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RSW Living Magazine

A Fish Out Of Water: When not feeding the hungry in SWFL, Stefanie Edwards feeds her soul by fishing

Jan 24, 2021 12:22PM ● By Kathy Montgomery

Stefanie Ink Edwards spends her days on the front lines of emergency food distribution, making sure people who need food in Southwest Florida get it. As the chief development and operating officer of Fort Myers-based Community Cooperative, Edwards oversees fundraising, development, operations and volunteer programs. 

She’s an operations and logistics wizard, because food donations are often unanticipated and scheduling is massive—Meals on Wheels alone has 32 routes! Community Cooperative is an all-hands-on-deck environment with long days, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Edwards can be seen handing out groceries, and collecting and delivering food. She also spearheads fundraising events such as the 17th Annual Sam Galloway, Jr. & Friends Soup Kitchen Benefit. Held on March 5, 2020, it raised a record million dollars.

How does Edwards manage the stress of her critical job, which, during the pandemic, has also been heartbreaking because of so many people needing help? She goes fishing! As much as possible on her off time, you’ll find her on or under the water—fishing, spearfishing or lobstering with family and friends. 

“An ideal weekend for me would be anything on or in the water,” Edwards says. “I would love a flat, calm Saturday morning in Key Largo to chase mahi, an afternoon of freediving for lobster, followed by a clear Sunday chasing fish in our beautiful Southwest Florida waters—with a lunch break for a Cabbage Creeper [tropical drink] from Cabbage Key.”

An only child, she grew up racing cars and fishing with her dad, James Ink. “I come from a salty family,” says the Southwest Florida native. “I was seine netting fish on Fort Myers Beach as a kid in the same place my father did when he was a child.”

Now Edwards spends her downtime “making salty memories” on a 25-foot Sport Craft catamaran with her husband, Dustin, and children, 15-year-old Owen and 8-year-old Emilia. “For me, the excitement comes from sharing the hunt with my children,” she says. “Hearing that reel scream as whatever monster is on the other end pulls away.”

The self-described “sea hugger” also makes sure the waters are clean and pristine for generations to come—by picking up litter from the water and beaches. “Sometimes we catch more garbage than fish!”

Also, when she can fit them in to her schedule, she fishes in tournaments. “I’m naturally competitive anyway and get very serious,” Edwards adds. “I wish I had time to do tournaments more often.”

This past July, she and a team of fisherwoman took 5th place at the Fingers O’Bannon Memorial Invitational Snook Fishing tournament on Cabbage Key. Edwards also fishes in the Ladies Howl at the Moon, a tarpon fishing tournament in Boca Grande Pass, which her team has won.

“My favorite fish to target is tarpon,” she explains. “I have a slight obsession with the silver kings. They are so big and majestic. It’s one of the best fish to fight, and I feel so blessed to live in Southwest Florida—where we have the tarpon capital of the world right in our own backyard.”

Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.