Laurie Sweet of Gwandalan is the dictionary definition of a fishing fanatic, spending much of his time casting lines in the waters of Lake Macquarie.
His passion for the hobby runs so deep in his veins that he is sharing that passion with other avid fishers in his fishing club, and to local kids at Gwandalan Public School and Camp Breakaway.
“I’ve been a volunteer with the Department of Primary Industries since 2007, and with that, I volunteer by taking kids who do fishing for sport at some of the local schools and teach them how to fish, and how to tie lines and all the regulations that we have to follow.
“I also work with special needs kids at Camp Breakaway to teach them as well,” he said.
Sweet, with assistance from Disabled Surfers Association’s founder, Gary Blashke, of Lake Munmorah, was responsible for the upgrades to the jetty at Gwandalan, allowing for people with disabilities the opportunity to go fishing.
“I started the idea for the upgraded jetty about five years ago, and I reached out to Gary to help me do it right.
“I also reached out to Council and told them I’ll raise the money if you let us do that, and that’s what we did.
“We raised $25,000 to fund the upgrade as I wanted a place to take kids with special needs to be able to fish.
“We take around 10 kids fishing for about an hour and after that we cook them a sausage sandwich and we teach them the basics of fishing and it gives them a day out and they all love it.
“We’ve only just started up again due to COVID, and I’d like to do two of these fishing trips a month now that they have somewhere to fish.
“I get a lot of satisfaction working with kids with special needs.
“One time we had a girl who is 98 percent blind, and she caught a trumpeter, and when we held it up to her ear and it made its trumpet sound, the look on her face was worth 10 million dollars.
“Seeing her smile like that was better than winning the lottery,” Sweet said.
Sweet, who has more than 3,000 hours of volunteer work under his belt, also participates in boating and caravanning shows and also runs a fishing workshop with the Gwandalan Fishing Club at Tocal.
“At a lot of these workshops we give away a lot of stuff like fishing rods.
“We were meant to be going to Wauchope for NAIDOC Week to run a workshop there, but Covid got in the way of that unfortunately, not that they need help fishing,” Sweet chuckled.
Sweet also prides himself and his club on their sustainable way of fishing.
“We’re the only club on the Coast that practises catch and release fishing, and we’re only allowed to catch two of each species of fish and we can take a photo of it and weigh it before tossing it back in the water,” Sweet said.
The 70-year-old, who has been retired for seven years, has also overcome his own challenges in life.
“I was in the Navy for 26 years, then spent 12 years working at a Stockfeed company and then six years testing machinery for companies before retiring.
“When we were getting started with the jetty plans five years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and that took me out of action for 12 months.
“I love being retired – it means I have more time for fishing.
“It’s a passion, I’ve been a fisherman all my life,” Sweet said.