Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay are wonderful assets, but not everyone is able to enjoy a day out on the water for a nice day of fishing.  However, a local minister is making that experience possible for many people who normally would be stuck on shore.

Reverend/Capt. Rob Wilson operates a fishing charter boat called the Jo-Ann M.  His charters are different than others in Erie in that his boat easily accommodates people with disabilities and special needs.

"We cater to each disability or special need on any given day.  The idea is to just offer them radical hospitality,” says Rob.

Rob founded At the Lake Ministries in 2016.  The idea came to him during a fishing outing on Lake Erie with his father.  The Western Pennsylvania Conference of United Methodist Churches liked the idea so much, it gave him permission to purchase an old commercial fishing boat, which is now the Jo-Ann M.

Elderly veterans from the Soldiers and Sailors Home have been out on the boat.  So have paraplegics in wheelchairs, also children with autism.  All of them believe the Jo-Ann M. is a special vessel.

"Where they could just come.  Where they're accepted.  Where they could come and just enjoy their surroundings, knowing they're surrounded by people who love them.  My hope is that they spend the day and realize that they're valued,” says Rob.

Students from a Life Skills class at Erie's Charter School of Excellence are on board to join Captain Rob for an excursion.  The class took a trip on the Jo-Ann M. last year and couldn't wait to come back and experience the thrill of catching a fish.  

Lisa Snyder, their teacher, remembers that first outing.

"It was the best field trip,” she said.  “Kids were on a boat for the very first time ever.  Many of them had not been fishing before.  Today, we actually have some new kids in the class and again, it's the first time they've been on a boat."

It's a great day and the fish are biting. Everyone is loving the feeling of reeling in a nice perch. Touching the fish? Well, that may be asking for a little too much.

"It was nice, but I am scared of fish though," said student Uma Sikakoti with a laugh.

The Jo-Ann M. can fit eight wheelchairs on board for each fishing trip.  To book a charter for next season, go to the organization's web site...atthelakeministries.org.   We're told it makes great Christmas gift.