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Understanding the Landscape: Fishing and Disabilities
Fishing is a major recreational pastime and economic mover in the United States. Each year, roughly 50-60 million Americans fish public and private waters. When you account for the cost of fishing licenses, bait, tackle, travel, boating, and other affiliate costs, recreational fishing alone brings over one-hundred billion dollars to the U.S. economy.
With countless tournaments at the local, regional, and national level, an endless array of major retail and specialty stores carrying fishing equipment, and hundreds of individuals making a reasonable income through monetized digital platforms, one could argue that the fishing industry have never been hotter.
What rarely gets talked about, however, is how this booming industry accommodates individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself any of these questions?
Can you fish if you have a physical disability?
Where do disabled individuals fish?
How do disabled individuals fish?
What equipment is available for disabled anglers?
How is fishing different if you have a disability?
In this article, I am hoping to spread awareness about a handful of agencies and companies that have done wonders for disabled anglers who want to fish as comfortably as possible with reasonable accommodations.
Disabled Fishing Licenses: Do You Need One?
First, let’s consider what needs to be done before the disabled angler even throws a single cast.
If I am disabled, do I need a fishing license?
The short answer to this question is, “yes, usually.”
In each of the fifty states, regulations for disabled individuals obtaining a fishing license is different. You can often find this information on your state’s Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Game, Department of Wildlife Conservation, or equivalent website.
That said, navigating these websites can be tricky sometimes, especially if you have any type of visual impairment.
My advice is that it’s often easier to place a call directly. A representative should be able to answer your question or direct you to the information you need. If you are having trouble finding a contact number for your state’s department, your local marina should be able to assist you.
Also, it is worth noting that the majority of states offer significant discounts for state residents who can prove tenured residency (usually between six months and one year) and, in some cases, an affidavit from either the individual or their physician validating the disability. This discount tends to considerably reduce the cost of a regular annual license.
How Adaptive Fishing and Outdoors Equipment Changes Lives
While disabilities in any form (physical, intellectual, developmental, etc.) can have a dramatic impact on the lives of individuals, we are fortunate enough to live in a time where incredible breakthroughs in assistive technologies and awareness take place every year.
While many able-bodied individuals may take an activity such as independently catching a fish or even entering a boat for granted, this is the type of activity that can add incredible levels of meaning, value, and personal enrichment to the disabled individual’s life.
The painful reality, however, is that for the majority of individuals with disabilties (especially certain mobility-related disabilities), these opportunities will never manifest.
Thankfully, the following companies have either created incredible products or offer fantastic services geared directly toward benefiting those fishing with a disability.
Based out of South Bend, Indiana, Fishing Abilities, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is “dedicated to helping physically challenged individuals who enjoy the great sport of fishing.”
Understanding that recreational activities like fishing can play a major factor in improving the overall healthy, qualities of life, and confidence of individuals with disabilities, the organization’s catalog of product help facilitate a therapeutic outlet.
Fishing Abilities, Inc’s products include:
Freedom Fishr Power Assist Fishing Reel: Using a 12V gear motor, this easy, one-handed option replaces the cranking technology that many individuals may find limiting.
As seen in the photo above, the device pairs with a Shimano Syncopate spinning reel (available in both the 2500 and 1000 series).
BadurMATE Fishing System: This system allows individuals with limited mobility in their arms and hands (including those who may be paraplegic or quadriplegic) to enjoy a fishing experience.
First, an assisting angler will cast to a desired location then place the rod and reel into a holder. Once connected to the system, the disabled angler will be able to control the retrieval by using their head.
In the video below, you will see how the BadurMATE Fishing System by Fishing Abilities, Inc. works.
Adaptive Fishing Equipment Video: BadurMATE Fishing System
Based out of Newberry Park, California, Access to Recreation was formed in 1987 by Don Krebs.
A former competitive water skier, Krebs began the sport at the age of 4 and competed through his youth, competing at the adult level once he turned 18. An accident in 1978 let to a broken neck, however, effectively ending Krebs’ career.
Krebs used this opportunity to return to school, both for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration from California Lutheran University. Krebs created a business plan for the company that would eventually become Access to Recreation because he realized how many individuals were in similar situations and could benefit from a resource that paired them with adaptive sporting equipment.
