For those of you reading who don't know already I fish from a wheelchair. There are many challenges and about the only benefit I can figure is my low profile doesn't seem to spook the fish as much! I realized there may be many other people out there in wheelchairs that may benefit from the tricks I've learned over the years to make it a little bit easier on myself and catch more fish!
The first challenge I ran into after my accident and being in the chair is only being able to fish accessible areas. These areas are usually the most pressured by other anglers and incredibly hard to find fish. Especially if the bucket brigade has hit the lake. I went an entire season of specifically trying to learn to catch bass in these types of situations. I learned that I need to treat it as if every day is a "hard" day that other anglers refer too. I like to down size everything. The best equipment for me has been a St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass "Tube" Rod. It's a 7ft MF action rod. I paired it up with a Pflueger Patriarch 9530 spinning reel. On the reel I have 8lb Berkley Nanofil line.
Let's start with the rod. Being 7ft long it helps in the situations where I can't always get my chair right up next to the water. It saves me a lot of snags when I have to lift the lure out of the water over some sort of cover like weeds and rocks etc. Another benefit is it gives me the extra casting distance I need. It's a lot easier to cast when sitting down when you have a longer rod. These rods are also extremely light weight which will help those with weak muscles in their arms or hands due to an injury.
The reel I picked was mainly because of its weight. I don't have very much function in either of my hands, actually I have none in the left and minimal thumb and index finger in my right. I wanted a reel that wouldn't be too heavy feeling while I made my casts with minimal grip. The last thing anyone wants to do is launch a $500 rig in the water! For a while I was very careful with my casts, never really casting too hard. To give myself some piece of mind I added a wrist strap to the rod and reel. For those of you reading that are in the same situation as me here is an affordable easy way to get a wrist strap on. If you don't already own a nintendo wii simply look online for a "wii controller wrist strap". Get one of these straps then put the loop around the part of the reel that connects to the rod. Once it's on put your reel on your rod and you're set! Now you can cast with all your might and if your grip does slip the wrist strap saves the day!
For a tackle bag I found a nice little Swiss Army Satchel at target, but just about any shoulder bag will work. I almost exclusively use soft plastics so I have a medium sized box to keep my hooks in and use the bags the plastics come in or zip lock bags to keep what I want in those. Then pliers, clippers hook remover etc go in the bag also.
Let's move on to actually catching, unhooking, and releasing the fish. Usually I always have someone with me that will do the unhooking and releasing for me. If I don't and I know there are no other fisherman around that could help me I'm very selective with where I fish. I always make sure it's a spot close enough to the water where I myself can get the fish in and out easily. If you don't already have one get yourself a hook remover. I like the remover with a nice "T-type" handle. Even with my grip being nothing I can use tenodesis to hold on to it pretty well. Next make sure you have a net with a nice grip or strap you can use. Also make sure it's a decent length and with a bend, you may be able to bend it yourself also. The bend will make it a little easier when you need to get it down a wall or something similar. Another important factor in the net is getting one fish won't get tangled in. I like a rubber mesh net because it's more stiff and easier to get a fish out of. It's really hard to find a net with a pre-bent handle. Check out the related products on the right to see what I prefer to use.
Once I hook a fish and bring it in I make sure I get it in the net before I take the hook out. Once it's in the net I get the hook remover on the line and start getting the hook out. Once the hook is out I put the net back in the water and let the fish swim out once it feels strong enough. If you notice I never take the fish out of the net. My poor grip does not allow me to do this. It is way too hard to hold the fish. Also I would feel terrible if I tried then dropped the fish and wasn't able to get it back in the water (I'm a strict catch and release only fisherman).
One more step that makes my life a lot easier and also helps the fish out is pinching down the barbs on my hooks. This I actually recommend everyone that fishes for the fun and sport of it to do. It WILL save a fishes life at one point or another when they get gut hooked. Let's stick to why I do this purely from my injury point of view. Barbs can be a real pain in the ass for a person with fully functional hands let alone someone with only 5% functional hands. When the barbs are pinched down it makes it 100 times easier for me and often times I don't need the hook remover to get it out. The last benefit for me is if I hook my own hand! It is a huge task for me to simply Texas rig a plastic! This is something most other fisherman take for granted. It can take me up to 5 minutes to get a lure rigged properly or even 10-15 minutes to get a knot tied! So now if I do hook myself it will still hurt, but at least I can just slide the hook out without a problem.
Most of the places you can fish in a chair are parks, reservoirs and state recreation areas. I can tell you from experience there is almost always someone around willing to help you if needed. Even if there isn't use the advice I've given you in this article and you'll be just fine. If you can, get out with a friend a few times and practice using the tools and techniques I've mentioned before going out on your own. Fishing can be one of the best relaxing and stress relieving activities anyone can do. It can help in all aspects of your life and reconnect you with what's important!