The BC Flyfisher chapter of IFFF has a mission to promote the sport of fly fishing. Part of that mission is accomplished through education and on-the-water outings, and while the chapter has been successful with its own members, it also strives to reach out and educate the less fortunate, including those people who are disabled in some way.
Enter Kurt Nelson, BCFF webmaster. Back in February of 2008, Marc Feeko met Kurt at Timber Creek Sportsman Shop as he demonstrated and taught fly tying to a group from Broome Developmental Center (BDC), referred to as "consumers". The consumers typically have a multitude of developmental disabilities that can make teaching quite difficult. However, Kurt apparently liked the opportunity to help and interact with the group. That August, he held a fly casting demonstration at BDC and to test skills, he organized a fly fishing trip on the Delaware River.
These outings soon evolved into an on-going tradition with fly tying in winter, fly casting in spring, and fly fishing in the early and late summer. The consumers from BDC ended up fishing for trout, bass, panfish and channel cats in ponds, streams and rivers. Also during winter, Kurt taught groups to ice fish with guidance from additional employees of Gander Mountain. Kurt and another employee from Gander Mountain even procured the necessary equipment for these trips. Kurt has since worked to increase volunteer commitment from various fly fishing groups such as the Al Hazzard TU chapter and most recently, the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF.
And so it was on a recent Wednesday evening as Kurt and the BC Flyfishers hosted an on-the-water fly fishing outing for BDC consumers. The outing started around 3 pm, with Marc and a group from the BDC showing up around 4:30 pm at a pair of private ponds in Harpursville. The ponds are stocked with largemouth bass, crappie, and some big (and hungry) channel cats. Fly fishing is decent with lots of casting room and easy access to the pond form its shoreline.
The fishing was good. BC Flyfisher volunteers and the BDC consumers caught bass, crappie, and bluegill. Unfortunately, a line of thunderstorms came in and the group had to head for safe cover under a nearby gazebo. But all was not lost - hot dogs were soon on the grill, served with good helpings of talk and laughter. After the storm passed, the group got back to fishing. Near dark, they fed the channel cats and tried catching them on small poppers. Top fish for the evening was a 7 lb largemouth caught on a streamer by a volunteer. Everyone caught fish on fly rods - some more than others. Overall, it was a fun evening of fly fishing for volunteers, BDC staff, and consumers.
Marc Feeko is a believer. According to Marc, Kurt and his volunteers have been able to help the BDC consumers accomplish tasks that sometimes seem insurmountable to them. That work is not easy and requires a 1:1 BDC consumer to helper ratio in most cases. The numbers vary but usually 12 -15 BDC students attend a fly fishing session, with the appropriate number of staff and helpers to assist with casting and casting instruction, changing flies, and helping with the landing and releasing of fish. Many of the BDC consumers help with local fish stockings, so this is an effort to get them to see what all of their work is about and a way to give back to them.
Many of the students have gone on to group homes and are no longer at BDC. This is partly due to the skills they have learned through fly fishing, fly tying and ice fishing with regular folks who volunteer. None of this would be possible without the many friends, fellow TU'ers, and IFFF'ers who volunteer. In Marc Feeko's words, Kurt and his BCFF / TU volunteers have made a difference in the lives of the BDC consumers in many ways. They have taught skills that will benefit BDC consumers throughout their entire lives.