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.
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
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
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
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
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.