Club helps disabled fish for a day

Lee Wood reels in his line after a bite. Photos by Ali

Gilroy
– They watched the lake for signs of underwater swimmers. Each
time a fish looked as though it was taking the bait, friends and
family gathered to watch as the angler battled the fish. Everyone
hooted and hollered as the fish broke the surface and was pulled
out of the water.
Gilroy – They watched the lake for signs of underwater swimmers. Each time a fish looked as though it was taking the bait, friends and family gathered to watch as the angler battled the fish. Everyone hooted and hollered as the fish broke the surface and was pulled out of the water.

That was the scene Saturday at the Fishability Day, a yearly event sponsored by the Gilroy Sportsman Chefs Association, and by the end of the day more than 100 fish were reeled in.

This year’s event took place at a private lake at Hilltop Spring Ranch.

The day offered more than a chance to catch a great dinner for special athletes in South County. Sportsman Chefs, a men’s club, raised money throughout the year so they could provide an outing of fishing and fun to developmentally disabled residents and their families.

Early arrivals signed in, grabbed a T-shirt and helped themselves to doughnuts and coffee. Then it was off to pick out a fishing pole and a prime fishing spot around the lake at Hilltop Spring Ranch in Gilroy

Sandy Belmonte came out with her son Richard, 25, and a few of his friends. Richard sat at the end of the lake, nearly hidden by grass reeds with a group of pals who attended school with him when they were younger. The boys lounged in green chairs and drank orange Fanta, not paying much attention to their fishing lines but having fun none the less.

“They have a great time,” his mother said. “It’s something different for them to do.”

Nearby, a blond boy reeled in a medium-size fish whose scales shone green and pink in the glint of sunlight that had just started coming out from behind the morning cloud cover.

The boy’s father, Rick Spalding, said he was a friend of the ranch owners, the Vogt family, and he and his son, James, had come out to support the event.

“We’ll probably do trash detail at the end of the day,” he said.

In the meantime, Spalding answered special athlete Kevin Ryan’s plea for help casting out his line. Ryan, 43, said he hadn’t caught any fish yet.

“I’m trying,” he said. Ryan hadn’t been fishing since he was a child, but he said he was having fun.

A few yards away, Cipriano Ponce, 22, reeled in his first fish of the day with the help of club member Aaron Colton. The pair had been fishing for more than an hour when they reeled in the first catch.

“We were using the green stuff,” Colton told Ponce, referring to the bait, as they pulled a four-pound silver trout out of the water.

Ponce said he plans to catch at least five more fish before the end of the day.

“I’m going to eat it,” he said. “Barbecue it.”

As many of the Sportsman Chefs members predicted early in the day, as the clouds cleared up around 10:45 am and the sun shone on the water, more fish started going for the lines.

While many of the athletes fished, others took a break and helped themselves to barbecued hamburgers, hotdogs and sodas provided free by the club.

John Garcia, a recreation supervisor for the City of Gilroy, said the city staff works to offer programs for special athletes throughout the year, but the Fishability Day is really a special event.

“It’s special because it’s something our athletes don’t get to do every day,” Garcia said. “We can take them bowling or to the outlets or restaurants, but this is unique.”

Garcia added that events such as Fishability Day really do require the help of the entire community and groups such as the Sportsman Chefs Association.

“This event is one of the big ones,” Garcia said. “All we have to do is provide the athletes and everything else is paid for.”

Club member Dan Vogt and his family offered the use of the lake free of charge for the event.

“I had a handicapped person come up to me and say, ‘You know, we’re gonna have to start having this twice a year,’ ” Vogt said.

Ron Berhorst, a board member of the club, said the county of Santa Clara volunteered the use of the fishing poles for the day.

“We were able to save money from that so we could stock the lake with more trout,” Berhorst said.

The Gilroy Sportsman Chefs Association is a men’s club that includes 65 members. The group meets once a month and conducts fundraisers throughout the year, such as a recent charity golf tournament, to support their annual Fishability Day for Gavilan district special athletes.

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