The Southwest Florida Council of the Blind is searching for boat owners who are willing to donate their time and vessel for a good cause - and have some fun in the process.
The 3rd Annual Blind Fishing Tournament is set for March 22 at the Cape Coral Yacht Club. The event pairs a blind angler with a volunteer captain and sighted mate for a three-person team inshore slam.
Each team will enter a snook, a redfish and a sea trout caught by its angler to be weighed.
The team with the heaviest total weight wins - the blind angler will receive $500, the sighted mate takes home $100 and the volunteer captain will earn a free one-year membership to Sea Tow.
Mike Ulrich, vice president of the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, explained that 27 blind anglers are scheduled to participate. As of Tuesday, only a dozen or so boats had been secured.
"We need 27 people with boats," he said. "They do not need to have a captain's license."
Ulrich added that the event is inshore, so the vessels do not have to be huge - 18 feet should do.
"My goal is to get blind people interested in fishing and get them hooked, and this tournament has worked," he said. "It's really turned a lot of blind people on to the sport and the love of fishing."
Twenty-three blind anglers took part in the 2013 event.
"Last year's winner was about 90 years old," Ulrich said. "He's fishing in this tournament again."
The day of the tourney, everyone will meet at 7 a.m. at the Cape Coral Yacht Club pavilion.
"We'll put the teams together there," he said.
Most of the anglers bring their significant other or a friend to be their sighted mate.
Free coffee and donuts will be available.
The boats depart at 8 a.m. to head to the official fishing grounds. The coverage area consists of the Caloosahatchee, from the Yacht Club south to the Sanibel Causeway; then north to the Matlacha Pass, to include the Matlacha Bridge; and north to the Pine Island Sound, to include Boca Grande Pass.
The teams have until 2 p.m. to return to the Yacht Club.
Ulrich pointed out that the tournament is not catch and release.
"They all have to be legal keepers," he said of the fish.
An official judge will note the time each team returns and weigh their catch.
In the event of a tie for first, the win will go to the first team back.
Besides the first place team, the second and third place teams will also score prizes, including high-quality rod-reel combinations, fishing and tackle equipment, and gift certificates to restaurants.
All participants will receive a 2014 event T-shirt and free lunch, which will be served up at an after party from 3 to 6 p.m. at the pavilion. A Florida-style cookout is planned with food and drinks.
Yard Dog Charlie will entertain with his squeezebox, playing some Florida swamp music.
The public is invited to join the feast for $5 a plate. A 50/50 raffle will also be held.
Ulrich explained that 80 percent of the funds will go to the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, keeping it in Lee County, and the remaining 20 percent goes to the Florida Council of the Blind.
Local dignitaries, including the mayor, city council members and county commissioners, may attend.
Volunteers are needed to help set up at the pavilion the morning of the event.
"Also, we'll gladly accept any donations that we can use as prizes, or if people would like to sponsor the tournament," he said.
When Ulrich lost his sight 10 years ago, it was traumatic. He had friends promise to take him fishing again, but nothing ever came of it. So, Ulrich learned how to fish on his own - without his sight.
That experience led him to come up with the idea for the annual tournament.
"Now, I walk down to Four Freedoms Park and fish by myself. I might not catch a lot of fish, but I'm out there fishing," Ulrich said. "The feeling of empowerment is unbelievable."
For more information on the 3rd Annual Blind Fishing Tournament or to become a volunteer captain, call Mike Ulrich at (239) 540-7431 or (239) 565-5845 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.