The 2nd Annual Blind Fishing Tournament will be held this weekend in St. James City with anglers hoping to hook the biggest legal redfish or sea trout.
"The main concept of this whole thing is to get blind people out on the water fishing," Southwest Florida Council of the Blind President Michael Ulrich said, adding that, "people who lost their vision later on in life might have lost a big chunk of their life and never thought they could get back on the water fishing."
Ulrich lost his eyesight nine years ago, which initially seemed like the end of the world.
"Even after I started getting my sea legs and my life back, people were always promising me, 'Sure Mike, we'll take you out fishing again,'" he said. "That didn't happen often enough, so I learned how to do this by myself."
Ulrich loads up his Bass Pro Shop pull-behind, fishing cart and goes fishing as often as he can.
"My point being, getting back one part of one's sighted life is just good medicine," he said. "And this is what, we at the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, are trying to do with this fishing tournament."
The tournament will be held at the Olde Pine Island Marina on Saturday, March 23. Teams will head out promptly at 8 a.m. The boats, Ulrich said, will return to the docks around 2:30 p.m., when the weighing will begin.
Last year the tournament attracted nine blind anglers and this year 24 blind anglers will participate in the event.
"We are expecting to get 24 blind anglers out on the water this year on 24 three-person teams," Ulrich said.
The tournament is bigger and better this year, thanks to a $2,500 grant the organizers received from the Wal-Mart Foundation last year.
The entry fee is $25 per blind angler. Each team will consist of a blind angler, a captain who is volunteering his boat for the tournament, as well as a sighted mate to assist the blind angler. Although all members can fish, only one single largest redfish or sea trout caught by the blind angler can be entered. The captain and the mate are allowed to help the angler net the fish.
The fishing grounds extend from Pine Island Sound, up to and including Redfish Pass, south to and including the Sanibel Causeway and north up to Matlacha Pass up to and including the Matlacha Bridge.
The top prize of $500 will be awarded to the winning team's blind angler. In case of a tie, the first boat back to Olde Pine Island Marina will win.
There will also be prizes awarded to just about all the participants of the tournament, which include such items as the high quality fishing gear and a towing membership from Sea Tow.
Once the tournament is complete, an old-fashioned barbeque pork cookout with all the fixings will be served.
"We are going to be feeding 72 people after the boats come in," he said, adding that they are going to have a bit of a party afterwards.
Ulrich said they will sell plates of food for $5 to the general public. Soda and bottled water will be available and if all goes well, ice cold Budweiser will also be served.
"We've hired the world famous Yard Dog Charlie to play his Florida swamp music," he said.
The food and music will be provided between 2:30-6:30 p.m., which the community is invited to attend.
The event will also provide an opportunity for individuals to experience what it is like to be blind through the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind obstacle course.
Ulrich said they first did the obstacle course at the Vision Awareness Walkathon last October. He said they use PVC pipes for the obstacle course and blindfold the sited person, as well as provide them with a white cane.
"It gives folks a chance to get a little taste of what's it like," Ulrich said.
He said he would like to thank Olde Pine Island Marina, as well as the local business community.
"They really stepped up to the plate to donate money and prizes," Ulrich said.