Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Missouri Elderly Find Fishing Therapeutic

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Missouri Elderly Find Fishing Therapeutic

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS _ The setting sun cast a silvery gleam on the small pond as fishing instructor Glenn Haymon scooped a juicy brown night crawler from a can of dirt, pierced it several times with the hook and gave the line a toss.

"It's a good evening for fishing," said Haymon, handing the pole to 77-year-old Luther Blackwell, sitting in a wheelchair at water's edge. "The wind's dying down, so they should start biting."

Sure enough, within minutes the red and white bobber went under.

"Oh, ho. He's a fighter," said Blackwell, watching an 8-inch yellow-belly catfish flop as he cranked the reel. "Guess I'm a fisherman now."

Blackwell, a resident at Lutheran Care Center in St. Louis, is one of some 5,500 seniors participating in the Missouri Conservation Department's therapeutic fishing program this summer. The 8-year-old program is offered in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to elderly, blind and mentally disabled people.

The state stocks lakes in each city twice a month with channel catfish and hybrid bluegill, picked because they're quick biters and aggressive fighters. It also provides anglers with bait and equipment.

The state's share of a federal tax on fishing licenses, tackle and motor fuel pays for 75 percent of the estimated $71,500 annual cost; the state's conservation department pays the rest.

"It's more expensive to serve them because of their special needs, but it's money well-spent," said Don Heard, chief of the department's education division in Jefferson City.

For some participants, it's a chance to get reacquainted with an old sport. For others, such as 85-year-old Valentine Marco of St. Louis, it's a chance to learn a new one.

"My daddy would come home with fish, but he wouldn't take us out," Marco said. "I can't wait to talk to my brother. He'll never believe I went fishing."

The best part, she said, is that instructors bait the hook and take off the fish.

Schoolteachers are hired to help with the summer program. They show participants how to tell a crappie from a bluegill and give tips on protecting the environment. They also help equalize the challenges brought on by age. …

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