Fish On! Adaptive Sport: Fishing

PA Trout fish photoFor many Pennsylvanians, the opening of fishing season is a sure sign that spring has arrived! It’s more than rods, hooks, willies, and worms. It’s a chance to be outdoors and spend some time on the open water.

Pennsylvania’s Regional Opening Day for 18 southeastern counties is April 2. Statewide Opening Day is April 16. More information is available from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. 

For people with limited mobility, fishing may present some challenges. But with the right adaptive equipment and knowledge of resources available online, more fishermen (and women!) can get back to the sport they enjoy.

One challenge is finding an appropriate vessel. If someone who uses a wheelchair is able to transfer to a boat, he or she can sit in a regular seat with or without a lap belt for support. Many newer boats have fairly flat front decks that may help with the transition from pier to boat. Pontoon boats are also a good option given the openness on deck to accommodate a wheelchair.

Fishing pierFor those who don’t have access to a boat, a public access pier may be a fit. Most communities that build a pier have to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, which means it has to be accessible. But this may vary from place to place, and it might not be the case with older piers.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission has a list of fishing piers to provide angling opportunities for people with a disability. (Note: All areas may not be suitable for all disabilities.)

Safety around water is very important – for everyone. Pennsylvania state law requires that boaters have enough personal flotation devices for each person on board. It is highly encouraged to wear a life jacket when fishing from a boat or pier at all times. However, a life jacket won’t support the weight of the wheelchair, so unless a person needs a lap belt for support, it is recommended to keep their belt free when fishing or around water.

Fortunately, if you can get to where the fish are, adaptive fishing equipment exists to make fishing accessible and enjoyable. There are a host of companies and websites that offer adaptive fishing equipment or resources on how to configure your own gear. Rod holders are one example. All types of rod holders exist – ones that fasten to a boat or wheelchair, straps to the user’s chest, or which the user sits on – to hold the rod comfortably for those who have limited strength or no use of their hands. There are also numerous reels available to make casting and reeling accessible to everyone, including models that have a remote push-button or remote joystick operation. List of adaptive fishing suppliers.

Fishing is sport that can be enjoyed with family and friends, and one that can be adapted to a variety of different situations or abilities.


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