“There are many people who have fished all of their lives, then they incur a disability and kind of give up,” said Pat, a volunteer for FHNB in Hayward, Wisconsin. “They see their disabilities as insurmountable. Then, their families urge them to get back into the stream of life and they find it’s not impossible. We had one man who hadn’t fished for years. He came just once to one of our events, and now he takes his son fishing in Canada every year. It opens doors.”
For people with limited mobility who want to head out onto the water, one of the first challenges is finding the appropriate vessel to go on, according to Dr. Robert Weber, E.E.D, who teaches adaptive physical education at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, and heads UW-Oshkosh’s FHNB chapter.
If a wheelchair-user is able to transfer to a boat, he or she can sit in a regular seat, with or without a lap belt for support. And many of the newer boats have fairly flat front decks that may help with the transition from pier to boat.
“But most wheelchair users are most comfortable on a pontoon boat where they have the use of their regular wheelchair when they’re on the water” Weber said. Getting a wheelchair onto a pontoon boat is quite easy. Most resorts, disabled fishing events, and professional guide services have pontoon boats available.
For those who don’t have ready access to a boat or just want to head out for a few hours of fishing, a public access pier may provide the answer.
“Most communities that put out a pier have to be in compliance with ADA requirements, which means they have to be wheelchair accessible,” Weber said. “But I’m sure there’s a variance in piers. In some places the requirements aren’t enforced or might be interpreted differently.”
Optimally, piers should be 8’ wide – wide enough to allow a wheelchair user to stop and maneuver safely. Most state governments have Web sites that list outdoor resources, including public access piers. Check your state government’s Web pages.
Most, if not all, states require that boaters have enough personal flotation devices for all on board. All participants in FHNB events are required to wear life jackets, which is a good idea for anyone fishing from a boat or a pier. Brakes can let loose, and wheelchairs can roll, so special care should be taken when a wheelchair is used around water.
“But a life preserver won’t support the weight of the wheelchair,” Dr. Weber said. “A power chair can weigh 400 lbs. Unless the person needs a lap belt for support, we recommend they keep their belt free.”
Fortunately, however, if you can get to where the fish are, adaptive fishing equipment exists to make fishing accessible to just about everyone.
- Clamp for fishing pole
- Fishing pole clamp on wheelchair
The clamp on fishing pole holder keeps a good grip on the pole while it makes the reel available for one-handed operation.
“There are all sorts of ways to get people fishing,” said Pat of FHNB. “There are ergonomic rods that are much easier for people with limited strength, rod holders, wrist straps – sometimes the volunteers design something all on their own for individual fishermen.”
All types of rod holders exist – ones that fasten to a boat or wheelchair, straps to the user’s chest, or which the user sits on – to hold the rod comfortably for those who have limited or no use of their hands. For instance, the One-Armed Fishing Bandit (www.howellstackle.com) was designed by a stroke survivor for people who can only use one arm.
The Strong Arm (www. accesstr.com) is a versatile fishing rod holder that straps to the user’s arm, making it suitable for anyone with limited or no grip.
There are also numerous reels available to make casting and reeling in accessible to everyone. Companies such as Elec-Tra-Mate (www.elec-tra-mate.com) and John’s Reels have a variety of electric reels that are designed to reel in even the biggest catch at the touch of a button. However, the John’s Reel, for instance, is not a simple “fishing winch…You still set the drag, play the fish, and experience the feel of the fight,” according to the manufacturer. It is available in several options, including a remote push-button or remote joystick operation for high-level quadriplegics.
Some reels, such as Van’s Easy Cast, can even cast for you and, Dr. Weber said, work is progressing on puff control reels that can cast and retrieve.
And, while many commercial types of rod holders exist, some pvc pipe and a bit of ingenuity may be all you need to hold the rod steady.
Dr. Weber advises that there are many Rotary Club International groups around the country that have tackle-loaning programs for people who don’t fish on a regular basis.
There are many groups that exist to open the world of fishing to people with disabilities. FHNB can help you find those organizations, answer questions on adaptive fishing equipment, events, how others have adapted to a specific disability, and how to start your own chapter.
For many of the participants, one event is all it takes to get them hooked on fishing.
“We’ve had people between 6 and 91,” Dr. Weber said. “It’s something you can do for a lifetime, something you can do with family and friends, something that you can readily adapt to a variety of different situations or abilities.”
“You get out on a boat and have the light rocking of the waves soothe and relax you. You experience the joy of just being outside, the camaraderie, the excitement of catching a fish, getting the fresh air, and the sunshine.”
Rotary Club International Groups (contact your local Rotary Club to find out if they offer the tackle-loaning program)