WAUNAKEE, Wis. -- For most of their lives, the world defines them with health terms: stroke victim, Down syndrome, quadriplegic.
For at least one weekend a year, they are united under a different banner: anglers.
"That's a dandy, Rich," said Bill Kohls, admiring a 20-inch walleye brought in by Richard Doiss. "Now come on, tell us what it hit."
Doiss is all smiles -- and all fisherman. He knows how to keep a secret.
The two men were among 100 anglers taking part in the Fishing Has No Boundaries outing on Lake Mendota.
Founded in Hayward, Wis., in 1986, FHNB is a nonprofit organization that provides fishing outings for people with disabilities. The group has 23 chapters in 11 states.
The Madison, Wis., chapter has run an event on Lake Mendota since 1995. The 2010 edition, held earlier this month, was headquartered at Governor Nelson State Park.
"We're saturated," said Bernie Wendricks, chapter chairman, referring to the 100-participant limit. "It's great to see."
A shady, lakefront corner of the state park is taken over for the event by an army, both figuratively and literally.
Some 300 volunteers are on hand to make things work, from food preparation to fishing guides. The list includes a contingent of Wisconsin Army National Guard members.
A huge tent covers dozens of tables and hundreds of folding chairs; an adjacent tent issues fishing tackle.
James Barber of Madison is the chapter's "director of equipment."
He displays a range of adaptive items available to participants. The "Strong Arm" provides an extra rod-holding appendage. Electric reels can be triggered with a finger lever or linked to a wheelchair's joystick.
The Madison chapter also assembles an impressive "navy" that includes 20 pontoon boats and 40 v-hull fishing boats.
The boats are all connected by radio. Five boats manned with emergency medical technicians also ply the waters -- making the rounds, checking on participants, waiting for calls for assistance. None come.
"It's a safety measure," Wendricks said. "It gives everyone a comfort level that if we need some help quickly, it's here."
The participants come mostly from greater Madison, but also Janesville, Fort Atkinson, Richland Center and Milwaukee. Thirty-five are in wheelchairs.
For Jon Langer of Madison, that's no problem. He wheels himself right aboard Boat No. 7 -- a pontoon owned and run by Jim Farmer -- locks his chair in position at the bow and promptly lands a 16-inch white bass.
Words aren't necessary to communicate Langer's pleasure. He smiles and waves repeatedly to passing boats on the sunny, breezy summer morning.
The Madison chapter was formed 16 years ago by Bill and Joann Jansen of Madison.
Bill had seen a newspaper article about a Hayward event and got curious about holding one closer to home, recalls Joann.
"He wanted to show 'rednecks' could do some good, too," Joann says with a laugh. "I don't think he fully appreciated the challenge."
Though Bill died in 2005, the chapter has continued on its mission. An occupational therapist, Joann says the event helps educate and introduce the participants to the sport of fishing as well as equipment that can make the sport possible for them.
"We call it the 'event,"' Joann says. "For many of the participants, it's the equivalent of a vacation. They really look forward to it."
The Madison chapter provides fishing equipment, a goody bag, bait, food, staff, boat and two days of guided fishing on Lake Mendota.
The chapter has garnered support from a long list of sponsors, including Meriter Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Madison, which provides meeting facilities throughout the year, financial support and many volunteers; Tiziani Golf Car Corporation, which provides a fleet of its vehicles to assist transportation on the park grounds; the Madison Fishing Expo (financial support) and the Yahara Fishing Club (guides and boats). The staff at Governor Nelson State Park provides the space and helps direct traffic at the boat landings.
Saturday the event ran from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Participants brought in bluegill, yellow perch and white bass, mostly, as well as a few walleye.
Volunteers then cleaned the catch and the fresh fillets augmented the Saturday fish dinner. Live music filled the air.
Though the adaptive equipment is important, nothing would happen without the human element.
Louise Koshollek, a rehabilitation nurse, was among the volunteers. Koshollek has a 2-year-old granddaughter with Down syndrome.
"I'm paying it forward," Koshollek said, hoping events like this are available in the future for her granddaughter.
Jim Campbell, an avid angler who has competed in pro walleye tournaments, is co-director of the event.
He got involved with the Madison chapter in 2001; his first angling partner was Jimmy Rux of Richland Center.
Campbell said the experience helped him put more than angling in perspective.
"You can get jaded catching lots of fish, taking things for granted," Campbell said. "Jimmy was happier reeling in his first piece of seaweed than we were catching a limit of walleye."
Rux fished with other anglers this year. But when he spotted Campbell in the big tent after lunch, the two exchanged a bear hug.
"Jim, you know what?" asked Rux, who didn't land a fish Sunday. "I still love fishing!"