Reeling in the huge smiles

Scott Jost, left, gets help from Jeremy Selbach as he looks at

With a trout-stocked pond and turnout of enthusiastic anglers,
South County’s favorite fishing derby was by no means a small-scale
event.
With a trout-stocked pond and turnout of enthusiastic anglers, South County’s favorite fishing derby was by no means a small-scale event.

On Saturday there were plenty of fish to catch – roughly 700 pounds – when the Gilroy Sportsman Chefs held its annual Fishability Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hilltop Springs Ranch on 8770 Leavesley Road.

“They caught a lot of fish,” said Sportsman member Gabe Nino, who said this year garnered 123 registrants. “They had a great time, and they ate a lot, too. It was pretty cool.”

The local, nonprofit men’s organization has been around for 30 years and specifically raises money throughout the year for the derby, according to longtime member Chris Ordaz. He said Fishability Day has been attracting anglers for the better part of two decades.

The popular occasion is geared specifically to special-needs individuals, providing highly functional autistic and Down syndrome participants with fishing poles, trophies, T-shirts, a hearty outdoor barbecue picnic and a likely guarantee they won’t leave without a trout or two.

Isabel Jewell isn’t too fond of fish outside of a tuna sandwich, but her son Jeffrey was delighted to devour one of the five fish he caught Saturday. For Jeffrey, 51, it was his 10th time fishing at Fishability where his mother said he enjoys the camaraderie and poking among friends about who will catch the biggest fish.

“He was so excited catching those big fish, I just couldn’t give them to somebody else,” Isabel said.

Last year, Jeffrey couldn’t get a bite, so five fish was particularly exciting. Isabel said her grandson dressed the fish with garlic and lemon and they shared the trout with other family members. “They’re all gone,” Isabel said with a laugh.

Participants who turn out for Fishability “just have a wonderful time” Isabel said, and Jeffrey has come to know “some of the fellas. It’s like old home week. They greet each other. It’s a good day for him and he happens to like fish. I cook fish for him quite a bit,” she said Monday.

“It’s something these kids look forward to every year,” said Ordaz, who mentioned the event attracts folks from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Benito County. “Even the members have as much fun as the kids.”

Each year, a handful of Sportsman Chef members clean and pack the fish in ice so participants can take their bounty home and cook it up if they wish.

Sandra Sammut, director of recreational services with the Gilroy Parks and Recreation Department, said seeing faces light up as trout begin to tug on the lines “is just amazing.”

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