by Dr. Ron Milliman
How many major sports can we, as blind people, participate and compete effectively in with little to no special equipment or assistance? Very few! Golf comes close. Blind golfers are quite well organized, have a few of their own rules, and even hold tournaments held in many places around the globe. However, even blind golfers require assistance. According to the blind golf manual titled “Blind Golf: Learning and Playing the Game,” by Sue Urry, a blind golfer can use “a coach who assists… in addressing the ball and with alignment prior to the stroke…” The coach’s responsibilities include walking the player to the ball, describing the shot and the distance, helping with club selection, and positioning and aligning the player and the club to the ball. Then, the coach describes the ball flight and results.
Another sport that blind people can participate in with little to no assistance is fishing. This is a sport that I greatly enjoy. I have a place on Lake Barkley in western Kentucky, where I often go down to my dock in the very early mornings and fish. It is so refreshing to hear the many nature sounds emanating from the trees in the forest surrounding my property. I can hear the squirrels chattering at each other, and at me, telling me to get out of their playground as they scamper through the trees, jumping from limb to limb like skilled gymnasts. Then there are the numerous varieties of species of birds chirping their jubilant morning songs. As I stand on the dock with my fishing rod in hand, I can hear the wind gently blowing, causing waves in the water as it splashes up on the shore. The fish jump and churn the water, seeking their breakfast of bugs and shad minnows.
My challenge is to select a bait that will entice one of those fish to bite. If I am lucky, I’ll catch several fish for a big fish fry! There is nothing much better than fresh fried fish. We cook our fish all different ways: fried, baked, and grilled. There is just nothing like a plate full of fresh fish!
Fishing is one sport that blind people can participate in with no assistance, depending on how we fish. When fishing from my dock, I can do everything independently: select my rod and reel, rig up my line, choose my bait, and cast my line where I want to fish. I can select from a large variety of artificial baits in my tackle box, e.g., jigs, top waters, poppers, crank baits, divers, slabs, rooster tails, etc. Or I can use any number of live baits, like shad or skipjack minnows, or the reliable nightcrawler.
I know from some unfortunate experiences that when fishing from my dock, I have to be careful where I cast my line. If I cast just a little too far straight out in front of me, I’ll get hung up in some tree branches from a fallen tree that extends out several feet in the water perpendicular to the shore. Then, if I toss my line too far to my left, I’ll get hung up in the rocks. Either way, I’m guaranteed to lose most of my tackle. When that happens, I have to dig out replacement tackle from my box and retie my line. This is the part that gets a little challenging if you can’t see what you’re doing. Most of the time the sense of touch is sufficient, but in a few situations, it is difficult to feel what is needed, like the very small holes in the beads I use on my line. Even so, we can almost always figure out a way of doing what we need to do.
Working with extremely light line can be a challenge, too. Fishing line is categorized by its pound test; that is, a 4-pound test line is much lighter, thinner, flimsier, and harder to feel than a 20-pound test line. Lighter lines are used for smaller fish and the heavier lines are used for larger fish. It is much easier to tie and work with heavier lines. There are several types of line, such as monofilament, braided, etc. In general, it is easier to work with and tie monofilament line than braided line, particularly if the line is light. I have developed a method that works well for me when working with these light braided lines. I tie the line tightly around a baggie tie about a quarter of the way from one end. Then, the baggie tie allows me to easily thread my line through the line guides on my fishing rod, and to find the little hole in the beads I use and thread my line through the bead, tie on a swivel, the weight and the hook, or another combination of tackle I might use. When I am done, I can simply cut the line from the baggie tie, and I am ready to start fishing.
Are there situations where a blind person needs assistance to fish? Yes. I have gotten my line so tangled that I could not feel how to get it untangled, especially when using the really light braided line. So, I either cut my line and completely rerig it or swallow my pride and ask for sighted assistance. Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to go down to a dock and fish any time you want, you need to be able to either walk to a nearby fishing hole or get someone to take you. I am extremely fortunate to be married to an angel who can skillfully operate our boat, and she even likes to fish. I also have two sons who love to fish. I introduced them to fishing when they were just old enough to hold their fishing poles. I have several other fishing buddies, too. When we are out in the boat, the only assistance I ask for is to tell me in what direction I need to cast my line to get in the vicinity of where I want to fish. Usually that just requires someone to tell me “just toss your line straight out the right side of the boat,” or “a little more to the left of where you are pointing your rod.” Like the blind golfer, I also like to know how far I am from the shore or rocks or log, and if there are any overhanging tree limbs or brush to avoid getting caught up in. Unfortunately, many of the hazards we need to know about, like rocks or tree stumps, are often the very places where the fish are hanging out.
