Just a few weeks ago, I had the honor of participating in a special fishing tournament put on by Freedom Fighter Outdoors. Launched in February of 2014, F.F.O. runs 4 to 6 fishing tournaments a year out of Lighthouse Point, FL and Montauk, NY for the benefit our Veterans. The night before fishing, F.F.O. hosted a wonderful dinner for the Veterans, volunteers and supporters. The logistics for the next day of fishing was discussed and gift bags were handed out to the Veterans and boat captains. It certainly was a great atmosphere and a fun way to kick off the event.
The next morning, everyone gathered at Lighthouse Point Marina in anticipation of a fun day. I was assigned to fish aboard Shaka, a 39’ SeaVee with Capt. Jac Paul-Hus at the helm. Joining us for the day was SGT Mike Burke and SGT Brian Bradley. Both served overseas in the U.S. Army. Mike served in Iraq from 2006 to 2008. Brian served two tours in Iraq in 2003 to 2004 and 2006 to 2008 and a third tour in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
We headed out of Hillsboro Inlet with wahoo on our brains as the tide and moon were perfect. Just north of Boca, mates Joe Peros and Anthony Ard got the baits in the water behind the planers and it was on. Within a few minutes, we had the first bite and Brian jumped on the rod. Cranking with his left hand on the conventional reel was a bit awkward, but within a few minutes, we had a decent barracuda in the boat. Next is was Mike’s turn and he made quick work of another barracuda. The ocean was teaming with life and we saw many schools of blackfin tuna and bonito crashing baits on the surface. Certainly there had to be some wahoo feeding under those schools.
Capt. Jac and I discussed switching gears and putting up the kites to see if we could get our Freedom Fighters on the numerous tuna and bonito, but he wanted to stick with the planers for a few more minutes. Then it happened. The port side planer went off and it was on. Mike hopped on the rod and started cranking. Once the planer was to the rod tip, Joe began to hand line the fish towards the boat and he commented that there was some weight to it. As the fish got close to the boat we could see the color. It was a nice wahoo and he was lit up big time. The fish tried to make another run, but Anthony stuck it with the gaff and the battle was over. We all began to hoot and holler and there was no shortage of high fives. Mission accomplished! We made a quick move and set up a drift with the kite up and a few flat lines. For the next hour or so, our Veterans took turns reeling in kingfish and bonito. At that point, it really didn’t matter if we caught anything else. We reeled everything in and headed back towards the inlet with the tunes cranking.
Back at the marina, everyone gathered at the Nauti Dog restaurant for a first class lunch where prizes donated by sponsors of Freedom Fighter Outdoors were handed out to the Veterans. Everyone in attendance had smiles on their faces and the fellowship we all shared was amazing. Personally, I was humbled by the entire experience. It was a pleasure to spend the day with Mike and Brian, as well as the crew of Shaka.
Freedom Fighter Outdoors is a first class organization that is making a difference in the lives of injured service members and their families. Integrating back into civilian life after military service is not an easy transition for many of our Veterans. By raising awareness and seeking public aid to help with needs, services and activities, Freedom Fighter Outdoors is making great strides in assisting our nation’s injured Veterans.
~ Gene Dyer