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Blind fishing tourney seeks vessels

By Staff | Dec 9, 2014

The Florida Council of the Blind is hoping to sign up dozens of local boat owners to volunteer their time – and their vessels – for a fishing tourney next year.

The inaugural Florida Council of the Blind’s Blind Fishing Tournament is set for March 28 at the Cape Coral Yacht Club Beach. The inshore slam partners a blind angler with a captain and a sighted mate.

“Last year, we had a total of 25 blind anglers fishing on 23 boats,” Mike Ulrich, an event organizer, said. “The year before, I think we had 23 blind anglers on about 20 boats – it’s grown exponentially.”

This is the fourth year the tournament has been organized, but it is the first year it has been offered statewide. The first three years it was hosted for the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, one of the 23 chapters in the state; the Florida Council is a state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind.

“The 2015 tournament – we’re going to put it out there,” he said. “We may even get some blind anglers from other states.”

But first, organizers are in search of volunteers to participate and help out.

“We need 50 people who love to fish and own their own boat and who would like to captain a team,” Ulrich said. “They’ll take out one blind angler and that blind angler’s sighted mate.”

Boat captains will receive a free T-shirt, as well as a free barbecue cookout on the day of the tourney and free pizza and wings at BackStreets Sports Bar following the captains’ meeting on March 27. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Cape Coral Sail & Power Squadron, at 917 S.E. 47th Terrace.

Boat captains are also eligible for prizes if their team places in one of the top spots.

As of Tuesday, only three captains were signed up to take part.

“We always get a lot of the captains coming back,” he said, noting that organizers only recently publicized the search for volunteers. “We’re pretty successful for getting them to repeat.”

The issue this year is that the goal is to put together twice the number of teams.

“That’s the problem,” Ulrich said. “And a lot of blind people who want to fish probably don’t know somebody with a boat.”

While some of the anglers who are blind will have their own fishing gear, some may not.

“Others will need to use the captain’s gear,” he said.

Organizers are also working to provide each team with 50 live shrimp to use during the tournament. The shrimp will be picked up by the captains at the meeting on March 27 and then held overnight.

Registration for the anglers who are blind will not open until February.

An older veteran from Port Charlotte won last year’s tourney, as well as the year before.

This year, the first place team receives $500 cash and free wings from Hooters for a year for the blind angler, $100 cash for the sighted mate and a free one-year membership to Sea Tow for the captain.

As of Tuesday, the prizes for the other top spots were still being decided.

“We’ll always have prizes available for the second and third place teams, and possibly more depending on what we take in in prize donations,” Ulrich said.

On March 28, all participants will meet at 7 a.m. at the pavilion at the Cape Coral Yacht Club Beach. Free donuts and coffee will be provided to team members, and the team pairings will be revealed. The teams have from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to fish before they must return to the yacht club docks for weigh-in.

“Each team can submit one of each species caught by that team’s blind angler,” he said.

The species are redfish, snook, and seat trout.

“They have to be legal keepers. They have to make the minimum length,” Ulrich said.

The team with the heaviest combined weight of all three fish wins first place. In the case of a tie in terms of bag weight, the team that was the first boat to return to the dock will claim the win.

“So, the judge will also mark the time in which they turn the fish in,” he said.

Following the tournament, there will be a cookout with barbecue chicken and all the fixings.

“We’re going to have a free cookout for all the team members,” Ulrich said.

Food and drinks will be available for purchase for those who did not take part in the tourney.

There will also be a 50/50 drawing held, as well as various raffles. Some of the items range from fishing-related products, to a weekend getaway at the Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina.

“We’re accepting donations for prizes, and we’re still actively seeking businesses and organizations to sponsor the event,” he said Tuesday.

Volunteers are also needed at the pavilion from about 7-9 a.m. and 1-6 p.m.

“If anybody would like to volunteer to help out on the day of the tournament, we need sighted people who would like to volunteer and help out,” Ulrich said.

Asked about why he first initiated the event, he explained that he wanted to share with other blind people the independence that he felt and gained from taking up fishing after going blind.

“For me, personally, going blind was the hardest thing that every happened to me in my life,” Ulrich said. “When I went blind, I never thought I’d ever be able to do anything.”

“Being able to go out fishing has brought a lot of confidence back into my life,” he said.

For information on the Florida Council of the Blind’s Blind Fishing Tournament, or to become a captain, sponsor or donor of raffle items, contact Mike Ulrich at (239) 540-7431 or (239) 565-5845. He can also be reached via email at mulrich@centurylink.net.

The Cape Coral Yacht Club is at 5819 Driftwood Parkway.