AHOY! A pontoon full of South Haven Living Center residents drifts on Lake Wanahoo State Recreation Area for one of Live Well Go Fish’s maiden voyages in May. As the nonprofit’s first season comes to a close, nearly 1,000 veterans, seniors and people with disabilities took to the water through the program. (Staff Photo by Sam Farmer)

WAHOO – The first season for Live Well Go Fish has been a success.

With the original goal of taking 600 individuals on boating and fishing cruises on Lake Wanahoo, Founder David Ruder surpassed that number this month with over 100 trips and nearly 1,000 individuals on the water.

“What’s interesting is how much fishing we didn’t do,” Ruder said.

The nonprofit organization started with simple intentions of boating and fishing, but evolved into an enhanced experience based on the clientele that included teaching moments, wildlife observation, kite flying, tailgating and karaoke.

Ruder said the majority of this season’s participants were from skilled care and assisted living residences.

On tours across Lake Wanahoo, north of Wahoo, the resident bald eagles were always a big hit, Ruder said.

Other groups managed to chronicle and photograph a barn swallow build a nest on an exposed tree stump, lay eggs and feed a nest full of baby birds, he said.

Kite flying and karaoke were also big hits, but none of the activities could have taken shape the way they did without the volunteers, Ruder said.

Volunteers like John Ell of Colon started helping out on trips at the beginning of the season, and eventually made two trips a week with participants as numbers grew over the summer, Ruder said.

“I can’t say enough good things about John,” Ruder said.

Ell said he had never met Ruder before May and volunteered to help out because he liked to fish.

“But it turned into something completely different,” Ell said. “I thought I was going to be helping people fish, but it turned out to be helping people experience life again.”

Ell said several participants could not fish for various reasons, but simply enjoyed the experience of getting out.

“So many came out with some level of anticipation and excitement, but when we were done, they were just doubling over with excitement and joy,” he said.

One of the more memorable trips for Ell was with a memory care unit.

Ell said the trip was like any other boat tour until they turned on the music.

Ruder said they played music from the old Hee Haw television show and the memory care participants knew every word and joined along singing.

With the evolution of the program this first year, Ruder said he has a few things he will change for next year.

This will include some automatic reels for those with arthritis and sound bobbers for the visually impaired.

Ruder said he also hopes to have more volunteers next year.

This year, Ruder said he had about 40 volunteers, who mostly were only able to help on weekends.

Ruder said he would like to be on the lake during the week when there is less traffic, but volunteers with that kind of time availability have been harder to find.

Ruder said he also appreciated the general community support from Wahoo.

All but two of this year’s excursions took place at Lake Wanahoo, he said. This allows for him to funnel groups back into town after their excursion for food.

Ruder said he’s also developed positive relationships in town when obtaining fishing supplies.

Ruder said he hopes to continue developing relationships and working with the community for years to come.

For more information about volunteering with Live Well Go Fish, visit its Facebook site or website at livewellgofish.org.

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