North Carolina in the summer can be incredibly hot and humid, but in mid October, the weather is perfect, the beaches are empty, and the fishing is ideal. No wonder then, Gwen White and her fellow Lions choose October to host both the North Carolina Visually Impaired Persons State and National Fishing Tournaments. And, for the first time ever, participants and volunteers had access to a generous supply of artificial Red Wigglers thanks to Berkley.
It was my good fortune to have been invited back again in 2009 to deliver the educational component of the event this year, (in 2008 I delivered the key-note speech). With an audience made up of over 500 fishers with vision loss and another 200 volunteers, it was my biggest speaking event of the year. The two Tournaments had in total 518 visually impaired participants representing 8 different states.
For the first time ever, organizers were able to take advantage of some of the newer artificial baits on the market thanks to a generous donation from Berkley in the form of an ample supply of Gulp Red Wigglers. From an organizing perspective, the Gulp meant volunteers were able to prepare the over 550 fishing rods, each having two hooks, in advance by pre-baiting the hooks. For the participants, this meant not having to wait for the volunteers to cut up the real Blood Worms, which up until this year had been the bait of choice. Many participants stuck with the Gulp bait throughout the day as it made baiting hooks far easier and the bait stayed on longer.
I fished along side the NC participants during the State tournament, and competed in the next day in the National event – expanding the scope of the event to “international” status. Participants were spread out over four peers and two “head” boats for the State Tournament and on the Ocean Side Peer in Oregon Inlet for the National event.
Peer fishing can be a real hit-and-miss sort of affair. This was brought home for me during the first day when it seemed all those on the north side of the Kitty Hawk Peer I was fishing on were catching fish, and those on the south side were not. With 20 minutes to go in the event, a school of Dolphins pushed in a school of Croaker that they were feeding on. The Croaker didn’t seem to be to put off by their pursuers as they began slamming into everything they could get their mouths on – again on the north side.
Pandemonium broke out on the peer as almost all fishers moved to the north side to take advantage of this gift from the Dolphins. I managed to catch five nice sized Croaker in just as many minutes, but stepped away from the rail once the fishing became and elbow-to-elbow affair. I didn’t want to hinder the tournament participants on each side of me given that I wasn’t an official competitor that first day.
Up until the Croaker arrived, the real Blood Worms seemed to be slightly out performing the artificial Berkley Gulp Red Wigglers, but once the bite lit up, the Gulp out performed the natural bait in several key areas. The real Blood Worms seemed to be more easily cleaned off the hooks, where as the Gulp stayed on far longer which meant more productive time in the water and less time spent re-baiting.
The day of the National Tournament had a weather system moving through which included strong north-east winds that made the temperatures quite a bit cooler and the waves substantially larger. Within the first 15 minutes of the event, the participant to my right managed to pull in a 5lb Red Drum that proved to be the winning fish for the National event. I caught for the first time a Speckle Trout – a beautiful fish with incredibly soft flesh and miniscule scales. They have particularly delicate mouths as well with just two small hooked shape teeth on the upper jaw, with many having lost a tooth leaving them significantly handicapped in the “rough-and-tumble” existence beneath the waves of the Atlantic.
All the meals served during the 2.5 day event were excellent, and the 200+ volunteers made sure everyone felt right at home. The participants and volunteers were treated to a night of live music provided by the “World’s Greatest Fishing Band”, a group that has managed to include the theme of fishing in every song they have ever written.
I teamed up with Robert Bailie of NC, the man behind the Mira Foundation USA, a guide dog school that is focusing on the provision of guide dogs to youth between the ages of 10 and 18. Bob joined me at my exhibit area in the exhibition room located just off the main hall. Bob is an incredible man who only just two years back became blind during a surgical procedure. It hasn’t slowed him down, but has resulted in his dedicating his life to offering the blind youth in the USA access to the wonderful benefits of guide dogs.
I wish I had the use of a guide dog when I was in public school, I’m sure I would have been far more socially integrated. I know from having used a guide dog for the past 23 years that they offer more than just a safe and efficient means of getting around.
The NC VIP Fishing Tournament is an amazing organizational feat and has been providing an opportunity for fellowship and outdoor recreation for countless people with vision loss for 27 years now. The opportunity events such as this provide to people with vision loss to share and learn from each other is fantastic. Guide dogs can assist people with vision loss to integrate successfully into the mainstream of society, but events where people with vision loss can come together and exchange ideas and share experiences about what it means to be blind, are just as important.
Gwen White and her team of volunteers are encouraging other Lion Clubs throughout the USA to host similar events, and it’s their hope than that eventually VIP Fishing Tournaments will take place in each state, with a National Tournament each year with representatives from across America. I was once again both honoured and personally empowered to be part of this event for the second year, and offer my sincere thanks to Gwen, her organizing team, the countless Lions who volunteered their time, and to the blind fishers who enthusiastically received my presentation.