Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Alice Christman, a very special angler

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A couple of weeks ago, I featured the MassWildlife Gold Pin and Angler of the Year Awards. You may remember that picture of six-year-old Alice Christman holding that big carp. She cleaned house by capturing eight gold and eight bronze pins in the MassWildlife Youth Catch and Keep Category. She ended up getting a pin for 16 out of the 22 species of fish included in the program. Is it any wonder that she was named Angler of the Year?

Her dad, Josh Christman, deserves a lot of credit for the time involved in taking Alice fishing on the various lakes and rivers. A lot of time was spent traveling, he said. He has to be a superb angler in his own right for knowing where to have Alice fish.

While interviewing Josh, he revealed to me that Alice is autistic and he doesn't mind my telling the readers of this column. She really took to fishing and has been fishing since age 2.

"Fishing relaxes her, there's something about the repetitive motion," Josh Christman said. His message to parents of other autistic children is: "Take them fishing. Don't be embarrassed, they like activity and it helps them to adjust to the outside world."

He would like to see an Autism Awareness Trout Derby. He is currently working on organizing one and getting people to sponsor it.

"It is very hard for parents of autistic kids to go out in public," he said. "It is discouraging because they have sensory needs and it can become very difficult and sometimes embarrassing in public. They may have a moment, and it deters some parents from taking their kids out. Parents kind of look for more sheltered activities."

Josh took the opposite approach and he didn't care what people thought, for his only focus was Alice.

"Alice really took to fishing. She is a trooper," said Christman, noting that there are times when he looks outside on days which may be too hot or rainy and says that he doesn't want to go out. But, Alice says, "big fish dad, let's go," and so he takes her out.

That's why I followed up on this story. Perhaps Josh's words can be an inspiration to other parents.

"The spectrum is huge and during the last 10 years people are finally understanding that," he said. "Back in the day, autism was labeled differently, and now we realize there is a spectrum, a huge spectrum and every kid is an individual on it and they are at their own place. No one kid with autism is like another and unfortunately a lot of times people wrap autism up with mental challenges. It is not that at all and I would encourage parents to figure out what works best for their kids and test it and don't be afraid to be embarrassed out in public, because the kids sometimes have a meltdown."

"I dragged her out to these derbies because she hated crowded areas, but she loved fishing. It calmed her down. I would mix it in a trip. We would go to Walmart, to get what we needed for the fishing trip because it kind of exposed her [getting her out to the public], and then go fishing," he said. "You just kind of mix in a little at a time and now she is fishing, swimming with the other kids, horseback riding, etc. She is doing everything, all of the fun stuff that a lot of other autistic kids miss out on."

Josh's wife, Jessica, is a teacher who has a master's degree in special education. Getting into special education was inspired by their daughter because of her special needs. Now, Jessica is working more with that population because she understands the issues dealing with them on a daily basis.

Today, there is more autism awareness, but Josh wishes there was a little bit more in the Berkshires.

"Some folks don't quite understand it, but for the most part there are a lot of people who are very lovely and helpful in Pittsfield," he said. "There is an organization named Autism Connection in Pittsfield and it does a good job working with parents as well. They help parents with autistic children transition. They can help parents dial in to use some tools that will be of help."

Autism Connections' website says it "assists individuals diagnosed with autism residing in Western Massachusetts. For information regarding eligibility, services, and the intake process, contact Autism Connections at 413-529-2428 or toll-free 800-892-7003, or email autismconnectionsma@pathlightgroup.org."

On Saturday, March 21, Alice and her family will be at the Sportfishing Awards Program at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough to receive her many awards and plaques. She might very well be the youngest recipient to ever receive such awards. She just turned six in December.

Personally, I think her dad Josh should get an award of some kind too, for all his efforts to help Alice experience as many of the joys of childhood as possible. Especially the joys of fishing. Check out the attached pictures, one of them speaks volumes. Don't look at it too long as your eyes may become a little teary.

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Hunter Education Courses

The East Mountain Sportsman Club will be conducting a six-session Hunter Education Course at its clubhouse on 312 Henderson Road in Williamstown. The sessions will run Mondays and Fridays for three weeks from 6 to 9 p.m. on April 6, 10, 13, 17, 20 and 24.

The Ashfield Rod & Gun Club will be conducting a two-day Hunter Education course with Independent Study. The times are Tuesday, March 31 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. and on Saturday, April 11 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendance on both dates is required.

To enroll in either course, call 508-389-7830.

Small Game Season

The rabbit, hare and fox hunting seasons closed late this past week. The bobcat and coyote seasons close this Saturday, March 7.

Don't let yourself get out of shape. Wild turkey hunting opens on April 27 (April 25 for Youth Hunting Day). You'll want to stay in shape for traipsing through the woods and fields scouting for suitable hunting areas.

International Fly-Fishing Film Festival

The Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be hosting a Fly-Fishing Film Festival on Friday, March 6 at the Crissy Farm site at the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m., with the show getting underway at approximately 6:15. There will be door prizes awarded. Early comers can eat at the Brewery and/or get refreshments at the film showing.

Tickets are available online at www.showclix.com/event/if42020greatbarringtonma for $12. Tickets sold at the door will be $15.

Club Turkey Shoots

The Lee Sportsmen's Association will be having turkey shoots at its club starting today and running every Sunday through March 29. The shooting hours are from 1 to 4 p.m.. Winners will be taking home NY strip steaks, turkeys, pork loins and spiral hams.

Ladies LTC Classes

The Lenox Sportsmen's Club will be holding its second Ladies Only License-to-Carry and Utah firearms course next Sunday, March 8. The course, which is Massachusetts State Police Compliant will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The standalone prices for the various states are: $70 Mass., $125 Utah, $125 Ariz., $125 Conn. and $125 Fla. Combine any two for $150, any additional state above two is $50.

Pre-registration is required. Contact Tom Nadolny at 413-822-6451 or tnadolny1@gmail.com for more information.

Correction

Last week I listed the winners of the 34th Harry A. Bateman Memorial Jimmy Fund Ice Fishing Derby. The name of that derby was incorrectly listed. It was the 34th Annual Berkshire County Jimmy Fund Council Ice Fishing Derby. It is held in memory of Jelly Gelinus, Kathy Saldo, and John and Chris Porter. The derby is run by Leo Kruczkowski and Chico Gelinis. The winners of that derby were correctly listed last week. Please accept my apologies for the error.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: 413-637-1818


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