Fishing Has No Boundaries provides empowerment and excitement for those otherwise deprived

At dawn Saturday, a celestial ceiling hovered over Lake Michigan and my three fishing companions at the Fishing Has No Boundaries event. From left: advocate Alex Classen, and two wheelchaired participants, Luis Classen (Alex’s uncle) and Darrin Malsack. Photos by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise indicated. 

A celestial ceiling of clouds hovered over a radiant sunrise, as if heaven’s ethereal floor wasn’t too far aloft to reach. That slightly uncanny feeling lent my first indication this would be a special day. This luminous moment, pictured above, also blessed my three fishing companions, seen in silhouette, a few minutes before I even met them. So, I felt a quiet optimism even amid the slight chaos of the effort to get a variety of disabled participants, and their patrons (if they had one) matched up with boat captains and first mates.

The 501 3-C non-profit organization’s name, Fishing Has No Boundaries, * has both poetic resonance, for the most extravagantly intrepid of anglers, and a specific reference to enabling and empowering those who might not otherwise ever board a fishing boat, or handle a rod. It was founded in 1988 by a Hayward (WI) fishing guide after he broke his leg, and now has 18 mostly-Midwest regional chapters, but ranging from Colorado Springs to Cincinnati.

I’m fortunate that I still have fully able and mobile legs. A wayward flu shot and then a rotator cuff tear in my right shoulder on January 1, 2004, triggered an auto-immune attack which became a bilateral brachial plexitis. I ended up with a partially paralyzed left hand and, worse, severely chronic neuropathic pain in both arms and hands, ever since. I’ve become a one-handed typist as a professional writer. It’s been been my internal dwelling of living hell to this day.

I’ve tried gamely to not let the bilateral neuropathy limit me any more than it does. I got halfway through a PhD program in English at Marquette University, upon returning to Milwaukee from 20 years working at Madison’s The Capital Times, never telling anyone (wisely or not) of the MU administrative or faculty about my condition.

I use a medley of meds three times daily to manage the pain in my arms and, worst of all, in the left arm and atrophied hand. To this day, I’m literally dealt a losing hand on too many excruciating days which, with normal meds failing, leave me no other alternative but cannabis. (Though I hate to have to take it, the stuff is truly God’s gift!) 1

And in season, I strive to golf pretty much weekly (yeah, weakly) with three great high-school friends, John Kurzawa (a highly accomplished golfer), Frank Stemper and Ed Valent. The latter two go back with me to 4th grade, when my family moved to Shorewood and St. Robert’s grade school.

That brings me to my other great friend from St Robert’s, John Klett, who lived just half a block up from us on Beverly Road. John and I bonded strongly over mutual artistic inclinations (he would become a successful architect) and a passion for touch football, after my tackle football career was aborted by a serious broken leg in seventh grade. This was the intoxicating Lombardi era. So John’s younger brother Jim and a few other nearby neighborhood pals, including Bill “Tuna” Fliss, played in our street touch football matches, on Saturdays or Sunday mornings before Packer games.

John and I rekindled our friendship when I moved back to Milwaukee in 2009, and last year he invited me to participate in the Milwaukee chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries. The whole point of this excellent organization is to provide a genuine fishing experience for people who are variously disabled, and to promote awareness and enablement of such people.

I’m hardly the worst-off participant, especially on a day when my meds are working. And last year, John’s son Jonathan came along as my able-bodied advocate. I needed his assistance during one fairly challenging reeling of a feisty Coho salmon, given that I needed to crank the reel with my relatively recovered right hand, while holding a serious fishing rod with my atrophied left hand.

I’d been out fishing with John and his brothers previously, but since becoming disabled I never seriously handled a rod. I had always enjoyed fishing even though my first Lake Michigan outing, a charter trip, with Frank and Ed decades ago, basically left me retching (wretchedly) with seasickness.

I really gained greater an appreciation for this sterling organization in this, my second year, and for my friend John Klett’s steady-as-she-goes chairmanship of the Milwaukee chapter, which rides increasingly high tides of success. This year the local chapter raised enough money for the event to be held at the South Shore Yacht Club, an upgrade in location. and with a hot lunch afterwards.

Plus, among all the wonderful volunteers, all the boat captains and first mates, the organization has strong and able members of the Milwaukee Fire Department who specialize in waterfront protection. These hearty fellows literally transport wheel-chaired participants to and fro, dock to the fishing boat. This photo depicts this critical aspect of enablement.

Milwaukee Fire Department volunteers hoist FHNB participant Luis Classen from the boat into his wheelchair, after our outing. Luis’s advocate, his nephew Alex Classen, watches at far right, and Captain Rick Sasek follows, in the background at left.


So Captain Rick Sasek’s cabin cruiser, The Salmon Safari, headed out on a chilly overcast morning. My participant mates were two quadriplegic men, Darrin Malsack and Luis Classen who, of the two, has the more advanced condition, at a C-6 cervical level. So Luis’s advocate assistance by his nephew, Alex Classen, would prove crucial. Darrin was actually a veteran fisherman who recounted catching a 75-inch sailfish in Florida and waxed rhapsodic about someday building the ideal fishing boat for his kind, which would enable him to fish standing up. “You can’t fish sitting down,” he mused.

