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Participants and volunteers for the Paul Bunyan Chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries event Saturday take off from the docks on Lake Bemidji. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer

Local chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries holds annual event

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI -- Approximately 80 anglers gathered on the Bemidji lakeshore Saturday for the first day of the annual Paul Bunyan Chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries event.

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The two-day fishing outing for anglers with disabilities is in its 24th year in Bemidji, making it one of the oldest FHNB chapters in the country.

"Bemidji got in with an organization that is home based out of Hayward, Wis. There are 23 chapters nationwide, and we're the second oldest ... We have some pride in that," Vance Balstad, co-chair of the Paul Bunyan Chapter of FHNB committee, said.

The event kicked off early Saturday, with registration and breakfast at 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, the anglers loaded up the gear and headed out onto the lake to fish. Many of the participants look forward to the event all year, and can't wait to be out on the water, he said.

"There's nothing better than having these people come today, but it's just as much fun when you see them out in public later in the year, and we're already talking about fishing next year. That's the best part," Balstad said.

At noon, the anglers took a short break for lunch before heading back on the lake. All participants receive a medal for taking part, but first-, second-, and third-place prizes are awarded for the largest perch, walleye and northern. Although catching a big fish is exciting, the most important reason people take part in the event is to have a good time.

"This is so much fun. For folks like myself, if I want to go fishing, I can go fishing anyday. For these folks, this is kind of like the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. It's the thing they look forward to all year. Now they're going to go," Balstad said.

FHNB is a nonprofit organization and without the help from local businesses, clubs, and volunteers, the event wouldn't take place, organizers said. Volunteers help people onto the pontoons, captain boats, bait hooks, take fish off hooks and clean the fish. People from the Bemidji area donated their pontoons for the weekend and many businesses donated food for the event.

"We've had great support. We've had clubs and organizations come forward and help us. It's a community thing. If it wasn't for the community, we couldn't do it," Balstad said. "Our anglers are so thankful for the help, too. Some of our folks don't have the finger dexterity to bait their own hooks, so when you put that leech on, they'll smile. We have a few folks that can't speak, but you can see it in their eyes. And you always know what they're saying, they're saying 'Thank you.'"

After Saturday's second fishing outing, the fishermen came back to shore to enjoy a fish fry put on by the Bemidji Fire Department. Today, the anglers will enjoy a flapjack breakfast put on by the Bemidji Lions Club and one more morning of fishing before the event wraps up at noon.

Although Balstad and the rest of the FHNB committee is ready to take a break from planning and fundraising, they are always a little sad when it is over. "We're a family here. The anglers enjoy it, we enjoy it, and that's what we're here for," Balstad said.

Serratore is entering her senior year at Bemidji High School and is interning at the Pioneer through the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Pohlad Summer Internship Program.

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