By 2007 — twenty years after going into business — Access to Recreation was publishing 200,000 full-color catalogs filled with products that could assist individuals with physical disabilities.
Today, Access to Recreation sells over a dozen adaptive fishing products for disabled anglers, including:
- Ty-All Knot Tier
- M-Pow-R 2nd Gen. Reel Kit for your Rod
- StrikeFighter Sitting Model
- StrikeFighter Standing Model
- Strong Arm Rod Holder
- M-Pow-R One-Handed QuickStart Bundle
- 452PTH Power Drive for Penn Spinning Reel & Battery Pack Combo
- Elec-Tra-Mate 440-XP Power Unit
*All products listed directly above can be purchased on the Access to Recreation website.
A company based out of Sandy, Utah, Rexfly’s namesake product — the Rexfly Casting System — offers anglers the opportunity to cast farther, lighter, and more fluidly. The system involves strapping a harness to your chest and pairs with any fly reel and single-handed rod.
As you can see in the video above, the company has modified this system to allow anglers with mobility and dexterity issues to have a better fishing experience.
The Adaptive/One-Arm Fishing modification uses a 6’6″ Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod that pairs with the Rexfly Chest Harness. Anglers who have use of one arm can cast and retrieve using this system. An added bonus is that it allows for ambidextrous use.
Based out of Columbia City, Indiana, Be Adaptive Equipment was started by Brian Kyler. As a fourth-generation welder and fabricator, Brian was moved after meeting an individual in 2001 who wanted to have a better, more adaptive hunting device. Together, the duo were able to come up with the Be Adaptive Model HQ100 High Quad shooting device.
Carrying the philosophy that “if you can dream it, we can build it,” Be Adaptive Equipment now offers over a dozen products that improve the overall experience for disabled hunters and anglers.
In terms of fishing equipment, the company offers the following products:
- THE MODEL FM200 – LIMITED MOBILITY FISHING MOUNT: A fishing mount that is intended for individuals who lack the ability, for any reason, to hold a fishing rod. The mount is adjustable, giving users an authentic fishing experience while assisting with tasks like hooksetting.
- RC100, RC150, RC 200, and RC 250 – REEL CRANKER HAND DEVICE: This device fits in the disabled angler’s hand and allows them to slide a tube over the handle of their fishing reel and retrieve the fish. The various models offer options both with and without wrist support.’
*All products listed above can be purchased at at Be Adaptive Equipment’s website.
Since its founding in 1967, Disabled Sports USA has been serving both youth and adults with disabilities, as well as wounded veterans, by providing sporting and recreational opportunities.
According to the official website, this Rockville, Maryland-based non-profit holds as its mission statement:
Our mission is to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation, and educational programs.
Every day, we work hard to pursue our vision that “every person, regardless of ability, has an equal opportunity to participate in sports and recreation in their community.” – Disabled Sports USA
Disabled Sports USA has dozens of chapters throughout the country and offers programming in nearly forty adaptive sports, including swimming, skateboarding, surfing, volleyball, golf, archery, tennis, and weightlifting.
For fishing services, Disabled Sports USA partners with over a dozen equipment supplies to offer adaptive accommodations to anglers with a variety of physical disabilities.
When you visit the website for this Hayward, Wisconsin-based non-profit, a simple-but-powerful quote stands out:
“Most of us think that going fishing is as easy as a walk down to a lake. But for over 56 million Americans with disabilities, it’s just not that simple.”
Considering that roughly one out of every seven Americans struggle with some form of disability, Fishing Has No Boundaries aims, as part of their missions, to provide “recreational fishing opportunities for all anglers with disabilities regardless of their age, race, gender, or disability.”
In addition to having roughly two dozen chapters spread throughout the Mid-West and numerous events throughout the year, Fishing Has No Boundaries also offers an array of adaptive fishing equipment, including:
- Quad-T Electric Rod and Reel Combo
- Wrist Saver Rods
- Reel Gripper
- Turbo Set Rod Holder
- Strong Arm Rod Holder
- DPW103 Waist Apparatus
- DPS101 Seat Apparatus
- One Armed Fishing Bandit