How I Fish from My Wheelchair
I was about nine when I got my first fishing rod. I got it for my birthday, it was a 10 foot Shakespeare three-piece coarse rod. I'm not even sure to this day why I decided I wanted to start going fishing. It may have had something to do with my grandfather who would take both me and my two cousins sea fishing whilst we were on holiday in Paignton, but I really couldn't say for sure. I have very fond memories of getting up early on a Sunday morning in anticipation of my father taking me to Wrest Park for a few hours fishing. Off I would trot down to Anglers Den, a tackle shop about a 15 min walk away to get myself a pint of maggots. To this day, I can still remember the smell of the shop as I walked in. I would look at the wicker baskets and Mitchell reels in awe. I would then take my bait box full of maggots back home and wait in excitement for us to drive to our destination.
At nine years old, I was more than happy catching small roach and perch which never got any bigger than about three or 4 ounces, I was easily pleased in those days. I think I was about 10 years old when I was finally allowed to go fishing without my father being with me. Both myself and Kevin Sheridan, a friend who lived on the same road went to the Grand Union Canal one summers day. This is where I encountered my first carp. Fishing a single grain of sweetcorn and a small stick float, I hooked into what seemed like an absolute monster. It turned out to be a small carp not much bigger than a pound. By today's standards it was tiny, but to a nine-year-old boy, this was Moby Dick, an absolute monster in my eyes, I'd never seen a fish so big. I was so proud of it, I put it in my keep net and just kept going back to look at it, it was absolutely magnificent. I doubt whether any of us will ever forget our first ever carp I caught
Being disabled and confined to a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't participate in angling. With a little bit of thought, a few adaptations you'll be out there fishing with the rest of them. I can say this because I've done it. When I first had my accident, I thought I would never go fishing again. How wrong I was.
What I'm going to do is explain how I fish. Obviously, what I say is not written in stone, you may find an easier and more comfortable way of fishing. Your disability may also differ from mine. If you are a C5/6 or even a C4, read this page and have a go. I'm quite confident you'll manage O.K.
The level of my disability means I have no movement in my fingers, it's not going to take a genius to realise that I can't hold a rod in a conventional way. It's important to attach the rod to your arm so it is totally secure. When you've got an angry twenty-pound carp on the end of your line, the last thing you want is your rod slipping. Another thing to take into account is the angle of your arm when the rod is on it. If you sit all day with your arm at an unnatural angle, you're going to have problems.
I need a way to hold my fishing rod or pole very securely, I really cannot afford to have it moving around my arm, this will make fishing very uncomfortable. Holding my rod has been made easy by using orthopedic wrist splint and a simple elasticated strap. Wrist splints are readily available for about £18 for a single splint. The splints you want to go for are the type that has a metal strip running up underneath. It's no good using any other type of splint as you will not be able to securely attach the special attachment that will hold your rod. What you'll need to do is get somebody to make you a special attachment that fixes securely to the splint. For the sake of brevity, we will call this attachment a trough, it's basically a U-shaped piece of metal that your rod or pole fit snugly into. I find that using a small piece of Velcro makes the whole thing that much more secure and help stop the rod from moving around. A strong secure strap is also necessary to attach the rod to your arm, just using the splint alone will not be secure enough. If you haven't got anyone who can make you up a strap then go to your local haberdashery and they are sure to be able to make you the strap. I have found that securely attaching Velcro to elastic strap thing is by far the best way of securing the rod to your arm. I put a little bit of Velcro onto the butt of the fishing rod as well.
Orthopedic wrist support for holding fishing rod
You can buy wrist support splints on eBay for less than £5. It is important that you get one that has a proper support running down the middle, this will give you the proper support you need. The above link will take you to a sprint that should suit your needs. However, I got my splints from a company called Firstaid4sport.
Elasticated arm strap
In order for me to secure the rod tightly to my arm I need a very strong strap that will not come undone. The new strap I have recently obtained is actually an elasticated back support strap. This strap is actually almost made for the job, all that was needed was some extra Velcro sewing onto the strap in order for it to work properly when holding the rod to my arm. If you search "elasticated back support strap" you will find a shed load of straps available. However, you can pay a lot of money for one of these straps when it's not necessary.You can buy straps for less than £20 that are absolutely perfect for the job.
