“This is gonna be a good time,” said Gary Pearson.
In the nearly 20 years he’s known his buddy Ernie Butler, they’ve have never been fishing together.
“I'm just looking forward to getting back out on the water again,” he said.
“Even the worst day of fishing beats the best day at work,” added Butler, with a chuckle.
The two military veterans are paralyzed from the waist down. To them, a simple day of fishing was literally entering unwelcoming waters.
“It's a whole new life when you’re in a wheelchair and you start looking at what reality is out there,” said Pearson.
That's where Mike Mayes and Ralph Brotherton come in. Mayes is a semi-retired plumber; Brotherton, a carpenter. Together, they built a one of a kind boat specifically for disabled fishermen. The impetus for the simple design came from Mayes's dad and brother-in-law, both disabled veterans who love to fish.
“There is no reason they shouldn’t have access to do something like this. I looked around and couldn’t find anything,” said Mayes.
The two built an elongated pontoon boat, attached a retractable ramp, picked up some special reels for the rods and the “Accessible” was ready to sail.
On a crisp fall afternoon on Island County’s Lone Lake, Mayes, Butler and Pearson did just that.
“It's been a long time since I've been relaxing on a lake like this,” said Pearson. “This is pretty sweet, buddy,” added Butler, a smile creeping across his lips.
Here, not just veterans, but anybody confined to a wheelchair can cast away their cares and let them disappear like a sinker to the bottom of the lake.
“This is something that can bring so much joy to people,” said Mayes.
What's funny is that Mayes and Brotherton didn't get their inspiration to take to the water from a boathouse. They got it from an outhouse.
“Right next to the lake is a brand new ADA accessible bathroom,” said Mayes. “It dawned on me that anybody in a chair could come down here, use the bathroom and look at the lake but not go fishing on it. That’s ridiculous to me.”
With that barrier now broken, a newfound freedom comes. It’s the freedom to stop being guys in wheelchairs for a few hours, and to just be guys. Butler and Pearson chew the fat on the boat, talking about retirement plans and fishing trips from long ago.
“I’ll never get tired of coming out here,” said Butler.
“Me neither,” added Pearson, a look of contentment on his face. “I could cast the fly rod all day long, never catch a fish and have a great time.”
Out on the water this sunny fall day, there were plenty of geese and deer to be seen...but no fish.
“You guys couldn’t catch a cold in a cooler,” ribbed Mayes.
They all have a good laugh because they know catching fish isn’t what this is all about.
“What a day, guys, what a day,” said Butler. “Can’t wait to do it again.”
Mayes and Brotherton hope to build more boats and recruit volunteers so that anyone who is disabled and wants to fish can do just that. If you’d like to donate to the cause or volunteer your time contact them on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/FishingAccessNetwork