Well, you can. Such an actual moment revealed the poignant value of FHNB. Here, such challenged people can let their angler’s dreams begin to unfurl, and catch the wind. It was Luis’s turn to reel in a fish. A salmon began fighting at the end of the line. His nephew Alex leapt into the fray and gripped the rod two-handed as Luis gamely began cranking in the line. Both his hands are significantly atrophied (like my left one), so he had to alternate hands in the long reeling effort. But he did it — the feisty fish finally flopped into the boat.

This was a prelude to the outing’s true climax. This time, able-bodied young Alex had the rod, with its thousand foot line, when the fish hit. Captain Rick and his longtime first mate Gary Dusyzinski both cried out, knowing immediately this was a serious foe. Rick checked the reel meter, which indicated that the fish had already pulled the line out beyond 550 feet. At one point, the mighty creature breached into the air and, even from this distance, prompted “oohs” and “ahhs.” Rick took the rod to demonstrate a technique for an extended battle  — alternated reeling with walking backwards with the taut rod to mid-deck.

After a bit of this in-the-moment instruction, he handed the rod back to Alex, who got the technique down pretty quickly. Still, this remained a hearty match against a strong fish’s will and guile. For a few moments, we thought we’d lost him but the line kept bouncing taut again. I had never witnessed anything like this. I flashed on the term “Nantucket sleighride,” used by 19th-century whalers when they were pulled along by a running, harpooned whale. It took 25 minutes before the silver-and-gray flashing fish finally arrived within netting distance. He proved too big for the net and jumped out once. I was slightly agog as Rick finally hauled the netted fish up. It was a genuine, broad-chested king salmon that would measure 36 inches and weigh nearly 23 pounds, his mouth bristling with mature teeth.

“This is so rare, at this time of the year, to get one of these,” said Rick, beaming with gratitude and pride. We’d quickly caught a bunch of Coho, and such success has partly to do with a savvy captain’s reading of fish grouping patterns and a new high-tech dynamic graphics screen depicting the region directly below his vessel.  

Advocate Alex Classen poses with his 36-inch King Salmon, shortly after he reeled it in in after a long, tough fight. The Milwaukee skyline lies in the far horizon.

Rick had also attached to this line a “dipsy diver” bait mechanism, which drops to the greater depths where king (or Chinook) salmon dwell. 1

The captain was so excited that he decided to have us all pose with the sudden large haul, which the last hour or so had produced. He leaned so far back over the edge of the boat to get this photo angle that I yelled out “Man overboard!” Here’s the photo below, with the king  salmon in the middle. We actually caught two more Coho after this shot, and concluded our bountiful morning by snagging a large, gorgeously speckled lake trout.

Our Fishing Has No Boundaries crew poses with our partial catch of salmon including Alex’s king salmon in the center. From left: Alex Classen, Darrin Malsack, Luis Classen and Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular). Photo by Capt. Rick Sasek. 

The captain knowingly predicted that this king salmon would be the prize-winning catch of the day, which proved exactly correct.


Chairman John Klett made the announcement as we munched on freshly grilled hamburgers and giant hotdogs and big chocolate cookies.

FHNB Chairman John Klett presents the prize-winning captain’s trophy to Salmon Safari’s Rick Sasek (left) while young Alex Classen holds the top angler’s trophy after snagging the largest fish of the day.  

In retrospect, I felt some of the respect for the great and small creatures of the watery world, whom narrator Ishmael eloquently honors in Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick. So, my first meal of one of these freshly-caught creatures, grilled up that night, held an aspect of sacred ritual. I thought of the lovely spontaneous prayer that John’s wife, Mary Nold-Klett, had offered for the gathering after the outing’s lunch. This well-conceived and organized event truly empowers the body and hoists the spirit, embodied in the great, glistening fish itself.


  1. Unfortunately I missed the WI Cannabis Expo, which happened Saturday, concurrent to the fishing outing. (As a free-lance writer for a primary Expo sponsor, The Shepherd Express, I’d received a comp ticket). But properly taking care of the salmon catch (including offering a few fresh fillets to our neighbors) took precedent.
  2.  “Chinook” is a Native American term, the name of a tribe of the American Northwest and applied here to the species of large salmon originally caught in the northern Pacific Ocean, which can grow to as large as 100 pounds.


Here’s the proper streaming and purchase source for Dontre Hamilton documentary “The Blood is at the Doorstep”

In response to my recent blog linked to my Shepherd Express comment on a recent Milwaukee-area protest march against police brutality, informed me that they held streaming and sales rights for the film The Blood is at the Doorstep. It is not properly free on YouTube as I had indicated. The film is available here: Blood is at the Doorstep

The film by Erik Ljung compellingly and often beautifully documents the quest of Dontre Hamilton’s family in pursuing justice for his unlawful killing at the hands of a Milwaukee police officer, in April of 2014 in downtown Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park.

