Fishing has No Boundaries: Anglers have fun in wind and rain
The Bemidji weather report for Saturday morning - intermittent downpours alternating with driving mist.
But the 80 anglers and 150 volunteers who turned out for the 19th annual Lake Bemidji Fishing Has No Boundaries donned their ponchos and lifejackets for fun on the water.
"There's not much that keeps us off the lake," said Susie Balstad, one of the event organizers. "This is calm compared to last year."
"It could have been nicer, but we could have had snow," said her husband, Vance Balstad.
He said one of the attendant volunteers fell out of a boat, but she went home, change into dry clothes and came back for more fishing.
"We tell the anglers, 'You have to wear a lifejacket,'" Susie said. "We want everybody to come back to us."
Many do come back to Bemidji for Fishing Has No Boundaries making the weekend an annual family event.
"We'd miss it if we didn't come," said Jay Jacobson of Valley Springs, S.D.
He was attending with his son, Jason, and wife, Alice. Jay said he came to Fishing Horizons, the precursor to Fishing Has No Boundaries, when that event was held on Kitchie Lake beginning in 1986.
"I used to bring my wife's uncle who had a stroke," Jay said. "When Jason got old enough, we brought him."
Fishing Has No Boundaries moved the event to Lake Bemidji in 1990.
Saturday morning, Jason caught three perch, with the biggest measuring 10 inches.
Bradley Olson, whose mother, Carol Olson, was among the organizers of Fishing Horizons in 1986, also caught fish.
"A 26½-inch northern," he said. "And a very tiny perch that we released. The perch was not a keeper by any means."
Bradley and his guide put the northern in their boat's live well to bring in for measuring, but then released that fish, too.
"Catch and release - we encourage that," said Vance.
The whole point is to have fun, he said.
"The best part is the smiles on their faces," he said. "They're not catching fish and they're wet, but they're smiling."
A family making their first trip to Fishing Has No Boundaries are the Nelsons: Greta Nelson and her children, Naomi, 12, and Nick, 10, with her mother, Louise Orest of St. Paul. The Nelsons came north from Rosemount, Minn.
Nick said he hadn't caught anything Saturday morning, but he likes sitting in the boat. Nick is a double amputee as a result of popliteal pterygium, a rare inherited disorder of crippling webs running from behind the knees to the feet.
Greta said her son underwent more than 30 surgeries and was in constant pain until the amputations.
"He got to the point where he told his doctors he'd had enough," she said.
She said they amputated his right leg in October 2007 and his left leg in September 2008. He now walks and runs around on artificial legs.
"He a very normal boy," Greta said watching Nick play with a mayfly.
Greta said Naomi has also faced health challenges as a childhood cancer survivor.
Nick and Naomi scrambled aboard Captain John Baumgartner's Pontoon 15 for the afternoon's fishing with First Mate Jerry Albert; fellow anglers Tony Starren, Donovan Goggleye and Austin Rue; and attendants Gordy Haug, Andrew Schultz and Chelsea Barels.
Fishing Has No Boundaries continues today with a pancake breakfast, a morning of fishing and lunch.
Susie said the event is possible because of the community's generosity donating food, repairing fishing rods, lending pontoons and contributing funds. The organization holds two major fundraisers: a fishing pond at the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic and a food booth at the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club car show.
"We try to start (Fishing Has No Boundaries) chapters in other communities, and they kind of struggle," she said. "We have a community that's golden. This is a great place to live."