The Southwest Florida Council of the Blind will hold its first fishing tournament for the blind April 28 on the island.
"I thought of this fishing tournament in order to get blind people out on the water and fishing," Southwest Florida Council of the Blind President Michael Ulrich said. "As I always used to hear my friends tell me 'Sure Mike, we'll take you out fishing.' Unfortunately that really didn't happen."
Ulrich became tired of hearing those same words all the time, so he taught himself how to fish on his own. To make that possible, he received a lot of mobility training from the VIP Center in North Fort Myers from Mobility Specialist Mike Brust.
"I got a new pull-behind fishing cart," Ulrich said. "Now I can take it with me on the Para Transit bus, LeeTran's Passport, and just out on my own and go fish."
The opportunity to go fishing by himself provided him a piece of life that he thought he had lost forever due to his blindness eight years ago.
"This is what we are trying to do, get blind people out to have fun and let the public see that blind people are just plain ordinary folks," Ulrich said. "Which is something I did not exactly think when I was sighted."
The first fishing tournament, which will be an inshore slam, is a redfish and sea trout team-based event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The team that brings in the largest legal keeper will be pronounced the winner. Prizes will include high quality fishing gear, a towing membership from Sea Tow and numerous gift certificates.
"Each team will consist of a sighted captain, who provides the boat, a sighted mate, who serves as a helper, and a blind angler," Ulrich said. "All team members can fish, but each team can only enter the single biggest redfish or sea trout caught by their blind angler. The captain and mate are allowed to help net the fish."
The cost to enter the tournament is $25 for the blind angler. If he or she is in good standing with the SWFCB, the chapter will pay the fee. Admission for the sighted mate is $25.
The minimum age limit for individuals to enter is 16. Ulrich said the individual must be mobile enough to get around in at least a 16-foot boat to participate.
The tournament will begin and end at the Old Pine Island Marina, 3187 Stringfellow Road, St. James City.
Ulrich said the fishing grounds extend from Pine Island Sound, up to and including Redfish Pass; south down to and including the Sanibel Bridge Causeway and north up to Matlacha Pass and the Matlacha Bridge.
An art festival also will be held on the same day in addition to the fishing tournament. It will include an art auction, which will begin at 4 p.m., featuring artwork created by local blind, visually impaired and sighted artists.
"Two of these artist will actually create their works while the teams are out on the water fishing," Ulrich said. "These artists will donate 50 percent of the auction price to the SWFCB."
Food, which will begin being served at 2 p.m., will also be available at the event for $5 a plate. Coke, Diet Coke and bottled water will be sold for $1.
The proceeds from the fishing tournament will benefit the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind. Ulrich said they give 20 percent back annually to their state affiliate, the Florida Council of the Blind.
The Southwest Florida chapter provides Insight for Blindness by providing a place to network; advocacy for blind issues; a place to gain information on all the latest assistive technologies that help the blind; a place to learn about all upcoming Legislation affecting the blind at the state and federal level and fun.
Those interested in participating in the tournament can contact Ulrich at 239-540-7431 or on his cell phone at 239-565-5845.