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3-23-05 - We started out day at Kenosha Harbor. The fishing pier behind the Holiday Inn is the best spot for anyone with limited mobility.

3-23-05 - Disability doesn't stop this steelheader!

Waters Fished: Lake Michigan (Kenosha Harbor) Pike River, Root River, Oak Creek
Fish Caught: 3 in total
Outing Date: 3-23-05
Weather: Cloudy and Windy
Air Temp: 40's
Water Temp: Root 38, Pike 42
Water Level: Root 200 CFS, Pike around 40 CFS
Water Color: both somewhat cloudy, visibility 1-2'
Fish Species: Steelhead
Pattern Fished: Spoons, Spawn, Streamers, egg patterns, Spinners
Pattern Color: Threw the gamut.
Fishing Quality: Challenging

Let me start out by saying this was simply a fantastic day - this is Charlie's day. Here's the rundown.

Charlie A. lives about 2 hours away from the SE WI tribs. Having lived with MS for a long time, it hasn't stopped him from fishing; Charlie is a determined angler and won't let anything get in his way. Other than angling from a boat, Charlie has never fished for steelhead, and he was highly motivated to change that.

A mutual friend put us in contact, initially to discuss access points that I thought Charlie could get to. The one thing I knew right off the bat...access on the tribs is somewhat limited if you can't walk. Even in the few spots that readily came to mind, one requirement would be a VERY LONG net.

After a couple emails, it became apparent that it might just be easier to go with Charlie and figure out some access points together, so I emailed an invite to come out and join me any day of the week...we decided on the 23rd. I wasn't entirely sure what we'd be able to accomplish...turns out that Charlie was a bit more mobile than I initially expected. As he put it at the end of our day, "You see that beach down there...if I was here by myself I might try to walk down there...problem is there's no way I'd get back". The largest challenge for Charlie's mobility is currently distance...it's just not possible anymore.

We met up around 10:30 at Kenosha Harbor - one of the sure fire spots for folks with limited mobility. Charlie got out of his truck and set up his scooter. Kenosha Harbor is all about spoon fishing...we rigged up the spinning rods and headed to the water. It was EASY to get down there in the scooter...there are ramps at both ends of the parking lot (1 block south and 1 block east of the intersection of 158 and 32). We cast for a bit, but a strong wind was making things difficult to say the least. There's nothing to stop you from going over the edge though, so be careful.

The Pike River Mouth - somewhat accessible, ideally with some help.
Charlie's first tributary steelhead trashes the water...
Charlie and his beautiful chromer!
This buck put on a dazzeling aerial display before finally getting away...
Will this be my only fish?
A nice buck Ganaraska comes to shore!
Shortly thereafter, another Ganaraska buck.
A closeup of the last steelie for the day.

Next Stop, the mouth of the Pike River, which is just off of 32, a couple miles north of Kenosha Harbor. With the soggy ground, we didn't go down. Too steep for someone in a wheelchair or scooter to go solo, but if accompanied, Charlie felt he could get down and back without a problem. The sandy beach would be offlimits, too difficult to get to, but the lagoon offered some good access to fish.

We then headed upstream to the one spot I was sure that we could get on the river. Sorry, it's somewhat of a preferred spot in my book so I don't want to just go posting locations online..either do some scouting OR if you're disabled and want to try it, contact me and we'll meet up.

Anyway, we fished at the first pool for a while where we spooked a few redding fish as soon as we approached. Charlie was now geared up with spinners...perfect for the pool. He moved upstream while I continued to ply dark water with the fly rod.

Charlie was a good 30 yards away when I heard him shout and looked up to see a silver streak dancing on the water's surface. I bolted upstream, slid down the bank and tailed Charlie's first tributary steelhead...a magnificent chromer that hammered a white rooster tail spinner at the outside tail of a bend.

We went downstream a bit to another spot where I felt Charlie would be able to fish...granted landing the fish would require my help. Slushy and soggy ground made for slow going...several times we had to assist the scooter in forward motion. I have NEVER seen someone so determined to fish...Charlie's enthusiasm for exploring literally had my jaw on the ground.

I stayed within earshot and sight while leaving Charlie to work the long deep run with his spinner. My attention was then grabbed by movement at the tailout of a bend pool...STEELHEAD ON THE REDDS! SWEET! I crept up, shielding myself from view with a large tree that stood between us. There was simply no good way to cast to these fish...the best I came up with was to reach around the tree while standing behind it and hope for the best.

