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Outdoors Column: Soldiers in recovery have a new battle cry — “Fish on!”

Captain Fred Forsythe nets two fish with one net while Staff Sgt. Georghe Banaduc and wife, Jessica, share in the walleye and lake trout bounty of Lake Erie during the “Fishing With Heroe’s” weekend.
By Forrest Fisher, Rod, Gun & Game

Dozens of volunteers and charter captains were privileged to assist with the third annual “Fishing With Heroes” event dedicated to providing U.S. Army soldiers in medical recovery stationed at Fort Drum in Watertown, with an all-expense paid weekend of unforgettable free fishing adventure.

The event is the idea of Lake Erie Barcelona Harbor Charter Captain Fred Forsythe of Cast Away Charters and the effort receives much support from Erie County sportsmen groups including Bison City Rod and Gun, East Aurora Fish and Game, West Falls Conservation Society, Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, Depew Lancaster Aerie 2692 Fraternal Order of Eagles and others.

Three years ago, Forsythe and his wife, Darlene, contacted the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Brigade Light Infantry Division at Camp Drum and discovered that soldiers in combat injury rehabilitation were in various states of healing in nearby Watertown, NY. Some of the soldiers were veterans of Desert Storm and more recent military activities in Afghanistan, and these soldiers in recovery were assigned to the 385th Warrior Transition Battalion. Of the 91 soldiers in the unit, 12 of them were well enough along in their recovery and were authorized to make a fishing road trip.

The soft-spoken Captain Forsythe is a Lake Erie fishing expert that has worked very hard since then to assure meals, lodging and a weekend of fishing comfort for soldier troops that are able to participate. The 12 soldiers hail from California, Texas, North Carolina and other corners of the United States, some with their prosthetic devices clearly visible where they had lost a leg to an improvised explosive device (IED), otherwise known as a roadside bomb.

The soldiers are mentally tough enough to be able to talk about their battleground moments, allowing some of the rest of us to share in the state of their fear and their honest bravery in the name of freedom. War is a terrible thing, this fishing event hopes to help with the healing.

Sergeant Shawn Tichnor from Brainerd, Minn., who knows Ron and Al Lindner of In-Fishermen fame, stepped on an IED while on patrol in South Afghanistan, south of Kandahar. With a metal leg, he is up to running four miles a day and works out in the gym three times a week, which is amazing determination and courage! I stopped feeling lazy after that conversation. Tichenor plans to stay in the Army 20 to 25 years and make a career of it. He says he can pass all the physical tests.

The non-commissioned Officer-In-Charge (NCO) of the group is Staff Sergeant Georghe Banaduc, a natural leader type, who travelled here with his wife, Jessica. The two are raising four daughters through Georghe’s military duty.

The fishing weekend is run from the Barcelona Harbor area where the plan is to fish for Lake Erie walleyes on one day and Chautauqua Lake for muskies and bass the next day, deciding where to go based on weather.

The grin on my face came from all of the soldiers I spoke with addressing me as “sir.” I told them just calling me Forrest would be fine and joked, “but then we’d have to remember your name!” They had me laughing. Everyone else too.

The “Fishing With Heroes” weekend ran from Friday through Sunday, and Forsythe put the soldiers up with lodging for the weekend at the Theatre Hotel on Route 20 in nearby Westfield, only two miles from Barcelona Harbor. This hotel provides clean rooms, a hot shower and unlimited free ice for fishermen.

On Friday night, the recovering veterans were at Blue Water Campground, located on Route 5, right on Lake Erie, where owner Donna and Brian Hayes provided use of their dining hall, beach and picnic grounds for a good old-fashioned corn roast from Chautauqua Lake Musky Guide, Larry Jones, a mouth-watering Lake Erie walleye fish fry by Don Knappenberger and a secret recipe chicken roast by others at the campground.

The chicken and fish just melted with the first bite, incredibly delicious. To top off the great start, Darlene Forsythe and Sally Walter sliced a huge cake dessert which was shared by all the soldiers, charter captains and volunteers. Some of us may have gained a few pounds this weekend.

The next morning found us at breakfast with Commander Bob McIntosh at Westfield VFW Post 6764, McIntosh is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. Commander Dave Bower of the Ripley VFW and Ladies Auxiliary President, June Schuster, and others, assisted with a non-low calorie meal that would keep is fueled for most of the fish-catching day ahead.

The soldiers were fishing with six charter captains from 7 a.m. through 1 p.m. and tallied 74 walleye that ranged from 15 inches long to 9.2 pounds. Among the charters joining Forsythe were Capt. Jim Tunney (Looney Tunes Sportfishing), Capt. Don Walter (Eerie Eyes Sportfishing), Master Capt. Jeff Whipple (Whip-It Sportfishing) and others. The fish were suspended about 55 feet down in 65 to 100 feet of water, with sideplaners and downriggers catching most of the fish on stickbaits and spinner/worm rigs. Worms were provided by Jack Strawbrich of Weeklies Wholesale Bait in Hamburg.

