by a big...
Yet, for some reason, I was still smiling, happy and had a supreme sense of satisfaction as I drove to the weigh-in/awards ceremony. The confused looks and "you're kidding, right" statements continued there, but I went on to explain to them that I had a different goal that day.
Every year there's a group of people that take some veterans from the nearby hospitals and gets them out on the water to fish during the tournament. I decided to be a part of that group. At the end of the day, Ben Swenson of Virginia Wildlife Magazine wanted a quick interview, so I obliged, and most of the questions were easy... was this your first time volunteering for this... yes... do you think you'll do it again... yes... but there was one question that I couldn't answer very quickly. "Why?" "What made you decide to do this?” My mind was running so fast... I'm usually a very competitive person and I love these types of events... so why did I decide to forego the enjoyment of competing? Why would I use that precious time away from my family and personal fishing endeavors for something like this? I don't have any strong connections to the military. I dislike politics. I just didn't have an immediate answer for him.
Maybe I just wanted something cool to write about on my blog. Maybe I thought it would make me look like a "good guy" in the kayak fishing community. Or maybe it was the perfect opportunity for me to really help someone by sharing the passion I have for this sport. And not just anyone, but someone who has put his country before himself... someone who did what our country as a whole needed him to do and now he's stuck in a hospital. I know if I was in his shoes, I'd love it if someone took me fishing.
Maybe I volunteered because I've always felt like I owed a debt of gratitude to the veterans of this country. I was born here, grew up here, and enjoyed the freedom my entire life. My parents came here from South Korea back in the mid 70's, not only because this country opened its doors to a certain number of immigrants from there, but also because of the veterans who fought the Korean War. The outcome of that war would obviously be very different if it hadn't been for those veterans and I would not here today love life to the fullest, and you would not be reading this.
Maybe I didn't have an answer for Ben Swenson because I didn't know how to bring up the subject of my wife's beloved grandfather, who recently passed away last month. He served in the United States Army and was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge and three bronze stars for his service in Korea. You can imagine the sense of gratitude I have, especially when I was around him. Here I am, in the greatest country in the world, enjoying all the freedoms that come with it because of the service and sacrifices made by him and the other veterans of the Korean War. And to top it off, I got to marry his granddaughter. I made sure he knew that she was in good hands with me, and he was many times the recipient of a fillet or two from my outings along with the treasured visits from his great grandkids.
I know this would have made him happy and proud.
Mark Lozier gives a few pointers to the veterans
I took Lance Corporal Israel Ramirez out to Rudee Inlet in my Redfish 12. He had been too many places including Greece and Lybia and now had several pins in his right hand along with a cast. Knowing that I shouldn't push him, we started off pretty relaxed. I just wanted him to have a good time on the water. But after chatting and getting to know him, I realized he was pretty mission driven and today's mission was to catch a fish. It's something he had never done before and it was my goal to help him achieve that. His casting got better as the day progressed and his paddle strokes got stronger. He couldn't quite grip the paddle all the way and I told him to let me know if his hand was bothering him and that we could take a break. But like a true marine, he told me "pain is weakness leaving the body" and trucked on as I nodded and smiled. Shortly thereafter, I got him to hook up and I was ecstatic when he caught his first fish ever.
He caught 2 more spot (bigger than the first) and a nice pinfish as well. When we got off the water for lunch it was obvious the vets were all glad to have gotten a little therapy on the water and it did them good. They had so much to talk about and at least for a short while, their minds were away from the heavy burdens they accumulated through their previous experiences and long stays in the hospital.
Later on, Israel came up and told me that his buddies from the same hospital couldn't believe he caught 4 fish. The others enjoyed themselves on the water, but were not able to catch anything. That added a certain level of satisfaction for me, knowing I helped him get those bragging rights!
There's definitely something magical about powering yourself though the water. Add the lure of angling and the therapy is undeniable. For more information about the program helping the vets, check out the Heroes on the Water page and Project Healing Waters page.
All the proceeds from the tournament went towards those programs so even those that didn't fish with a veteran still helped out. They are two great organizations that definitely deserve our support. If you live in the mid-Atlantic, enjoy kayak fishing, and have not attended this event before, please consider trying next year. The camaraderie is second to none and the raffle is out of this world. Here's a link to some more info about the tournament and the results.
On a side note, after the weigh-in and award ceremony, I ventured back out to the HRBT for a few more hours of personal fishing time. I quickly picked up a 19" flounder, 5 schoolie stripers and a few good size croaker.
About the Author: Rob Choi is an avid kayak angler from the Chesapeake Bay area in Virginia and a Pro Staff Member at Yakangler.com. He has earned a reputation among the locals as the fish junkie with reckless abandon to logic, time, and societal norms in his pursuit for the "tug that is the drug". He shares his love of the sport through his blog www.angling-addict.com.