Welcome to Panfish!

Part One Hundred-thirty

Randy Fratzke

Fly Fishing, Handicapped Style

By Randy Fratzke


Forward Note:
OK, by now most of you know, I have Multiple Sclerosis and have been "down" with it for some time. While visiting the site this morning (like about 3:30 AM) I ran across several people inquiring about the Panfish articles (or lack there of in reference to my writing and other original pieces). All I can say is: "Sorry, sometimes lifes little inconveniences take priority." So with that out of the way, and with the help of our friends, Jim and Deanna Birkholm on the editing side, I will try to put a few articles together for your reading.

First of all, I realize that the word "handicap" is not currently politically correct. "Physically Challenged", "Mentally Challenged", and, in my case "Follicly Challenged" (since I'm going bald!) are more correct. "Challenged" seems to be the coin word for the present to describe anything and everything for people who still want to do "normal things" but aren't capable of doing them "normally". If I sound a little bitter, so be it. I am. But I am not a quitter. I am a challenger. I challenge myself daily and will continue to do so until they scatter my ashes across my favorite stream!

So, now you ask, ok, "What's the Fritzer got wrong with him anyway and how does it effect his fly fishing?" The Multiple Sclerosis has attacked my legs and weakened them considerably. It has also attacked my balance, and when combined with the leg thing makes walking kind of tough sometimes, not to mention wading! I've also lost some of my peripheral site and am required to where a wide brim hat and heavy sunglasses whenever I'm outside to keep the bright sunlight from causing excruciating pain to my eyes. My physical coordination is lousy at best, I have muscle spasms and the brain sometimes tells the right hand to do something but my left hand responds - makes eating spaghetti a real challenge some times. I also become confused easily, and, if I'm outside of my immediate area, sometimes I feel 'lost.' My bones and teeth have become extremely brittle from the medications I take to combat the disease - just a one of many little side effects. Have I given up fishing? Nope! Have I found new ways to fish? Yet bet your sweet bippy! Do I fish alone anymore? Not on your life (or mine for that matter)! I am going to describe to you how I have modified my fishing for my life style. This is not so that you can sit there and feel sorry for me (don't, because there are a whole lot of people a lot worse off than me and I don't feel sorry for myself!) but rather that I can challenge you! "Challenge you?" Fritzer says? "How so," you ask. I challenge you to take someone, with a handicap fly fishing! Not just out on a stream with a fishing pole, a can of worms, and a bobber, but fly fishing!

So what will this involve? Some time, a lot of patience and, knowledge of the persons abilities and inability's, most of all, sincerity. But hey, like I've told more than a few people, if you don't like the challenge then take a hike and don't come back because I don't need the added aggravation.

The person:

First of all, I'm sure most of you know someone already. Someone with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, a stroke victim, an accident victim, or any number of "disabilities." Talk with them about taking them fishing. Find out what their abilities and limitations are. Ask them and their caretaker (because sometimes we lie about our abilities and limitations just to get the heck out of the house for a while and their caretaker can help clear up any doubts!) about what they can and can't do. Most of 'us' will tell you, honestly. Find out from the person how you will need to modify the fishing so you can both have a good experience. Again, be sincere; if you can't handle it, don't offer it and let them know. It's not a crime at this point. Taking someone into a situation that neither of you are ready to handle could very easily become a disaster. Maybe a couple of people could come along to help or as "backup." Maybe make it a group thing or a club thing.

Time:

You need to do a little scouting for water that is conducive to the persons abilities, and, if possible, holds a few fish. Something that needs to be emphasized here: Getting out is more important than catching, catching is the icing on the cake! The camaraderie, the time spent outside and away from the house, the fishing, the experience. These are the important things. You also need time to plan the outing. Plan what equipment will be needed, especially fishing equipment. Do not hand someone who has balance problems your $500.00 rod and expect them not to do some damage to it if they fall and don't hand them a two handed spey rod if they can only use one arm! Use your common sense, I didn't say this would be easy, did I? You also need to plan enough time for the outing. If it only takes you an hour to get to your fishing spot, get dressed, your gear unpacked and put together and set to fish then you better plan on an hour and a half. There again, when you're done fishing, plan some extra time to get back on the road. Make sure you ask the person about taking some breaks, or better yet, bring along some snacks and 'force' yourself and them to take a break together.

Patience:

This is a key area. You have no idea, unless you've been there yourself, what it is like to have been able to double haul 80 feet of line with fairly good accuracy and now be happy slopping 30 feet close to the mark. Now put that into a different perspective of someone who has never fly fished before and sees you whipping it out there and expecting them to be able to do the same. Some will surprise you and be able to, others won't. If you've ever taken a 4-year-old kid fishing you have some idea of what I'm talking about. Us adults are almost worse because we are aware of ourselves, and believe it or not, are self conscious about it. My friends know me well enough that when I get frustrated and upset with myself they recognize it and suggest a break. It gives me time to 'get over it' and refocus on what is going on and why. Otherwise I wind up flailing my rod with more wind knots in my leader and tippet than a trot line. Trust me, you need to have sincere patience, not condescending or pity patience, but sincere patience. Watch what the person is doing, explain what's going wrong to the person and suggest a way that might help. At one point I couldn't cast because my coordination was so bad that I'd throw my rod when I wanted to release the line. I remedied this my putting a piece of Velcro or a short rope around the rod and my wrist and then letting line out and letting the fly drift downstream, using the rod and the current to place the fly where I wanted it. At least if I accidentally let go of the rod I didn't have to chase it or ask for help retrieving it. One of the most important things is not for YOU to loose your patience. I guarantee that if you want to ruin the experience, this will do it. If you feel like your loosing it, take a break, take a few deep (quiet) breaths, get a grip. I also do a lot of drift fishing from a boat. Let out some line and let the current do the work. Use the oars or a push pole to help correct and maneuver it to where the fish are. Another way for a person to fish is to help the person wade out to a rock or a tree trunk (or put one out there a couple of weeks ahead of your planned outing) that's in the middle of the stream. It will provide a place for them to sit and cast or float their line from that area. Many shorelines are accessible if you do some advanced scouting. Just keep in mind that if the person is in a wheel chair, has crutches, or even has to use a cane that soft terrain or sand can mean a lot of problems and unless you can carry the person back in, don't take them out. Check around, many states are building handicapped accessible fishing areas (maybe another thing for your group or club to get involved with?). The DNR will usually have a list of areas that are accessible or can at least suggest areas if you take the time to ask. Some states DNR even issue free fishing passes to handicapped people so that they don't have to pay for licenses.

Last of all, be a sincere person. Don't take the person out once and then never call them again. Don't tell the person that it was a wonderful experience for YOU to take THEM. Be honest, if you both enjoyed it, ask them to go again. If you had a real bummer of a time sit down with them and try to figure out what went wrong and how to correct for that and talk them into trying again. If they out fished you, get over it!

One note on safety: Please, what ever you do, play it way inside the safe zone. Especially until you get to really know the other person. Wear life jackets when and where necessary (both of you, so that the other person doesn't feel self-conscious). Keep an eye on the person you take, even if it means sacrificing a cast or a fish (or a rod for that matter!) You're taking on a lot of responsibility, be responsible. Enjoy the fact that you are helping another individual experience fly fishing and not just "taking a crip fishing". ~ Randy Fratzke

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