Helping others learn about the fun of fishing can be infectious.
Bob Fuller signed on as a volunteer with Jim Catalano's Leisure Skills Center to help kids and impaired adults during a shift of fishing out of Buffalo Small Boat Harbor.
After his first outing he said, "This is the kind of thing other fishermen -- and especially fishing clubs -- should get into. You can't know what it's really like out there until you pitch in and help."
Fuller's club, Crow's Nest Fishing Club, signed on as a group earlier this season and assisted a number of people, mostly kids, fishing the shallower waters off Buffalo Harbor.
A similar spirit prevails with Capt. Jim Hallett of Grand Island. While piloting a group of kids and adults earlier this week, Hallett said, "We take out all kinds of people to whatever fishing we can find when they arrive." This day was devoted to finding and fishing the downwind shoal on the east side of Seneca Shoal.
Warming waters have sent Small Boat Harbor boaters out to deeper structures, and the Excalibur captains try to put their clients onto the best possible fishing they can find. Hallett, retired after teaching for 34 years at Seneca Vocational, is typical of the captains that Catalano, the program coordinator, seeks for these outings.
"We currently have 14 captains registered but really need at least 18 to cover all the daily trips," Catalano said.
The schedule includes four trips per day, half fishing and half boat tours, averaging eight to 10 people per trip. Most people are familiar with the Excalibur boat trips, because the main vessel, the Francis J. Pordum, is docked directly in front of the marina at Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. But few realize that these trips run continuously from May 15 until the harbor closes on Oct. 15 each year.
"We average 2,800 passengers during the course of the season," Catalano said. "Our clients come primarily from Buffalo and Erie County, but we welcome and service people from all eight Western New York counties.
"Our clients have all manner of disabilities: mental, physical, social, cultural, economic, and several others. Our goal is to get as many people as possible out on the water to enjoy the fishing or just go for a boat ride."
Last week, Leisure Skills Center participated with the Grand Island Lions Club in a venture the Lions Club has held for 30 years. Each July, the Lions take out about 1,000 disabled people for a ride along the Niagara River around Grand Island, followed by a picnic. Leisure Skills, working with the Lions since 1987, has helped to expand this activity and interest angler-volunteers in assisting at Grand Island as well as at the Small Boat Harbor.
Catalano has been working for 12 years to expand and improve his program of helping handicapped and impaired people to get out fishing or boat riding. Donations and promotions help in furthering these efforts. Tonight, for example, Bison City Rod & Gun Club will present the Excalibur group with $500, proceeds from a recent fund-raising event. Also, the city of Buffalo will be funding the program through a city federal block grant.
But the linchpin of the operation is volunteerism. Licensed charter captains, anglers and other interested individuals have signed on as aides in this project, but Fuller and Crow's Nest Fishing Club, a group with less than 30 members, introduced another level of volunteerism: group participation. Catalano says that they currently have no other fishing or outdoors-related groups affiliated with Excalibur.
Fuller challenges other clubs to consider helping on a regular basis. To find out more about the fishing and boating fun, call Excalibur Leisure Skills Center Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. (831-3188).