In a positive review, Hollywood Reporter describes the film, when it played at the SXSW Film Festival in 2017:

“The policeman who killed Milwaukee resident Dontre Hamilton in April 2014, in a public park in the middle of the day, shot him 14 times. He wasn’t the first cop to approach Hamilton as he dozed in the downtown park — others had been there and seen that he was doing nothing wrong. Why an employee at a nearby Starbucks saw the need to call the police about him, and not once but twice, is one of the sorriest aspects in the horrific chain of events that robbed Hamilton’s family of their son and brother. The 31-year-old black man was schizophrenic and, except for the baton that he reportedly grabbed from the officer, unarmed.”

:”Blood” has won numerous awards from film festivals. It also has earned a 100 per cent Tomatometer rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, which has not determined its own critical consensus yet. I don’t believe the film has had widespread theatrical release. All reviews I’ve seen online have been quite positive, including my own review here:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York has conducted a Q and A session (below) with the film director and Hamilton family members, including his mother and brother Nate Hamilton, who is pictured below and in my blog’s current theme photo (in the red jersey), talking with Milwaukee Police Chief, Alberto Morales, Here’s the photo by Jonathan Klett, one of the most recent manifestation’s of the family’s ongoing fight for justice for Dontre’s killing:

Dontre Hamilton’s brother Nate (in red jersey) talks with MPD chief during a recent protest against police bruality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Photo by Jonathan Klett 

Here is the Lincoln Center Q&A with the Hamilton family about Dontre and the film:


“I can breathe” means I can write, about love in a time of angry protest

A protest march, including the author, against police brutality moves through Whitefish Bay Saturday. Photo for Shepherd Express by Tea Krulos

On Sunday morning, I wrote a commentary piece on the police brutality protest march I had participated in the day before.  The march had special meaning to me because it’s the first one of the current marches I know of that penetrated Shorewood, the nearby suburb where I grew up from my adolescence, and on into Whitefish Bay, engulfing the main thoroughfares of both municipalities.

What struck me first was the fact that I, in fact, could breathe — at the first protest march I’d partook of since the coronavirus, considering I’m quite at risk in my 60s and suffer from asthma. I thought the phrase  “I can breathe,” mirroring George Floyd’s, might be a headline phrase when I decided to submit it to the Shepherd Express, which accepted and published it yesterday in their online edition 1

Express editor David Luhrssen decided that a theme within the piece was a more striking headline, and I think he was right (I combine both ideas in my headline here). After seeing a protester wearing a red cap with the phrase, “Make America love again,” I pondered whether John Lennon’s famous notion about the power of love had potency and potential in our current crisis. I only wish I had added some lines from his great song “All You Need is Love.” So I will quote some rather profound lyrics from the song as I lead you to a link to my Shepherd Express commentary:

There is nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn

how to be you in time.

It’s easy…

( my italics)

Perhaps it’s not always easy. But Lennon’s simple rhetorical assertion leads to the idea off applying love to the problem, perhaps learning to love in a Christ-like manner. Lennon’s notion that we can learn, through activism, how to be who we really are (or “praying with our legs” as Frederick Douglass put it) rather than through passive being or existence, is what strikes me.

The link to my Shepherd Express commentary on the protest

And thanks for reading, and for trying to be who you really are.

In addition, here are the two sides of the protest sign I made and used for the March including my satirical drawing of Donald Trump:

I didn’t arrange the book titles shown beside the sign, but their titles serendipitously resonate with ideas explicit or implicit in my Shepherd Express article. The small book at top is a portion of the Bible illustrated by Marc Chagall. 

This backside of the sign at top, from a previous march protesting police violence as supported by Trump, received plenty of comments during the march. Photos by Kevin Lynch.

Activism is also crucially about dialog as well as dissent. I’m also sharing images below, by Jonathan Klett, of Milwaukee Police Chief Alberto Morales. Here he’s talking, at a Veteran’s Park protest Sunday, with Nate Hamilton (in red jersey), the brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by a MPD officer at Red Arrow Park a few years ago — the subject of the acclaimed documentary Blood is on the Doorstep. I allude to Morales’ defiant comments and to the film’s title in my SE article. I was also troubled by the fact that Morales lowered his mask to speak face-to-face with Hamilton. Is this a version of Donald Trump’s macho posturing about not wearing a mask during the COVID crisis?

Nate Hamilton (left, in red jersey) speaks with MPD chief Alberto Morales. Photo by Jonathan Klett.

Here is a brief video by Jonathan Klett of MPD Chief Morales being dissed away from the Veteran’s Park protest:

Morales leaving protest

I highly recommend Blood is at the Doorstep, about Hamilton’s death and his family’s effort towards justice, now available for streaming or purchase. I reviewed it in this blog:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

Thanks to Klett for this link to the film:



1 The ceasing of the Shepherd Express print edition has forced the permanent lay-off of much SE staff, including my friends John Schneider and Rip Tenor (a.k.a. Art Kumbalek), a sad turn of events.