Invention helping people with spinal cord injuries fish again

One man is showing that even if you have limited mobility, that doesn’t mean you need limited access to recreation.

“Recreation is how a lot of people identify themselves,” inventor Peter Pauwels said. “People with disabilities don’t have to lead secluded lives because in this country we’ve made everything accessible.”

Pauwels has been adapting fishing gear for more than 30 years. Putting his engineering skills to task, his gadgets allow people with compromised motor skills to get out and enjoy Montana’s waters. Some of his fishing gear use everyday materials like hook and loop fabric, or springs to simulate the grip strength or dexterity to reel in a fish.

Pauwels said he spends the effort to make the gear because he wants the outdoors to be accessible.

“Well, it’s inclusive. We are all in this community together, and it enables us to all just get out there and do it,” Pauwels said.

He runs a fishing camp for people with disabilities, but on Wednesday at Silver’s Lagoon, he demonstrated to people with spinal cord injuries what is possible. The demonstration was a part of a week-long summer camp organized by Empower Spinal Cord Injury, for people to learn all the many ways they can still do what they love. Director Carrie Callahan described the transformation in clients who are surrounded by support.

“A lot of times it can be emotional for people who go through it because they are not often surrounded by people who do say ‘yes,” Callahan said. “A lot of times there are things that have been dimmed for them. So, finding out how to connect with that and make it possible.”

Pauwels said the people learning to fish here are an example that Montanans are resilient and want to get out there.

“You may have had an injury that is going to stay with you, but through adaptations, maybe we figure out something that works, then we are back at the sports we’ve always liked to do.”

For more information on Pauwels and his work, visit

By: James Dobson, KPAX

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