The National Federation of the Blind
of Connecticut
Gone Fishing
By Chris Kuell

In 1961 my parents paid the astronomical price of $9,000 for a summer cottage deep in the woods of Maine. Camp, as we called it, had two bedrooms, an indoor toilet and sink but no shower or bath, and sat next to a small lake. This was where my siblings and I spent a portion of every summer growing up. No phone, no television, and only one station came in on the radio, WBZ from Boston, which is how I fell in love with the Red Sox.
While my parents escaped from the rat race, we kids spent our days roaming the woods, making slingshots and trying in vain to hunt chipmunks. We'd swim, cut and split firewood, and oftentimes just curl up with a good book.
When my older brother and I were big enough to be trusted, my Dad got us Zebco 202's and taught us to fish. As we grew and needed my Dad less and less to untangle our lines, we mapped the best fishing spots around the perimeter of the lake. The summer I turned fifteen, Mr. Seeley, who owned the camp a few down from us, gave us his wooden, motor-less boat, which we aptly named the Titanic. If one of us rowed and the other bailed vigorously, we could make it across the lake without sinking.

The Titanic opened up new fishing venues to us. Across the lake from us was a spot where the perch would almost jump on your hook. To the left was pickerel point, a weedy patch where the long, whippish fish like to lurk. At dusk the bass liked to feed, and one evening after a rainstorm I caught what I thought must be the biggest fish in the lake, a sixteen-and-a-half inch large-mouth bass that established me as the best angler in history… at least until my brother David caught a seventeen incher two weeks later. He cut a plank of pine board the exact size of his fish, creating a plaque detailing the historic catch that hung on the wall of the camp until my parents sold it just a few years ago.

In college I would excuse myself to practice my casting every time I visited my folks at the camp. Each of the five years I lived in Vermont, I would enter the Lake Champlain Fishing Derby, hoping to finally land a prize-winning fish, yet always came up short. Even the year I netted a pike-a fish story I'll save for another day- wasn't big enough to win me a trophy or a mention in the local newspaper.

After college, with a new job and working on the old house my wife and I had purchased, there wasn't much time for fishing. The summer my son turned four we visited friends in upstate New York and got him his own Zebco 202. I got to experience the same wonder my Dad once had--how the hell did you get your line wound up in a tree, under a rock, around the dock and then stuck in your shirt? The joy on his face made up for the lack of time I had to do some fishing of my own. And by the following summer, I was blind.

My son grew to be quite the fisherman. One day at my parent's camp he caught over 100 inches of fish. I kept him company, chatting and going to get him a sandwich so he could keep casting, but I had no desire to throw in my own line. Like many of the things I'd done when I was sighted, fishing had lost its allure. I satisfied myself by listening to his excitement and feeling the size of some of the whoppers he caught.

In the spring of 2009, my friend Allan Golabek, who is also blind, told me about a fishing tournament he'd heard about. Hosted by the Berlin Lions Club, it was exclusively for people who were visually impaired. According to Al, the Lions supplied the poles, the bait, fed you lunch-all you had to do was show up. Unfortunately, I took a bad fall, fractured several bones in my foot, was stuck in a cast for nearly seven months and missed the derby.
The following year I got another call from Allan. "C'mon, Homer-we going fishing?"

The 2010 Lions VIP Fishing Derby was on a beautiful, sunny day at Sage Park Pond in Berlin, Connecticut. I caught three trout and a bluegill, more fish than I'd caught in over a decade, but it was only enough to land me fourth place. The first three places got a free trip to the Outer Banks for the National Derby, which is the story of my life. In August, Bob Christensen, the Lion who ran the CT Derby, called to say the first place winner couldn't go to North Carolina, and would I like to go? I jumped on the opportunity, but my mother-in-law was in the last weeks of her battle with pancreatic cancer and I couldn't go.

Fast forward to April 17, 2011. We'd had two inches of rain the previous night, and people said the pond was muddy and dark. A little before 9:00 we grabbed our poles and bait, spread out around the edge of the pond and waited. And waited. About ten minutes went by, I was expecting a whistle or a horn or something when one of the sighted folks asked, "Why aren't you fishing?"

Fifteen minutes later I caught the first fish of the day, a feisty, eleven inch rainbow trout. An hour later I caught another, this one 11 ½ inches. Allan, who was on my left, hadn't had a bite. Alex, on my right, caught one, but it flopped off the hook just as he pulled it from the water. Across the pond I heard one or two happy shouts, but the mosquitoes seemed to be biting more than the fish.
Around 11:00, I snagged something and slowly reeled my line in, only to find I'd hooked a long-submerged bucket. Bill Gaughan of Plainville had moved over to Allan's left, and in quick succession reeled in two good sized trout. Allan got a 15 incher, which turned out to be the biggest fish of the day. Twenty minutes later I caught another trout, almost twelve inches.

After poles had been turned in and we'd feasted on burgers, hot dogs and fresh trout, it was time for awards. Turns out my three fish were enough to land me a huge, first place trophy-and a trip to North Carolina this Fall. As people shook my hand and congratulated me, I remembered that seventeen-inch plaque hanging on the camp wall for nearly thirty years. I smiled, thinking of the picture of me with this big trophy I'm going to give my brother David for Christmas this year.

To learn more about the Lions VIP Fishing Derby, contact Bob Christensen at 860-680-7227 or rachriste1@cs.com

 

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Updated December 7, 2011