Close-knit group of GTA anglers, volunteers continue search for missing fisher Kevin Wong
'We've been out for pretty much two straight days, sunup to sundown,' says Wong's close friend
People from across the GTA continued their search for missing angler and boater Kevin Wong over the weekend, many of them part of the area's tight-knit sport fishing community.
Using social media to co-ordinate the search effort, Wong's family and friends have set out with dozens of volunteers to comb the shores of Lake Ontario each day since he first disappeared around noon on Sept. 6.
"We've been out for pretty much two straight days, sunup to sundown, scouring the shoreline on the north shore from Bluffer's Park in Scarborough all the way to almost Oshawa," said Anthony Chen.
Chen has known Wong for about a decade, he says. The two bonded over their love for fishing.
"I'm close to his friends and family and I'm just trying to do the best that I can to help and to try to figure out what happened. And to bring closure," he says.
Wong, 31, is described by those who knew him as a dedicated and deeply experienced sport angler who frequented the waters of Lake Ontario around Toronto. He had an extensive presence on social media and YouTube, where he uploaded videos of his adventures on a page called Big Fish Small Camera Fishing.
'He doesn't take risks'
Last Thursday morning, he set out with another well-known GTA angler and guide, Shaun Rickard, to troll for salmon around Frenchman's Bay. Conditions were calm, and as salmon species prepare to journey into local rivers to spawn, the pair were not especially far out from shore, Chen says.
Wong and Rickard were in separate boats, but were in communication throughout the morning.
"At some point, Kevin stopped replying. And that's when Shaun tried to look for him," said Chen.
Rickard and police eventually found Wong's 17-foot aluminum fishing boat, unmanned with its trolling motor running, near the east bank of the mouth of Duffin's Creek in Rotary Park in Ajax.
Since then, the group has frantically searched for Wong.
"He's a very safe boater, very experienced. He doesn't take risks. So it's really mind boggling as to what may have happened," Chen says, adding that Wong was a strong swimmer.
"It's just absolutely puzzling."
Eshew Chen (no relation to Anthony), who known Wong for about four years, echoed that sentiment.
"Kevin is a very experienced fisherman. He taught me to fish. He's probably one of the most cautious and meticulous people I've seen when he goes out fishing. We're quite shocked that this could have happened," he said.
Search of north shore continues
Along with Wong's family, Anthony Chen and Rickard started a Facebook group to help co-ordinate volunteers. With strong winds from the east and a current starting to push northward, the search team will focus their efforts Sunday on shoreline west of the city.
The hope is that items from Wong's boat may have washed ashore by now, possibly providing clues about his whereabouts.
Toronto police, Durham Regional Police and the Canadian Coast Guard had been assisting in the search, however the Coast Guard officially ended it's participation Saturday evening. Sunday's search will be carried out entirely by volunteers from shore.
But the response from the community is a testament to how many people care for Wong, says Eshew Chen.
"We've had a great response from the Facebook group. A lot of people we've never met, people who didn't know Kevin, have joined the search," he says.
The reality of Wong's disappearance has been incredibly difficult for his three siblings and his mother, and it has also hit the close group of anglers in his social circle hard, both Chens told CBC Toronto.
"We've seen people missing before, but we never thought it would be this close to us," Eshew Chen said.
"It's a lesson for all of us and all the anglers out there. No matter what the water looks like, no matter what the weather looks like, there is always danger in those great bodies of water. So be careful out there."