by David Walker
David Walker lives in Missouri with his wife Betty, who is also blind. Both work hard in the National Federation of the Blind, helping others come to have the independence which they have achieved for themselves. David, an avid sportsman, loves to fish; and neither his blindness nor golf balls whizzing across the path to the lake are going to keep him from it. Here is what he has to say:
I love to fish and find it neither difficult nor unusual in any way. I enjoy it regularly and as a matter of routine. It does not take extraordinary skill for a blind person to do. My visual acuity is light perception; I see only bright light and shadows. A long white cane is necessary for my safe and independent travel.
The road to the lake near my home used to be a nice path to follow, but the redesign of the golf course changed that a few years ago. Two new fairways were put in crossing this road, leaving only a small section of road near the lake. My route to go fishing now requires me to cross the fairway near the sixth tee, which I refer to as "the artillery range." I meet other fishers at the lake, and some seem to be interested in how I do my fishing. Surprisingly enough, I don't get many ridiculous questions and comments about how amazing it is for a blind guy to travel to the lake and fish alone.
Crossing the fairway and maneuvering around the tee area to get to the lake is not very difficult. It's crossing the artillery range, where those little hard projectiles are landing, that sometimes gets a little difficult.
Crossing that zone takes a simple, common-sense approach. I stop at the edge of the fairway at the point where I need to cross; determine whether or not any golfers are playing through; and listen for the distinctive crack of the club on the ball, voices of approaching golfers, and the thump of landing golf balls.
While doing this, I use my Braille compass to line myself up in a west by southwest direction so I will come out near the sixth tee and a paved golf-cart path which will lead me down the hill to the old road to the lake. Since there are many contours and no real landmarks in this open area, the long white cane and compass are essential tools. Once I line up and go, I don't stop until I am across the fairway; this reduces my chances of being hit. Once, on my way home, I stopped to check my compass when I thought there were no players near, and a golf ball driven from the fifth tee struck my tackle box--I was happy it was not my knee just below the box.
This risk is greatly reduced when I go fishing at night. It's not that I like danger, but crossing the fairway is the most efficient way to the lake because of the layout of the golf course and the location of the lake.
Besides the compass, I use other information to confirm my travel such as particular slopes, the height of the grass, ground texture, location of the sun as I feel it on my face or back, wind direction, and the honk of the Canada geese that frequent the lake. Traffic noise on the roads and highways surrounding the golf course differs depending on the time of day, and it is a good reference on direction, as is the sun's direction as it moves during the day.
I find the golfers to be very courteous when I cross their turf. Many who see me waiting to cross say hello as they play through; some offer to let me cross before they tee off; and some wish me luck. I wish them a good game in return. I have never had a golfer tell me that a blind guy should not be crossing the fairway.
When I get to the road along the lake, I walk until I get to a point where I think I would like to start. There is no beaten path down from the road, so I just work my way down the steep slope through the thick brush and dead wood. I carry my rod with the tip behind me so I don't snap it off on a tree as I move along. Because of the thick brush, steep slope, and rough ground, my long white cane is necessary in finding the easiest path ahead of me. When I get to the edge of the lake, there is a path, and I use the cane to find it and follow the irregular shoreline.
When I find one of the landmarks that tell me where some of my favorite spots are, I set down my tackle box, slip off my pack, and tune in my favorite country music on a pocket radio, which I place near my tackle box. Not only does the radio provide entertainment, but it is an audio marker when I have to leave the site to untangle a snag or try to catch some fish that just jumped nearby and want to locate my tackle box quickly.
When I look for a new spot, the white cane is an important tool. I use it to reach into the water to check the slope and depth of the water. It also keeps me from accidentally stepping into the drink.
The cane is also helpful in locating structures that will steal valuable tackle. I use it to check for branches that might catch my line or lures when I cast. It is not foolproof, but it generally gives me an indication of objects in my way. Once while I was checking for the edge of the lake and underwater objects, a bass pounced on the shiny tip of my cane--too bad there wasn't a hook. In addition to using the cane to check for potential snags, I use the fishing rod, which is longer, to reach and sweep in the area where I might be back-casting.
To check for snags out of reach of my cane in new areas, I usually put a cheap set-up on my rod to test the waters. If there are any snags out there, I lose only the cheap tackle and not the more expensive lures. Besides, I might even get a bass to take the bait while testing.
After I have found that the area is mostly snag-free, I switch to more expensive lures. Some of these get lost to out-of-reach snags, but that's what keeps the tackle industry alive. Sighted fishers lose a lot of tackle, too. Because modern lines are more supple and finer than in the past, they are harder to feel and thread through the eyes of hooks and swivels. I have devised a simple little fine-wire pinched hook similar to but faster than a needle-threader to use. This helps me rig up faster. For smaller hook eyes and finer lines, I also use self-threading needles or fine wire needle threaders.
For fine tippets and very small flies, I use a fly- threading tool that I purchased from a mail order supplier for fly fishers. It holds the eye of the fly while I hold the tool and guide the fine leader into the slot that guides the leader through the eye of the fly. These eyes are too small for a needle or other threader.
Fly fishing is one of my greatest pleasures. I am not a polished caster, but I get the fly or popper out there and catch fish. I first learned to fly fish when I was just out of high school. My dad often took my brother Jim and me fishing when we were growing up in Michigan, but Jim was not as enthusiastic as I, and as we grew older and Jim moved away, Dad and I became good fishing buddies. Then I became interested in fly fishing, and I was given my first fly reel for graduation from high school. I bought some inexpensive tackle to build the system, and my parents bought me a fly rod for my birthday that summer.
One day my dad came home with a new pair of waders for me and said we were going up north the next week. I was soon stepping out into the current of a northern Michigan stream to try and outsmart some trout. The feeling of this new adventure was great! I was hooked immediately.
Dad never seemed to worry about my wading alone. I guess he had confidence in me, and if he did worry, he never let it show. His teaching me how to feel the bottom of a stream and to judge and respect the current were valuable lessons. He would go his way, and I would go mine, then we would meet back at camp.
Sometimes when I was done fishing before Dad, I would follow the trail on the high bank along the stream to find him and see how his luck was. I would listen for the swishing of his nine-foot bamboo rod. If Dad was finished before I was, sometimes he would come looking for me. Back then I had some usable vision and could see most large branches of trees near me, log jams, pools, and bends in the river within a short distance. Now I have only light perception, but I still enjoy using a fly rod despite the occasional tree that grabs my fly. Dad and Mom raised Jim and me in a positive way and never really held us back from venturing out. They allowed us to join Scouts with neighborhood friends.
In addition to what I learned in scouting, Dad also taught me much about the outdoors and fishing, and I guess that's why I have such a sense of adventure and an appreciation and love for angling, wildlife, and the outdoors. My positive experiences as a boy and my parents' and friends' confidence in me as I grew up set the pattern for me to become an independent blind person. This independence was developed even further through my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.
This commitment opened new horizons in my life, andmeeting so many competent members who taught me alternative techniques expanded and sustained this independence. I found that learning alternative techniques from others helped me develop my own techniques, which I have applied in other areas of life, and in turn I enjoy sharing these with other blind people.
If it hadn't been for my parents and the National Federation of the Blind, I doubt if I would have developed my sense of adventure and independence and would not be dodging golf balls today.