I purchased my elasticated back support from better life healthcare and a charity called demand.org.uk attached the Velcro for me. Demand.org.uk have told me that anyone wanting a similar strap can contact them directly and they can make them what they want. Demand.org.uk are a charity that don't charge anything for their services.
Supporting your fishing rod under pressure
An able-bodied person can easily support a fishing rod when it's under pressure, i.e. playing a fish. When you have a fairly high-level tetraplegic disability you lack certain muscles that enable you to keep a fishing rod under full control. Tetraplegics often don't have a lot of control over their latissimus muscles which are located under your arms stretching around to your back. I have come up with a very simple way of supporting a fishing rod when it's under pressure. You can either simply jam the rod butt into the back of your wheelchair seat, or you can do what I have done and have a special attachment manufactured that attaches to your wheelchair. Obviously, my attachment attaches to my wheelchair in a certain way, yours won't necessarily be the same so whoever manufactures the part for you will find somewhere on your wheelchair to attach this special implement.
The bracket I have is made out of steel with a three sided box riveted on the end. It is important that you make your bracket out of strong material as it could be put under a lot of pressure. The attachment doesn't stay on my wheelchair all the time, it fits very neatly into an attachment on the side of my wheelchair
It was quite a coincidence that my new Permobil had a very neat facility for attaching things such as leg restraints. I was able to utilise this facility to attach my fishing rod butt restraint. It really is almost made for the job.
Remap - custom-made equipment for disabled people
If you don't know anybody who has the skills or tools to manufacture either one of these brackets or any other equipment that needs to be made especially for your needs then contact Remap. They are an organisation that helps disabled people fulfill their needs whether it be hobbies, daily living or whatever. They have a network of volunteers, in a lot of cases retired gentleman who come from an engineering background and have got the skills and tools available to make special adaptions. Remap will put you in touch with one of these people who will be able to help you.
If you go to their website and then choose your location, they will give you a list of contact details where you can find people closest to you.
Remap website: http://www.remap.org.uk/contact-us.php
Use a light rod or pole
I would strongly advise you to choose the lightest rod or pole available, if you try and use a big heavy rod then you are going to really struggle to both hold the rod and cast, you might even not be able to hold the rod properly if you hook into a sizeable fish.
Coping with Hot Weather
If like me you suffer badly during the hot weather, let me give you a little bit of advice on how you can keep cool whilst fishing. Get one of those water spray bottles, the ones that people used to spray plants with. They make great devices for keeping you cool during hot weather, I really couldn't do without mine. Some clever boffin has even come up with one that has a fan attached to it as well.
There are other means and ways of using a rod and reel if you are disabled. I have seen electric reels available, although I think these may be quite heavy to hold on your arm as they use a motor to wind the reel. I recently came to hear about a chap in the states who has designed a completely automated fishing system that both casts and winds in automatically just with the press of a button. If you have little or no movement in your arms then this is certainly worth looking at. It's not really the sort of equipment that I need for myself, but I think it could help a lot of disabled people get back into fishing again.
There is a company called Elec-tra-mate who manufacture reels that can be operated by pressing a switch. Unfortunately, if your disability prevents you from moving your fingers, you may find using this reel impossible. I haven't looked into it, but I'm sure there must be a way of adapting the push switch to some sort of switch that a tetraplegic can use
Check their website out which can be found at www.elec-tra-mate.com/
Protect yourself against the sun
I only go fishing in the summer when it's warm, therefore I am often out in the midday sun. They say that you only have to get yourself some burden wants to put yourself at risk from developing skin cancer. They say that skin cancer is on the rise because people neglect to protect themselves from the ultraviolet rays. To be honest with you, I probably left it a bit late now, I've been sunburnt on so many occasions I've lost count. However, I try now to slap on the sun cream every time I go out in the sun. They have been advertising a new product that looks really good. With normal suntan cream, you will have to reapply after a few hours, this new one only needs to be put on once a day. So I've bought myself some
which I now put on before I go fishing. I can then enjoy myself for how many hours I am out there in the sun knowing that I am fully protected and I haven't got to think about putting some more suntan cream on. If like me you are fair-haired then it's even more important that you use suncream.