Blind Anglers International returns after two-year hiatus

·5 min read

Cobden – Gerry Labre spread his hands wider than his body and said, “it was at least 10 pounds. It was this long. I measured it this way.”

He was one of many sharing fish tales late Saturday afternoon at the Cobden Agricultural Hall following the annual Blind Anglers International Tournament (BAIT).

Mr. Labre was the pro bass fisherman who took blind angler Bob Austen from Pembroke out on his bass boat.

Since 1989, Lions Clubs in District A4 have been hosting BAIT, said James Doyle, chair of this year’s BAIT committee. However, he said this tournament is at arms-length from the regular district events. He said each club has the opportunity in the district to donate financially towards the event, as well as the individual participants, if they are able.

Each club in the district hosts the event for two years. Usually, it’s a weekend affair, but there’s been no event for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After talking with the club members, the pro bass fishermen and the blind anglers, it was decided to try a one-day event, Mr. Doyle explained.

This year there were 17 anglers and 15 boats with participants from this area to Ottawa and three from New York, he said.

It was decided to hold the one-day event on Muskrat Lake with registration and dinner at the Cobden ag hall. Bagged lunches were provided for those on the water, along with the dinner, by members of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Cobden.

In past years, many of them at Nangor Resort in Westmeath, the anglers and fishermen would arrive Friday and leave Sunday, with fishing, food, entertainment and awards held throughout the weekend.

“Hopefully we’ll be back to normal next year,” Mr. Doyle said.

Hosting BAIT falls within the Lions objective which is to serve the blind, he said.

BAIT is not only for fishing, but it’s a very social event and relationships between the volunteers, pros and the anglers have developed over the years, he said. Many of the blind anglers fished before, so to get out on the water and do what they used to love is great for them.

“There are just precautions to take to ensure the safety of everyone,” Mr. Doyle said.

Each blind angler has a guide and there are many volunteer helpers to get them in and out of the boats safely, he said. Some guides go with their angler in the boats, while others don’t feel comfortable, so a volunteer will go, if one is warranted.

Bob Austen of Pembroke was 50 years old when he went blind in 1995, which was caused by cracks in the retina.

“I was born a fisherman,” he said. “My father was a great outdoorsman and he started taking me when I was four or five.”

He was the angler who caught the 10-pound sturgeon that Mr. Labre demonstrated how long it was.

“I caught the biggest fish in the lake,” he added. “It was a 10-pound sturgeon.

“It was three feet long. It almost tore the rod out of my hand. I thought I was going to lose the rod.”

But sturgeon season doesn’t start for another week, so back into the lake it went. And, being out on the water, and Mr. Labre not being a techy person, there’s no proof from a photo.

While fishing is a big part of the event, Mr. Austen said it’s a great social time as well.

“You get to know a lot of people and you get to make new friends,” he said.

Tony Mosher of Ottawa was the blind angler on Greg Gervais’ boat from LaPasse.

This is Mr. Gervais’ 10th time participating in the event. Usually his father, Vince, also from LaPasse, is a participant, but due to recent surgery, he was not able to participate. Mr. Gervais competes in the Shoot Out Series tournament.

“It’s a way of giving back to the sport,” he said. “We grew up fishing when I was a kid and fished lots of tournaments and stuff.”

He also enjoys volunteering, saying, noting there is a lot of satisfaction from seeing the smiles on people’s faces and catching fish.

“We maybe take things for granted a little bit; we’ve done this most of our lives and don’t realize many people don’t have this opportunity,” he said. “For some of them, it’s just a fun thing to go for a ride in the boat.

“That’s the payback for us, just seeing the smiles. A lot of us have gained friendships over the years, so it’s kind of a fairly tight-knit group and a lot of the guys come back every year.”

While the water was quite choppy Saturday morning, he said the wider bass boats provide some stability and there were sure to be some bays that wouldn’t be as rough.

Mr. Mosher, who has been a participant for eight years, went blind 12 years ago following several operations since he was 21 for detached retinas. He is now 60.

As a child he fished, but that eventually faded away. After becoming blind he joined the blind curling league, heard about BAIT and signed up.

“It’s a great day out,” he said. “It’s great camaraderie. Throughout the whole weekend there’s tall stories told and lots of music.”

While this year was different being just a one-day event, it was still a good day for fishing, even if it was windy and cold first thing in the morning, Mr. Mosher said.

He was satisfied with his catch of two catfish. His pro fisherman, Mr. Gervais, snagged two pike, a 5-pounder measuring 33.5 inches long and a 2 pounder that measured 26 inches.

At the end of the day at the ag hall, plenty of laughter could be heard as well as a jumble of talk as the day’s stories were shared. Each team was introduced and given an opportunity to share what they did or didn’t catch, followed by dinner, and then it was time to return home.

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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