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Ten-year-old Brody Owens, a Boy Scout from Troop 224, identifies fish in the tank at Bass Pro Shops before an event celebrating the donation of 50,000 rods and reels to nonprofit organizations on Thursday, June 7, 2018 in East Ridge, Tenn.

Local Scout Thomas Eitzen said he no longer enjoys fishing. He used to, but he doesn't anymore. He doesn't really know why he stopped, he said, but he thinks boredom played a part. He is only 8 years old, after all. Perhaps he doesn't fully appreciate a quiet day away from life's stresses. He prefers activities such as swimming and climbing trees.

That doesn't mean Thomas — the recipient of an outdoors ethics award that he displays on his vest — doesn't want to help others enjoy the pastime. He likes to go out to swim while his papaw fishes, and he took part in an event Thursday afternoon at Bass Pro Shops in East Ridge to help children get fishing reels and rods.

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Fishing rods are seen on display before an event celebrating the donation of 50,000 rods and reels to nonprofit organizations at Bass Pro Shops on Thursday, June 7, 2018 in East Ridge, Tenn.

The event was part of an initiative created from an idea by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. He wanted families to spend less time on digital devices and more time outside. To do that, his company and Cabela's, which merged last year, are working to connect families to fishing. A coinciding event, called "Gone Fishing," will take place at Bass Pro Shops Saturday and Sunday and June 16-17 to further the company's efforts to get children interested in the outdoors. Children of all ages will be able to catch fish in catch-and-release ponds, take home a beginner's fishing guide and participate in games and crafts.

"Johnny Morris really wants to get kids out from in front of the TV and get them into the outdoors," Bass Pro Shops event coordinator Amy Dodson said. "This is part of how we do it, we get a bunch of [fishing equipment] together, and we donate it locally."

The company is donating 50,000 rods and reels nationally to nonprofit organizations that help children connect to the outdoors. The initiative and events are taking place at Bass Pro Shops across the U.S. Locally, more than 300 rods and reels were donated to the company and are being given to Fish Dayton, Catch Ministries and Boy Scouts with Troop 224, Troop 2, Pack 3099 and Pack 3002 with the Cherokee Area Council. Each organization is tasked with providing the fishing equipment to children across the area.

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Eight-year-olds Levi Lee, left, and Thomas Eitzen check out a reel at Bass Pro Shops during an event celebrating the donation of 50,000 rods and reels to nonprofit organizations on Thursday, June 7, 2018 in East Ridge, Tenn. Lee is a Cub Scout from Pack 3002 and Eitzen is in Webelos with Pack 3099.

Cleveland, Tennessee, faith-based organization Catch Ministry will take the used equipment and spruce it up before donating it. Workers will contact local schools to connect students with the rods and reels. The ministry holds events throughout the region annually to spread the gospel through fishing.

"We have a program where we have the kids write a short essay on why they enjoy fishing," Catch Ministry President Kevin Johnson said. "Obviously, you have folks who are more blessed than others. We try to make sure the ones who really do need the rods and reels are able to get them."

For local Boy Scouts, that's a mission they fully support.

Scout Brody Owens, 10, has been fishing for about four years. He enjoys the silence and calmness and was pleased when he learned about the event. He wants to see other children enjoy fishing, too, and he may not have to wait long to see that desire unfold.

At the end of the event, Thomas contemplated his earlier statements about not enjoying fishing and came to a new thought.

"You know, I may start fishing again," he said.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook @ChattanoogaOutdoors.

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