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Unique program helps disabled to enjoy fishing
The smiles on their faces said it all.
For Anand Kannan from Kelowna and Mike Stiles from Osoyoos, being able to celebrate the first day of summer this past Saturday while out fishing at a magnificent small lake filled with rainbow trout was just about as good as it gets.
Thanks to a program called Fishing Forever, which provides opportunities for the disabled, a group of 15 disabled people from across the region spent all day Saturday catching fish, enjoying the outdoors and basically having a wonderful time.
There are many challenges to face when you’re paralyzed and have to get through life confined to a wheelchair.
Gaining easy access to your favourite watering hole is most certainly one of those challenges, said Stiles.
But that’s about to change thanks to the new program sponsored by the Osoyoos Wildlife Federation and B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) called Fishing Forever.
Norm Eady, the vice-president of the Osoyoos Wildlife Federation, worked with Al Springer, a regional director from the BCWF, to bring Fishing Forever to the Osoyoos area for the first time.
It was an overwhelming success.
“I haven’t been out fishing in six years and I used to live for fishing and hunting and being outdoors, but it has been pretty tough to get out since my accident,” said Kannan, who was joined by his two sons Keeland and Kyle and his nephew Ashnik Reddy at the man-made lake near Osoyoos built on the property owned by Brian and Carole Strohmann.
The Strohmanns were informed about the Fishing Forever program by their son David and quickly volunteered to get involved.
Not only did they allow the organizers to access their property and the small lake they have built on their property, but they spent the day talking to and encouraging the participants.
The smile on Kannan’s face when he caught his first rainbow trout of the day was large and it only grew bigger as the day progressed.
“This is something I’m not going to forget any time soon,” said Kannan, who was seriously injured several years ago when the ATV he was operating fell on top of him and crushed his spine. “I’m sure I’m going to be talking about this day with my boys and my family for a long time because they know how much I love fishing and getting outdoors.”
Since moving to Kelowna in 1969, Annand said he spent virtually every weekend of his life outdoors, camping, fishing, hunting or enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer in the beautiful Okanagan Valley.
Last year he participated in a week-long kayak trip with other disabled participants, but being able to get a fishing rod back in his hands and catching rainbow trout was thrilling, he said.
“The scenery, the mountains, this little lake … they’re all incredible,” he said. “To have my two boys and my nephew here to see me back fishing is something I’m really proud of. This has been an amazing experience and I can’t thank everyone who helped put this together enough.”
Mike Stiles, an outspoken advocate for accessibility issues in Osoyoos for the past decade, agreed being able to get out fishing again represents a very special moment for him and all of the disabled people who participated in Saturday’s event.
“I love to fish, but it’s not easy to get an accessible place like this,” he said. “I was made aware of Fishing Forever during an event in Peachland last year and I thought it would be amazing if we could bring the program to the Osoyoos area and here we are a few months later and it’s happening.
“I’d really like to thank the B.C. Wildlife Federation and Osoyoos Wildlife Federation for all of their support because this wouldn’t have happened without them.”
Stiles also caught several fish on Saturday and had a wonderful time doing it.
“Any day spent fishing is a great day and I’m having an amazing time,” he said grinning ear to ear. “To be able to share this experience with so many other disabled people is something I’m really proud of. This is the perfect setting on a perfect day so I really couldn’t ask for much more.”
Eady said he’s thrilled Fishing Forever has arrived in Osoyoos and he has no doubt the program will expand and grow in the future.
After talking to Springer and other BCWF members about the Fishing Forever program in other parts of the region, Eady said he started looking for a suitable location in the Osoyoos area over the past several months.
Fortunately, he met up with David Strohmann, the son of Brian and Carole, and when David informed his father about the program, the Strohmann’s quickly volunteered to donate their property and lake.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I really have to thank the Strohmann family for getting involved and supporting this,” said Eady. “They have been so kind and so generous and today would not have happened without their support.
“Not only is this lake beautiful and pristine, but it’s easily accessible for anyone in wheelchairs. We couldn’t think of a better location to hold our first Fishing Forever event in Osoyoos.”
The amount of volunteer support from the membership with the Osoyoos Wildlife Federation was overwhelming, said Eady.
“It sure wasn’t hard to find volunteers who wanted to come out and help,” he said.
Eady said his group and the BCWF will now look for other locations across the South Okanagan to host more events give more disabled people across the South Okanagan the opportunity to go fishing.
“This has been an incredible day and it’s so great to see so many people out here enjoying themselves and having access to a great day of fishing,” he said.
The idea for Fishing Forever was founded in 1989 by broadcast journalist Wal Liimatainen, said Springer.
Diagnosed with a serious muscle-wasting disease, he looked for ways to continue his lifelong involvement in the outdoors.
The basic idea was to create a venue through which persons with disabilities could learn to, or continue to, fish and enjoy the outdoors, said Springer.
Long before Fishing Forever was established, BCWF clubs were involved in organizing and promoting events for the disabled and are pleased to have helped organize this local event with Eady and the Osoyoos Wildlife Federation, he said.
Fishing Forever wants to help spread the message to communities across B.C. that getting disabled people outdoors and enjoying nature is attainable, said Springer.
For more about Fishing Forever, visit www.bcwf.net.