My boat is a 24-foot SeaArk with a 4-stroke Suzuki engine, and it is loaded with the latest electronics, including a Humminbird depth/fish finder, which does me no good unless I have a fishing buddy with me who knows how to use it. There is nothing accessible about that fish finder, and to my knowledge, there are no accessible devices. But just because the fish finder sees fish, it doesn’t mean you’ll catch them. Sometimes, no matter how good you are at fishing, the fish just aren’t biting.
There is quite a science to fishing. It is good to understand what kinds of factors affect fish behavior and feeding activity. For instance, the various moon phases affect how well the fish are biting; so does the barometric pressure, water temperature, the amount of current in the water, what food is available that the fish are feeding on, etc.
The way you rig up your line and the type of bait you use all affect the type of fish you catch. If you are fishing for bass, for instance, you would rig up quite differently than if you were fishing for catfish. If I were fishing for bass in the early spring, I might use an artificial pumpkin seed lizard with a chartreuse colored tail rigged up Carolina style for bait. But if I were fishing for a blue catfish, I might use a large chunk of cut skipjack rigged up Santee Cooper style. I especially enjoy fishing for catfish, and while I have fished in several different states and for both saltwater and freshwater fish of different species, and even won a 1st place trophy in a major tournament, I have evolved to specializing in fishing for catfish, especially the blue catfish. I have even published an e-book titled “The Giant Collection of Catfish Baits and Rigs.”
In this book, I cover some of the various baits used for catching the three more common kinds of catfish, including creepy crawler things, live and cut bait, pleasant smelling catfish baits that really work, home brew concoctions, commercial baits, and even artificial lures that are known to have caught catfish.
Blind anglers are not organized like the blind golfers are. I wish we were. The closest we have come, to my knowledge, is a group I formed a few years ago, the Vision Masters’ Fishing Association (VMFA). It is a small group, and I would love to see it grow larger. Other than the VMFA, we don’t have a national organization. Fishing is much more fragmented than golf. There are bass anglers, steelhead anglers, walleye anglers, muskie anglers, catfish anglers, freshwater anglers, saltwater anglers, fly fish anglers, etc. Then there are anglers like me who just love to fish.
If this sport sounds like fun to you, I urge you to give it a try. You might already know someone who would be willing to help you get started and take you fishing. If not, I recommend going to a local sporting goods store that sells fishing gear. The big, well-known ones are Cabella’s, Bass Pro, and Dick’s, but often the best places are the smaller, independent fishing and hunting supply retailers that you can find in your Yellow Pages or by using Google. The people in those stores are there to help you. Of course, they want to sell their stuff, but they know people who love to fish and who would be willing to help you get started. They know that if they help you get into fishing, you’ll need fishing gear, and they want to be the ones to help you with that.
Getting started doesn’t take a lot of equipment or money. Wal-Mart, for instance, sells some good, basic fishing equipment for reasonable prices. A starter level Zebco rod and reel combo can usually be purchased for $30 or less. An entire starter package can usually be purchased for less than $100, including the rod, reel, line, and tackle box with the basic tackle you’ll need for catching a wide variety of smaller fish, like bluegill, perch, crappie, and smaller channel catfish.
You need to be extra careful when handling catfish and bullhead; they have very sharp fins, and if they jab you with the point of their protruding fins, it hurts for quite a while. I know from experience! I handle catfish of all sizes all the time, but I have learned how to do it without getting jabbed by their sharp fins. But I still get poked occasionally.
Fishing is a sport we blind people can participate in with very little assistance. It is extremely relaxing and fun. Plus, there is nothing like getting a big tug on your fishing line that turns into a battle between you and the fish. Whether you catch them and release them for another day, or you take them home for dinner, it is exhilarating.
To get a sneak peek of my eBook, visit https://www.dldbooks.com/ronmilliman/. If you are interested in joining the VMFA, or my helping you get started in the fun sport of fishing, send an email message to [email protected].