A semi-formal dinner held at Zebro’s Harbor House Restaurant, right on the lake in Barcelona, was the treat for the soldiers on Saturday night with Forsythe presenting $100 Penn fishing reel gifts from Pure Fishing, $75 Gander Mountain gift cards, Mustad Hooks and the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen. A rod/reel package and the “Big Fish” plaque went to 18-year U.S. Army veteran, Sergeant Walter Pickering, with a 9.2-pound walleye, while a rod/reel “boobie prize” for smallest fish award was a tie between Sergeant Scott Moreau and Specialist Alexander Maves with 15-inch walleye. An informal “biggest walleye” fun pool was held by the soldiers where Jessica Banaduc, wife of the NCO, took honors with an 8.25-pound walleye (Sgt. Pickering didn’t enter the pool!).

The next day, on Sunday, nationally famous Chautauqua Lake musky guide, Larry Jones, a Vietnam war veteran himself, led the charge with six new charter guides, including Sam Schrecengost of “Sam I AM Charters,” Tom Marks of “GR8 Lakes Fishing Adventures,” Captain Bob Green of “Chautauqua Angling,” Captain Ed Crag of “Reel Rippin Musky Charters” and others.

The soldiers enjoyed another delicious start with breakfast at Mayville VFW Post 8647, hosted by Harold and Ingrid Norton, Eileen Powers and Harry Gonzalez. With the soldier’s appetites satisfied, the focus turned to catching bass and musky, with technical talk of fishing strategy and lure choices. All boats launched and began their fishing day by 8 a.m. It wasn’t long after that a heavy rain storm ended the fishing early, but not without the fun of the fishing helping to dissolve the memories of a terrible war experience in a foreign land far from the freedom of America and Chautauqua Lake.

Contact Captain Fred Forsythe at 560-9216 or visit online at www.castawaycharters.net to contribute to this event coordinated with soldiers stationed in recovery at the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Brigade Light Infantry Division facility in Camp Drum. These soldiers may never forget their experiences overseas, but I have a feeling they may never forget this incredible weekend that took place in the land of the free, a place that their military service helped to keep free.

Lake Erie sample shows signs of Asian Carp

Federal and state wildlife officials working in conjunction with academic researchers earlier this week announced that six water samples taken from Lake Erie bays at Sandusky and north Maumee tested positive for the presence of Asian carp environmental DNA. The positive samples were among 417 taken from Lake Erie in August 2011 and more than 2,000 samples taken from the Great Lakes Basin since 2010.

The Lake Erie batch was recently analyzed and test results were confirmed by eDNA researchers this week. The six positive samples represent less than 1.5 percent of the Lake Erie samples. Reports show that four samples from Sandusky Bay, in Ohio waters, tested positive for bighead carp eDNA, while two samples from north Maumee Bay, in Michigan waters, were positive for silver carp eDNA.

In response to these findings, electro-shocking and netting began last Friday in Sandusky Bay (Ohio) with no evidence of Asian carp found. Additional testing and monitoring are planned by the Ohio and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources in conjunction with partner agencies. The findings indicate the presence of genetic material left behind by the species, such as scales, excrement or mucous, but not the establishment of Asian carp in Lake Erie. Positive eDNA tests are regarded by the scientific community as an indicator of the species’ recent presence, however, positive results can occur whether the organism is alive or dead.

Asian carp, including bighead and silver carp, pose a significant threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. Anglers are urged to become familiar with the identification of Asian carp, including both adults and juveniles, as the spread of juvenile Asian carp through the use of live bait buckets has been identified as a potential point of entry into Great Lakes waters.

A video demonstrating how to identify bighead and silver carp can be viewed on the USFWS YouTube channel at youtu.be/B49OWrCRs38. Identification guides, frequently asked questions, management plans and an online reporting form are available at www.michigan.gov/asiancarp and www.wildohio.com, or call 1-800-WILDLIFE.

West Nile Virus hits early in Central New York

From some of our trusted friends in central New York State, laboratory results on a six-year-old crow that was found dead near Ithaca last week showed the bird tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV).

According to Bob Garrison, a noted bird expert, “This is early for crows to be dying of WNV. In past years the peak of crow deaths was in August and September.” While we seem to be having a drought, WNV is spread by mosquitoes and mosquitoes breed in wet areas, an issue we don’t have much of this year. It is important to note that people can be infected when bitten by the pesky mosquitoes. Use some mosquito repellent if you travel to central New York on vacation.
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