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Bark’s Bytes #40 | Fishing on Lake Covidtogoma

Published August 12, 2020

John Wayne Barker with fish at lake

“Fishing for an answer” is not an uncommon phrase here in Minnesota and is certainly one way to describe what the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) has been doing since mid-March, with the support of 67 Senators and a few Representatives, in getting Covid-19 guidance from the Commissioner of DHS and emergency funding from the Governor. I recently went on a fishing trip with two-day program colleagues that gave me the opportunity to put the last 5 months into some perspective.

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The story takes place on Lake Covidtogama in Northern Minnesota. A place that is often referred to as “God’s Country” for its pristine water, solid shoreline, beautiful forest, and quality lifestyle. The two-day expedition was to catch some Lake Covidtogama “gold” otherwise known as clarity in how to accomplish our missions in serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) despite bureaucratic irresponsibility (slot limit) and gubernatorial shirking (poop). One colleague has a cabin on Lake Covidtogama and was our fishing guide for the weekend. His name is Bill and I will call him B1. He has decades of experience with a very large boat (program) that has all the technology needed to fish in different depths and conditions. The other colleague is also a Bill and I will call him B2. He has decades of experience in a medium-size boat with all the gear needed to fish in many different lakes and rivers. Myself, I have 22 years of flyfishing experience wandering in small streams.

After talking to some localtors, one a very Able guide, about the fishing regulations, the first day started by trying to catch some “keepers.” All we saw that morning was a huge blip on the fishfinder screen that we dubbed the Fishioner along with a particular Gullernor that was perching on all the other boats. We made many attempts to catch the Fishioner knowing that with her “in hand” it would keep our boat afloat and also kept hoping for a visit from the Gullernor to make sure enough fuel was in our tank. After what seemed like 6 weeks of nibbling on our bait the Fishioner disappeared from the screen and the Gullernor only refueled other boats. We took a lunch break to discuss options, talk to some localtors and boatives, and gathered our collective resolve before heading to a bay known for catching keepers. I thought I had caught the first keeper of the day when suddenly the Fishioner snatched it off my hook. Still, we kept fishing and, although it seemed like weeks went by, B1 and B2 did eventually catch a few keepers. B1 even took us to a remote section of Lake Covidtogama but only B2 caught a keeper. While fishing B1 shared his concerns about having to reorganize his boat, B2 was frustrated that none of his gear was working, and I was just pissed at being skunked by the Fishioner. We called it a day when the Gullernor flew over and pooped on our boat. Back at the cabin we filleted our keepers knowing that it was not enough for a meal, cleaned the boat, and vowed to do MOHR.

With localtors and boatives cheering on the docks, the second day we headed for deeper water hoping to find some bigger fish. After 3 hours of no luck, we went back to the bay and caught a few keepers but were well below 50% of our limit before heading back to the cabin. We noted that at 2 p.m., on both days the Gullernor perched on a rock near us, flapped his wings mightily, screeched something we could not understand, and pooped on our boat as he flew away. We never did see the Gullernor again and guessed he was probably covering his beak while bargaining with some of his favorite boatives. Running out of time, and determined to save our boat, we headed for the deepest water that afternoon. It was almost dark when I hooked something big that we had not seen on the screen. It was powerful, cunning, and very evasive. Still, with B1 maneuvering the boat, B2 on the net, and a lot of support from the localtors we CAUGHT the Fishioner. The localtors and many of the boatives celebrated with us that, having been caught, the Fishioner could no longer avoid being clear on how we could resume our mission in serving people with I/DD and the Gullernor would have to refuel our tank. We were wrong. Even after being pinned down there was no way to avoid the slot limit and the Fishioner had to be released. Adding insult to injury, there was new poop on our boat. Discouraged, we went back to the dock. That night we shared a few adult beverages, were reassured by the localtors, and uplifted by comments from others on how satisfying, safe, healthy, and important our fleet of boats are to people with I/DD having a quality life. We left for home encouraged that with the ongoing support of most of the localtors and boatives, along with the many heart-wrenching stories about our fleet being overlooked by the Fishioner and Gullernor, MOHR would find a way to keep our boats afloat.

The story does have somewhat of a happy ending. MOHR went on a third fishing trip and, with pressure from all 67 localtors and all but 1 of the 130 boatives, got the Gullernor to refuel our fleet. It was too late for two boats that had already sunk and might not be enough for many boats seriously leaking. Still, it was a good day for hundreds of boats that have a better chance to operate. However, the Fishioner is lurking in the deep water and hard to catch; and we need to share how much our boats were missed when the 26,000 people we serve were in isolation so that the localtors and boatives dispute her claim that we are outdated models that need to be retired. Instead, she needs to leave them as an option on the dock for those that want pristine water, a solid shoreline, beautiful forests, and a quality lifestyle of their choice and add whatever new-fangled expensive toys they want to the marina. The people that use our boats have spoken and change is not what they want nor is it required by the dockmaster. Will the Fishioner continue to evade the issue and let a few misguided and outspoken critics sink the boats that 26,000 people with I/DD use to have their best life or use the Olmstead Plan to protect informed choice? Perhaps Judge Frank needs to go fishing?