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Crazy About Fishing

Editor's Note: Lawrence Euteneier is a Manager at Agriculture Canada in Ottawa, and a Board member of the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre.

When I was a small boy, my father somehow instilled in me a passion for fishing. Whether it was at age five when I helped him paint OUR newly built plywood rowboat or when we fished together for trout, it all made for amazing memories. Even when I was registered as blind at age eight, fishing continued to represent quality time for us. I’ve long since become a father myself, always finding time to share my passion for fishing with my six kids. Each has become competent at catching fish, but none has yet to take enjoyment of the sport to the next level. I often ask myself, “What drove me to become a semi-professional fisher?”

While I was registered blind quite young, I have actually lost sight on three separate occasions. The first was in grade three, though I remained in public school; the second was in my early 20s, when further vision restriction necessitated my learning to do things without looking; and the third is unfolding now, as the last light from my remaining “porthole” is fading. This has all meant numerous alterations to my approach to life. Yet, my desire to live large has landed me in all manner of personal pursuits, from alpine skiing to racing cars and dragon boats, from mountain climbing to whitewater canoeing, and from competitive sailing to triathlons. But I have yet to find a sport that matches fishing’s ability to place me on an equal footing with those who are sighted.

Fulfilling my passion for fishing has certainly been made a lot easier by talking computers and the internet, which have also given me, more or less, equal access to information about new fishing gear and techniques. For about 25 years, however, I could not read print fishing magazines or see items like fishing lures inside packages. This ended about seven years ago when everything went online. In the meantime, I had to use what I had at hand and likely became a better fisher as a result.

As with most technology, fishing equipment has evolved. Today, rods are lighter and more sensitive, lines are better at telegraphing tactile information, and new lures like the spinnerbait are virtually snag proof. Casting out a lure is now like stretching out the sense of touch in your finger 50+ feet. As for me, I have put together a 12-foot fishing boat that I can operate legally and safely on my own, using an electric motor and a variety of audible and talking electronics, but the world’s first fishing boat for the blind was never meant as a product that other people with vision impairment should consider as essential to taking up the sport. Rather, it serves as the bait that catches the interest of others. Once I gain their attention, the message I push is that someone who is blind doesn’t actually require any adaptive technology to fish. In fact, fishing is mostly a non-visual sport in which those without sight can excel to the point where they are often out-fishing those who can see. In the end, it’s all about the ability to “feel the bite.”

When I first launched the Blind Fishing Boat initiative to open up the sport to people with vision restrictions, it wasn’t long before I noticed that many of the sighted people, who visited my website or spoke with me at my various exhibits, had the misconception that fishing must be another one of those sports specially adapted for the blind. They assumed that we fished and competed together--exclusively. I realized I had to do something different, as even though there exists two annual fishing tournaments for people without sight in North America, the nature of the sport itself is, in fact, inherently accessible.

Last year, I decided to step up my level of participation in mainstream fishing competitions, and even though I have yet to win one, I had four top-five finishes out of 17 in 2010. I also pulled off a tie for first at the North Carolina Visually Impaired Persons National Fishing Tournament, beating out all but one of over 50 competitors selected to represent nine different states, as well as Canada. The tie felt good, but what FEELS EVEN BETTER is when I manage to beat AT LEAST half the sighted competitors in a mainstream competition. My sighted counterparts are beginning to believe that I have some sort of competitive advantage--a myth I’m more than happy to let stand!

Seriously though, everyone fishes using their sense of touch, and the articles I write for mainstream fishing publications under the “Feel The Bite” banner have now placed me in a unique field of expertise: I’m one of the only males in the fishing business capable of writing about my “feelings”!

For those of you who haven’t already, give fishing a try. Everything you need to know can be found on my website (www.blindfishingboat.com), or shoot me an email (info@blindfishingboat.com). If you are already a fisher, flip me a note and tell me your “fish story.”

Anchors up!

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