It started out as a Kids Fishing Day years ago and has since morphed into a much larger event. One day a year volunteers come together at Lac Capri in Terre Du Lac to take individuals with disabilities fishing who might not otherwise have a chance.
Gateway Sports Guild President Pat Ferguson said the weather was perfect this year and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
“My dad was one of the founders and we have been doing this for more than 45 years now,” said Ferguson. “We have been down here since 2000, so that would be 18 years. We are expecting 60 participants this year and they range from 12 years old to an adult.”
Ferguson said they look forward to it every year and there are three residential homes who participate, one in St. Francois County, Potosi and Mapaville.
“They will fish two to three hours and when they bring them in we will take all their fish,” Ferguson said. “We have a big fillet table set up and we will prepare them for a fish fry. I also have frozen fish in the back of my pickup to subsidize with what extra we need.”
Ferguson said they have a fryer and they will fry french fries, hush puppies, and corn nuggets in addition to the fish. He said they also have ham and will feed everybody, which is a really good time.
This event is funded through fundraisers and donations. Ferguson said this year they held a trivia night but they have also had golf tournaments, trivia nights, gun raffles, and other various donations.
“We raise the money however we can and see who is feeling generous,” Ferguson said. “We get the soda and water at cost through Pepsi and get the ice on tab at the convenience store up the road and settle up with them afterwards. The rods, reels and the life jackets have been accumulated and bought throughout the years.”
He added they have a bunch of volunteers who come out each year to help and they were a little short on boats this year but they made it work.
Gateway Sports Guild Member Billy Hooks said he has been helping with the event for years and has been blessed to be able to continue working and doing this at age 86.
“Ferguson has three brothers here and his mother and his father owned a sporting goods store in the city,” said Hooks. “So his dad was one of the originators of this ..."
Hooks said there are many types of handicaps. He said they have some people participating who are 60 years old but have a child’s mind.
“He takes them to go fishing for a day, that’s what it is about,” Hooks said. “There are more than 30 men and women here who have a job that took this day off to spend with them and fish. We cut it from 100 to about 60 recipients in recent years and with these recipients come handlers or helpers. Some of them require special attention.”
Hooks said he built a boat dock for one of the volunteers who brings his boat out each year. He said he noticed his pontoon boat and let the pieces fall together from there.
Todd Sholtz said he has been volunteering for 13 years, ever since Hooks asked if he wanted to do something that would make him feel good.
“That first year I brought my son who was very young at the time and we took out two blind girls,” said Sholtz. “He had never been around anyone like that before and they were as sharp as could be, but just couldn’t see.”
He said they were catching fish and they were rubbing on them and giggling. Sholtz said that moment was what hooked him and he has been helping out ever since then.
Billy Appel said the most rewarding thing of the day is to just see the expression on their faces while they are out on the boat.
Gateway Sports Guild Treasurer David Green said this event has a lot of meaning to him. He said he met Ferguson and learned of the event through a friend.
“He knew my daughter had a disability and asked me if I wanted to take her out fishing,” Green said. “I was involved that way and for years I have been doing this. Finally I got my daughter to come out one year and on the way home she kept asking what date it would be the next year.”
Green said his daughter was 23 years old at the time and has been attending for 10 years now. Green explained she was born without a left hand and she had such a good time she couldn’t wait to come back again.
“This just means a lot to me, to be asked to be involved and to do what I do,” Green said. “Years ago we had kids in wheel chairs, on crutches and kids who couldn’t walk. They would all just jump in the boat and drink their soda, eat their chips and have a great time.”
Green choked up saying he is giving back by helping with the organization and helping the participants to have a wonderful time. The spend months planning the event.
“Before you know it, it’s here,” Green said. “We were supposed to have 62 today and already I think there are more. We will make it work and they will all have a good time, I know my daughter did.”
According to the Gateway Sports Guild Facebook page, more than 35 years ago Larry Wilson, a former St. Louis Football Cardinal, paid a visit to Paul's Bait Shop on Chippewa with his disabled son Jed. Paul asked Jed if he would like to go fishing with him. At the next guild meeting, Paul related to the other members about his experience.
Every year since then, the Guild has put together and hosted a Fishing Day. Lac Capri in Terre Du Lac has been home to the event. In 2000, the guild donated a dock for the people of Terre Du Lac to use all year round.
Through the efforts of volunteers, coaches, and guild members, disabled participants from all around the area experience something special. Donations such as boats, food, and time make this event possible year after year.