A Labor of Love Continues

Bucks Falcon Mercury
Bucks Skeeter Yamaha
Strike King
Lews Fishing
Power Pole

story and photos courtesy of Rob Lever / We Love to Fish

It has been two months sinse I first wrote about how I started We Love to Fish. This has been a labor of love that has gained momentum and become bigger than ever expected. For those who do not know what We Love to Fish is, here is a little about us. We Love to Fish is an organization which provides adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities opportunities to participate in outdoor activities on the water, learn new skills and have fun! Each guest on the boat is treated with respect and dignity and makes choices in the design of their day. For many of our guests, this is their first time on the water and we are honored to share this experience with them.

The last two months have brought much success on the water. Each of our guests have enjoyed their day and made the most of some excruciating hot weather. With temperatures reaching the high 90’s during most of our trips, it was hard work to find fish willing to bite. Much to my dismay, each guest managed to catch at least a three-pound bass!

With the summer coming to an end, that does not mean the end of our season. Last week brought much cooler fall temperatures. This made for a perfect day with a guest named JP. His trip was different than most. JP is non-verbal so he communicates with hand gestures and facial expressions. Not knowing much about JP, I had a meeting with his social worker to get to know a little about my future guest. He described JP as a quite person who showed little emotion. The biggest thing I learned was that JP has an amazing spirit that only comes out to certain people.

When the day of JP’s trip came, it started different than most. Most of my trips are about catching fish, this trip was just about getting him outside. Most of his days are spent inside watching TV or looking at his fish tank. When I met JP for the first time he would not let me put on his life jacket on. After his aid helped him put it on, we launched the boat and started our trip that I had eagerly waited for.

The first couple of hours were spent driving around and looking at trees. As each tree passed JP would make a chopping gesture with his hands. His aid told me that JP goes every year and chops down his own Christmas tree. In one of the trees we saw a Red Tailed Hawk. JP was so excited to see this bird that he stood up and started flailing his arms around.

After a two hour drive around the pond it was time to fish. JP would not fish; instead he was going to watch. This put the pressure on me. Everyone I spoke to about JP told my how excited he would be to see a fish that wasn’t in his tank back at home. I have a caught many fish over the years, but non as important as the ones that day. As each cast would bring in a fish, JP would get so excited to see what was on the line. Each fish made him more excited and this started to where off on me. His smile would get bigger and bigger and so would mine. I put one of the fish near his seat to see what JP would do. He had never been that close to a fish, and he was so excited to pet them. That was the most beautiful two-pound fish I had ever seen!

Once our trip ended we headed back to the ramp. I helped JP out of the boat and he let me take off his life jacket. When our day started, we were two people who could not communicate. When our day ended I saw a new person in front of me. In a few short hours I was able to understand what he most of his hand gestures were trying to say. We had bonded and I was lucky enough to see his spirit come out on the water. I have loved every trip with We Love to Fish, but this day with JP was extra special.

Each trip has taught me a little more about the people that I am working with. The reactions, smiles, and the fun that we are having is just a small part of what I am doing. I told a guest last month that once you fish with someone, you are now friends with that person for life. The camaraderie we share on the water is the biggest thing I can teach them.

We Love to Fish is now becoming bigger than me. I started We Love to Fish to pass on my love of fishing to others. It has evolved into a learning experience for me. I am seeing the spirit and drive of people that some seem to forget. Every guest has brought a different energy to my boat, and has left me humbled by the support of the people around me. Each day brings new supporters to the cause, and I am overwhelmed by kindness and generosity of others.

Each trip’s costs have come out of my own pocket. That is why this month we have started our decal campaign. Each $10 donation gets a vinyl decal for your truck or boat. This also gives the chance to sponsor one guest on the We Love to Fish boat. I want to thank Mike Pilote from VFX Custom Graphics for donating the time to design the logo for our organization. I also would like to thank Mike Iaconelli for his support. During a busy time, Iaconelli met with me to talk more about We Love to Fish. He was also the first person to put the decal on both his truck and boat.

With this season winding down I am also proud to say that We Love to Fish is bringing a team to the Special Olympics next year. We will start weekly pre-fish practices in the spring, with each team member getting a jersey with all of our sponsor’s logos. We also have a goal of purchasing a second boat. This boat would be fitted for guests that are either in wheel chairs or have movement issues.

We are excited for the future and encourage everyone to go to welovetofish.org and learn more about us. Our site has info on trips, pictures, and also info on how to purchase our decal. We Love to Fish is also trying to help people in other parts of the country. I am looking for other anglers to join me in bringing guests on the water. With help from others, we can all here a guest yell “fish on”.