For a listing of state-by-state disabled fishing license information, please click HERE
Each year, 50 million Americans, including 10 million youth, go fishing to experience the beauty of the great outdoors, the serenity of being near the water and the thrill of the catch. Fishing offers a lot of flexibility too. You can enjoy the peace of fishing alone or join friends and family for a fun and social time together. You can go out for a few hours to catch dinner or spend an entire day or more relaxing and enjoying freedom awayfrom the stress of the daily grind. Whether you live near a river, lake or ocean, adaptive fishing has never been more available, regardless of disability, thanks to adaptive fishing equipment, Disabled Sports USA chapters, and organizations ready to teach you how.
By Land or By Water?
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. 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. Pontoon boats work well as the allow the use of the wheelchair while on the water. 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. 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.
If you are fishing from a boat, always wear a life jacket. Most, if not all, states require that boaters have enough personal flotation devices for all on board. Life jackets also are recommended for wheelchair users who are fishing from a dock or shore, as brakes can let loose or you unintentionally roll into the water. Safety glasses will protect your eyes from the elements and when casting. Bring water to stay hydrated, insect repellant, sunscreen, flashlight, and cell phone. Let someone know where you are going and when you will return.
Adaptive fishing equipment makes it possible for people of all abilities to fish. Many equipment adaptations exist, including:
Fishing rod mounts, harnesses and holders: All types of rod holders exist from ones that fasten to a boat or wheelchair, strap to the user’s chest or forearm, or which the user sits on – to hold the rod comfortably for those who have limited or no use of their hands. The clamp on fishing pole holder keeps a good grip on the pole while it makes the reel available for one-handed operation. For instance, The Strong Arm (http://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. 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. There are also numerous reels available to make casting and reeling in accessible to everyone.
Electric fishing reels: People with limited or no hand function can cast and reel catches in with the touch of a button. These reels typically have power units with batteries that last for hours. Companies such as Elec-Tra-Mate (www.elec-tra-mate.com) have a variety of electric reels that are designed to reel in even the biggest catch at the touch of a button. Options also include 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.
Knot tyers: For one-handed fishers, knot tyers can thread hooks, tie knots, and cut lines.
For a list of adaptive fishing equipment, please click HERE
To protect fish populations and support wildlife programs, all states require licenses to fish, but many states offer no-fee or limited fee fishing licenses for people with disabilities and disabled veterans. To find out what your state offers, click on the link at the top of the page for links to each state’s fishing license information and applications.
Special focus: Fly Fishing
If enjoying the peace and serenity of the outdoors is your goal but you are after a bigger challenge, then you should try fly fishing. Fly fishing can be done from a boat, by wading into the water or safely from the dock.
With fly-fishing, artificial flies are cast with a fly rod and fly line. It’s more challenging than regular fishing, but many fishers find it more rewarding. Practice is necessary before a fisher masters the art of fly-fishing, including what type of fly to use, how and where to place it in the water, and overhead casting as the fishing line is specially weighted, yet the fly itself is nearly weightless.
While fly-fishing offers fun and enjoyment to people of all abilities, for injured combat veterans, fly-fishing has proven to be especially beneficial. “The sport of fly-fishing has many positive physical, mental and emotional therapeutic benefits. Enabling disabled veterans to fly fish, tie flies and spend time together learning how to do it builds camaraderie. Over time they become their own support group,” said David Folkerts, Chief Operations Officer of Project Healing Waters, a national leader in providing fly-fishing and associated activities specifically for disabled veterans.
Folkerts is a medically retired U.S. Army Captain who was injured by an IED while serving in Iraq in 2005. “Flyfishing made a real big difference in my recovery and helped flip that switch from thinking about negative things to positive things. There is a lot of peace and a lot of connecting with nature involved with fishing.”
Adaptive Fishing Resources
More than 40 DSUSA Chapters across the country offer fishing to adults and youth with disabilities. To find your nearby chapter, go to http://www.disabledsportsusa.org/location-map/ and type “fishing” in the search box.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing operates more than 200 programs across the United States, providing no-cost services to more than 7,500 wounded, ill and injured veterans and military service members each year: http://www.projecthealingwaters.org/
Fishing Has No Boundaries provides recreational fishing opportunities for all anglers with disabilities regardless of their age, race, gender, or disability: http://www.fhnbinc.org/
(Photo Credits: top photo by Matt Romero and bottom photo by Ed Felker. Both are courtesy of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.)