P. Bobby Katta, JD, DO
University of Kentucky Medical Center
"Fishing is the chance to wash one's soul with pure air. It brings meekness and inspiration, reduces our egoism, soothes our troubles, and shames our wickedness. It is discipline in the equality of men—for all men are equal before fish."—Herber Hoover
The soundtrack of a late fall morning plays as the sun peaks over the mountains in the distance, lighting the leaves in an inferno of orange and yellow. Exhaled breath condenses as it meets crisp, clear country air. Anglers from near and far stand along the shoreline to pay homage to fish and nature. The stunning scene unfolding in the shadow of the Daniel Boone National Forest is typical of any October morning in Kentucky.
It was in this majestic, yet serene setting that residents of the University of Kentucky Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation program joined members of Trout Unlimited-Bluegrass Chapter and Easter Seals of Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington to host Kentucky’s first adaptive fly fishing event. This event was spearheaded by Dr. Robert Worthing, MD, associate professor at UK PM&R, amputation rehabilitation director of the Lexington VA Medical Center, and co-founder and instructor at TROutreach Guides LLC. TROutreach stands for Tenkara Recreational Outreach. The co-founders of this unique organization identified that adaptive equipment and cumbersome fishing gear limited a disabled person’s ability to fish. The organization formed around the belief that disabled men and women could maximize their independence by using the bare minimum of adaptive equipment and lightweight fishing gear. The organization sought to teach fly fishing techniques that would give the disabled angler a lifetime of enjoyment on the water.
The day began with a safety training session in handicap-accessible classrooms provided by the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery and Visitor’s Center. Disabled participants came from far and wide, some traveling great distances for this unique opportunity. The excitement in the room was palpable. During the morning briefing, participants, instructors, UK PM&R residents and Trout Unlimited members broke out and formed small groups. Naturally, some friendly competition began to develop between the groups, lending to the success of the event.
After safety training concluded, Dr. Worthing introduced the participants to Tenkara, a Japanese form of fly fishing that relies merely on rod, fishing line, and fly. This ancient art has gained significant popularity in the United States for its simplicity and effectiveness at catching fish. Tenkara requires subtle movement and minimal power to cast, making it highly efficient and effective. The rods that are used typically weigh ounces, and are very easy to handle. There is no reel for the operator to manipulate. Most importantly, the dynamics of the rod allow for the efficient transfer of energy to the line with minimal effort. The simplicity, efficiency, and elegance of Tenkara is well suited for spinal cord injured patients, amputees, patients with cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. During the session, Tenkara rods were handed out, and instructors and residents worked with participants to modify the rods to accommodate for the impairments of the participant.
On the shoreline, basic instructions were given and then the teams were set loose. As the day progressed, and techniques improved, disabled participants began to rack up some serious numbers. By the end of the day, each participant had caught multiple fish. One participant even hauled in an enormous 19-inch rainbow trout. As a testament to the effectiveness of Tenkara, the disabled participants out fished every other able-bodied fisherman on the river that day. Everyone involved agreed that the adaptive fly fishing event was a resounding success. In fact, the event received such positive feedback from organizers, volunteers, and participants that Easter Seals committed to making adaptive fly fishing a quarterly event.