a fish off the hook while his wife Marla reels one in May 21 at Drake Lake, in the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. Clay Fox, 11, watches at right. Photos by Chris Young.

FishinPals ministry starts tenth year

May 29, 2011 at 12:56 PM

The State Journal-Register

Sometimes, for no good reason, fish just don’t bite.

But experienced anglers know not to get discouraged. If they keep at it, their luck is bound to change for the better.

Years ago, Jim and Janet Dillow had an idea to start a fishing group as an outreach of Jim’s work as a minister.

The rest of his church wasn’t so interested, and the idea was stuck in church committee.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Jim and Janet Dillow

So when Jim left Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, the couple formed FishinPals on their own.

“The idea is to take the church outside the walls,” Jim says. “And show that people of faith do more than just go to church on Sunday.”

In other words, some of the things people seek from church, including fellowship and strengthening relationships with others, are the same things they seek during the rest of the week.

FishinPals is not affiliated with any denomination or particular church, but the organization’s website says it is available to talk with participants about questions of faith.

The non-denominational fishing ministry recently started its 10th year. The first event of 2011 was held at the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area May 21.

“It was in the works a long time,” Janet says of the FishinPals concept. “But the church was committee-ing it to death.”

“I’ve been a fisherman all my life, and I thought it would be a way to get people out and enjoy the outdoors and God’s creation,” Jim says. “Now we get people from other denominations and people who don’t even go to church.”

Making connections

The Dillows now live in Virginia, where Janet is a substitute teacher and Jim drives a bus for pre-kindergarten kids.

The fishing starts in early afternoon, and there’s a potluck afterward, along with a brief devotion.

“It’s a very short, very casual devotion and prayer,” Jim says.

“And of course we eat,” Janet says. “That’s very church-y, isn’t it?”

The original idea was to create fishing outings for kids. Jim says adults fish just as much as kids these days, and outings draw anywhere from “six to 60 participants.”

Two of those participants have been with the Dillows from the start. Rob and Marla Smith of Virginia came to the first organizational meeting and have been fishing alongside the Dillows every since.

Rob’s first fish last Saturday wasn’t much to brag about.

“That’s my 15 minutes of fame,” Rob says with a laugh. “A picture of me holding a three-inch bass.”

Jim tries to point out the upside.

“It takes skill to catch one that small,” he says.

A few minutes later, a location change brought better luck.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Rob and Marla Smith

“Now that’s a nice one,” Rob says, taking a bluegill off the hook. “A stringer of those would be real nice.”

Over the past decade, FishinPals has extended its reach beyond its central Illinois fishing events. Jim says he’s been in touch with people as far away as India and Iraq.

“I didn’t know people in India fished, but they do,” he says.

The organization has been able to give away $25,000 worth of fishing tackle - much of it donated.

Soldiers stationed in Iraq came upon the FishinPals website and contacted Jim, who sent some of the donated fishing equipment.

“They sent us some pictures, and they’d have a sidearm, a rifle in one hand and a fishing pole in the other,” he says.

The soldiers were fishing in a pond at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

“They gave the fish to the local people and it turned into a form of outreach for them,” Jim says.

Both Jim and Janet say they plan to keep FishinPals going as long as they have the energy for it.

“It should get easier now that we are retired,” Jim says, “But there are times of discouragement. But if you are meant to do it, that feeling of discouragement will go away.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Copyright 2011 The State Journal-Register. Some rights reserved

Illinois hunting and fishing

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