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Posted on Aug 2, 2011 in For the Record
You Won’t Believe This!

I’ve decided that the next step in my effort to move beyond my disability is to teach. When I focus on someone other than myself, it helps relieve the “poor me” syndrome.

I met my friend Lawrence Euteneier, from Ottawa, Canada, at the World Fly Fishing Tournament in Colorado. Lawrence is a very avid fisherman and has been completely blind since the age of 8. (Visit ­www.blindfishingboat.com.)

Lawrence and his Bernese mountain dog named Maestro met Anni and me in Miami, and off we all went to Guatemala. Upon arrival, I steered my wheelchair while Lawrence pushed me, and Maestro pulled Anni and all the luggage she was carrying. What a menagerie we were! We had people laughing all around us.

At the lodge, Lawrence revealed that salmon and trout were the biggest fish he had ever caught. Since he “sees” with his hands, Lawrence felt things for hours, first a model boat while I explained about how the outriggers function, then we went on to baits, bait-and-switch techniques, circle hooks and drop-backs, etc. Lawrence and I felt a sailfish mount so he could fathom the size and structure of the fish as well as how it eats, and how a circle hook catches in the corner of the fish’s mouth.

The next morning, the four of us (Maestro goes everywhere Lawrence goes) boarded the Rum Line, a 42-foot game-fishing boat with Capt. Chris Sheeder.

Much to my friend’s chagrin, we got off to a rocky start with him missing five out of five sails. Impressively, Lawrence had no trouble finding his 16-pound-test rod with circle hook and ballyhoo attached. And I could direct him to the proper distance behind the boat to drop back. But the endgame — the actual bite — was not there.

Despite my disabilities, I have adapted to my sporting life. Lawrence, with his blindness, has so far surpassed my capabilities, it’s pathetic! What an amazing learning experience it was for me to hear Chris yell, “Sailfish — left flat!” Lawrence moved to the rod unassisted, launched a ballyhoo, felt the bite (describing it while it happened) and knew exactly where that sail was!

For a change, everything went perfectly. Lawrence fed the drop-back, reeled down on it, set up and even managed to bow to the fish when it jumped. How the heck he figured that out I have no idea. He moved across the transom with ease and grace. But then he really blew me away: taking the tag stick from the mate, actually placing the tag where it was supposed to go and then releasing his own fish! And we got it all on video, so anyone who wants to be as equally amazed as I was can see the blow-by-blow on The Best and Worst of Tred Barta.

That evening, Lawrence, Chris and I talked for hours about what he felt during the fight. I found this a truly unique and interesting perspective, since most of the bite and ensuing battle is visual to me. Lawrence discussed the difference between feeling just the sailfish’s bill touching the bait and the sail actually taking the bait. It was fascinating.

Day three saw a sail come to the right long teaser, then cross over the left short teaser. Lawrence had the rod and his reel in free-spool with thumb pressure on the line. Just as I was about to scream, “Let him have it!” I saw that Lawrence already had done so. He hooked up — and over the next five hours, Lawrence caught eight sails all hooked 100 percent on his own. So if you have any doubt as to whether blind anglers are capable of fishing at the highest level, using bait-and-switch for billfish, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Anni particularly loved Lawrence’s company, as did everyone at the lodge. But one thing still gnaws at me: Lawrence held onto Anni’s left arm all the time when walking down the dock and around the property. What the hell is the dog for? Be careful with your wives around Lawrence! Seriously, Lawrence — an exceptionally capable 47-year-old — has no impediments besides his lack of sight. He donates ungodly amounts of time to promoting fishing as a valuable activity for the blind and disabled in Canada. And he will keep up with the best of them when it comes to billfishing.