Ashley Ferguson will always remember Sept. 25. It’s her dad’s birthday, and for a young woman who grew up at Donald Walker’s knee, then hip, then standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the man who raised her on the water, it was a day of celebration.
“My dad passed away in December 2015,” Ferguson said. “He was from Pensacola (Florida) and he loved being on the water, and I loved it too. He told me I needed a state job so I could work doing what I loved, and he’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Ferguson’s “doing” is a marine biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Remember, she headed up the state’s first speckled trout tracking program, a study showing where and when trout move in Pontchartrain and Calcasieu, the state’s largest coastal lakes, places that produce giant trout.
Today, she heads up the LDWF’s Inshore Artificial Reefs Program.
But that tells only half her story. The other half — the not-on-the-job part — goes back to her dad’s passions.
Cancer claimed Donald Walker just before Christmas three years ago.
“I was missing him a lot back then and I needed to get my sense of purpose back, to do something to get me back to where it all started,” Ferguson said.
And that started her thinking about all the others fighting this dreaded many-tentacled disease.
Ferguson said about three months after her dad died, she began using her husband, Adam, as a sounding board. She said Adam felt her grief, her pain, and, for the next months giving-back thoughts ran races to see which idea would be first.
Ah, yes, a chance to give the ill among us a chance to find the pleasures her dad, and her, enjoyed being on the water.
The terminally ill topped her list, and she knew what dose of a day on the water would mean to someone, and their families, counting the days.
Dose. Coast. Yeah, Dose of the Coast.
It was the cure for her pain, and could relieve — at least for a day — the misery her husband sees on a daily basis. Adam Ferguson is a physician’s assistant at Our Lake of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge.
On Sept. 25, 2016, Dose of the Coast was born. Yes, Donald Walker’s birthday. It helps Ashley remember her second job as Dose’s founder and president and makes life complete for her and so many others.
“It was a lot of nights and weekends trying to get it off the ground, and it’s nights and weekends now,” Ferguson said. “Financially, we have a lot of beginning donations given by family members and close friends, but the first big donation came from one of the doctors at OLOL who said he would support us and fund that first project.”
By September, 2017, Dose of the Coast came through with 21 fishing and boating trips, and are on target to repeat that this year: “We have done 20 and still have family trips and fishing trips scheduled.”
And she accommodated a “cancer” family with a sailing trip from Pensacola.
“We took five families to Empire to a (fishing) lodge,” Ferguson said. “It was an awesome event and there’s a great video online at our website.”
While the highs are extraordinarily high in Dose of the Coast trips, there’s a corresponding low. Like everything like it, money greases the wheels to get down the road.
An Evening Ashore
That’s the title Ferguson has given to Dose’s first major fundraiser, a night of food, liquid fuel and friendship Oct. 27 at Crown Bistro on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.
“It’s $45 for all you can eat and drink,” Ferguson said. “We’re selling tickets on our website — doseofthecoast.org/shop — and at the door. We’re going to have silent auctions like a (charter skipper) Justin Bowles fishing trip and lots of other diverse offerings.”
And there’s a VIP level for the vip and a guest.
For more, email: Ashley@doseofthecoast.org.
Remember the recent years of the Louisiana Saltwater Series. It was mostly a one-day redfish tournament held at various sites along the coast.
It’s back, and Sam Barbera, who ran the series and is now the top man at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, is gathering the former series staff for two Dose-benefit tournaments next year.
“We’re going to use the redfish template to raise money for a great cause,” Barbera said. “It’ll be two-angler teams weighing two less-than-27-inches (long) redfish. They’ll be able to have a youngster in the boat, and the kids will fish free. It’s fishing to send people fishing.”
The two dates? May 4, 2019, at Campo’s at Shell Beach, and June 15 at Venice Marina, and Barbera said he’s working on a third site.
“I’m very humbled by the response we received from Robbie Campo (Shell Beach) and Mike and Bill Butler (Venice),” Ferguson said. “It will be good to get a bunch of good friends back together and raising money to help people on fishing trips, sailing and coastal eco-tourism trips.
“And I’m so appreciative of what Sam is doing. I had this crazy idea, and the first person in the real world was Sam,” Ferguson said. “He knows our (fishing) community and we’re eternally grateful for him stepping up and taking that on.”