EL DORADO RESERVOIR — Betty Howardton and Gladys Stubbs took a break from their daily domino matches Saturday morning at Whitewater’s Wheat State Manor.
“I just couldn’t wait to get here,” Stubbs said as she sat in her wheelchair and waited for a fish to bite. “I’ve never caught a fish.”
The two senior citizens were part of more than 150 disabled anglers at the Fishing Has No Boundaries event at El Dorado Reservoir. The event continues Sunday.
Barbara Marlnee, of El Dorado’s Wheatland Fishing Has No Boundaries chapter, said the event is open to people with any sort of physical or mental disabilities. In its 11th year, the event that pairs disabled anglers with volunteer guides continues to grow.
“Last year we had 103 people,” Marlnee said. “This year we have 154. That’s a nice jump.”
Headquarters for the national group recently told Marlnee the El Dorado event is the largest in the nation so far this year. Care facilities from several central Kansas towns brought residents. One father brought his disabled son from Missouri.
The event requires about as many volunteers as participants.
Meals are served to both at El Dorado State Park. Prizes will be awarded for biggest and smallest fish from about six species of fish. Marlnee said the prizes and meals are a side note, though.
“The boats are always our biggest concern,” she said. “It’s important that ones that want to go out in boats, get to go out in boats. This year we have 24 boats, that’s about double from last year and we’re going to need every one of them.”
Avid able-bodied boaters came from as far as Kansas City. Some only recently found out about the event at an online fishing site.
Money and equipment to run the event come from a variety of sources.
“Everything you see here comes from donations,” Marlnee said. “We really don’t have any major corporate sponsors but some local people really help out.”
As if on cue, a representative from Blackburn Construction in El Dorado stopped by Marlnee’s table and asked if they could buy the event some more rods and reels. They also agreed to fund the added store-bought fillets needed to complete Saturday evening’s annual fish fry.
But Saturday morning, Howardton and Stubbs were more concerned about getting fish on their lines than on their plates.
Teamed on a pontoon with local guides Shane Eustice and Craig Johnson, the anglers watched lines baited with worms that were fished in shallow water close to the boat.
Within a few minutes, Howardton cranked a 12-inch wiper aboard.
Unless it was the fish, nobody was more surprised than Stubbs when she lifted her line and there was a small white perch dancing on her hook. A few minutes later she felt a bite and landed a small channel catfish.
All four Wheat State Manor residents aboard the pontoon caught several fish. Stubbs caught seven and Howardton maybe a few more.
Both agreed it was even more fun than dominos or bingo.
The event brought smiles to more than just the disabled anglers. Several first-time guides said they would be back, and probably bring friends with more boats.
Chatt Martin of Lawrence is a regular at many similar events. He gave up a day of payment as a professional crappie guide to come to El Dorado, and said he’d leave with something better than cash.
“Every time I come to one of these things I leave with a little bit of a tear in my eye,” he said, “and thinking I really don’t have any problems anymore.”