Well, Charlie got a magnificent show while watching from upstream...the Buck went ballistic, jumping repeatedly. He was initially fair, but in the process of fighting fouled up on the lead fly...now he's fouled. As I brought him into shore, I questioned whether to photograph the fish or not...afterall he did strike fair...I saw it, not more than 6 feet away from where I stood. Less time thinking and more time landing the fish should have been my priority, as he made one more run and jump, finally disgorging the hook in his side.

We resumed the task of probing water...I turned up a brown trout smolt and wondered if that was going to be my only fair fish for the day. Charlie and I soon decided that we should keep on moving...we already had fish under our belts and well, this day was as much about scouting spots as it was about landing fish.

Next stop, the Root River. The WDNR had suggested LINCOLN PARK as a good spot for someone in a wheelchair...I guess the WDNR doesn't fish there. I seem to recall 10' 45 degree sloped banks blanketed in limestone rip rap....hardly a good place for a disabled angler to fish. Instead, we went downstream to Island Park. Yes, there are tall banks too, but they are vertical banks...someone in a wheelchair or scooter can get right up to the shore in several of the upstream spots...all you need is a long net (or a buddy) to land fish.

Charlie and I rerigged his spinning rod and I broke out the centerpin...it was time to do some float fishing. Drifting spawn is one of those "luck" things, as in we had an equal opportunity to catch fish. For whatever reason, I ended up landing 2 steelies in short order. Things just died down after that. One other thing became apparent - individuals with limited mobility will greatly benefit from LONGER rods. Provided they balance properly (to minimize fatigue) you'll get a longer reach which will help greatly.

As the afternoon slowly slipped away, Charlie mused of some people he's encountered in hospitals and other facilities with similar disabilities. He relayed that one of the most common obstacles for individuals in situations such as his is depression, or maybe just the lack of motivation to get out there and do things simply because they don't know they exist. It was his hope that sharing this outing online would help others realize that they can come to the tributaries and fish. Personally, I hope the earlier picture of Charlie and his steelie is proof and motivation to come out and hit the tribs. Sure, there are some bad seeds on the rivers, but MOST anglers in SE WI are friendly and more than willing to help out any other angler who needs it.

Well, things were starting to again get colder and darker...we still had another spot to visit! As Charlie packed up, he inadvertently threw his scooter in reverse and started backing up towards the steep bank! Without thinking, I threw my leg behind the scooter just about the same time as Charlie got on the brakes...I'm lucky I didn't get runover :). I guess the lesson learned here is to be sure to head out with a buddy, just in case.

Once packed up, we headed over to Oak Creek. We looked at the Fishing Pier down at the beach...easily accessible although one might face problems landing a fish from it. Upstream, most of Grant Park wouldn't be wheelchair/scooter friendly, but the FIRST bend pool right at the dam IS somewhat accessible with the well worn paths. We didn't try it out that night, but Charlie has since returned and was able to get down and back. He didn't mention whether he used a walker, 2 canes, or the scooter, but he DID mention that his mobility was much better thanks to dry ground. Heck, he even got back to the bend pool on the Pike where I had hooked a fish the week prior....I truly didn't think he'd be able to get back there. Charlie said it required some crawling on his part...but not much. Gettin' dirty is DEFINITELY worth it.

There are still other spots to scout out for their ease of accessibility, especially spots on the lower Milwaukee. While talking, I was also reminded of the Urban Fishery Ponds in SE WI. These ponds offer year round fishing for stocked Rainbow Trout as well as a variety of other species. During March and April, fishing these ponds is restricted to anglers under 16 and those with Handicap Licenses. Some of the ponds include Quarry Park Lake (Quarry Park, off 38, in Racine), the Oak Creek Lagoon (just upstream of the dam on Oak Creek), and Peorio Park Pond in Kenosha to name a few that I KNOW have good handicap access. Another great spot for anglers with limited mobility would be Paradise Springs. All of this got me to thinking about the Handicap Access spots on Iowa's Northeastern Trout Streams. Some that come to mind with either built out Handicap Angling access or otherwise really easy access include Clear Creek, Little Paint Creek, Bloody Run, Sny Magill (don't know exactly where though), Richmond Springs, Spring Branch, Grannis Creek, and possibly Twin Springs.

If Charlie or I manage to get to more potential SE WI Tributary/Lake Michigan spots, you can be sure I'll come back and post them on the site. In summing it up, I gotta say that I always thought of myself as a "die hard" steelheader until I spent a day on the water with Charlie...I think he's gonna hold the "die hardest" title for a long time.

  MP 

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