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Rod, Gun & Game: War heroes have blast fishing Lake Erie

U.S. Army veteran PFC Jamie Noyes, who resides in Jamestown, poses with her prized Lake Erie trout, taken during the fourth annual “Fishing With Heroes” event at Barcelona Harbor last weekend, while fishing with Captain Fred Forsythe.
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! This is incredible! Is this really a fish?!” Her fellow soldier friends told her it was probably just a big US Army boot with lots of water in it — keep reeling. U.S. Army veteran, PFC Jamie Noyes, was simply screaming with emotion and joy as she battled a huge Lake Erie fish.

She giggled and laughed so hard – we all did, then she said, “No-No! No kidding right now, please don’t make me laugh, I don’t want to lose this fish!” It was sunny and 85 degrees, and there were beads of sweat on her forehead. She yelped, “My rod is getting slippery, can someone help me?” There was help immediately. These beads of sweat were far from any she’d have from being in a foreign dessert as her big fish was taking out line with an occasional drag-screaming moment or two.

The fish tired and finally came to net about 10 minutes later, a 31-inch lake trout that tipped the scales at just under 12 pounds. The biggest fish of her life, she plans to save up and have the fish mounted. This young lady now lives near Jamestown, and is looking for a taxidermist. What a memory! Fishing trips like this can help erase overseas battle scenes.

The fourth Annual “Fishing With Heroes” weekend event began last Friday, the charitable idea of Fred Forsythe, a charter captain at Barcelona Harbor, who thought about doing something special for recovering military veterans when his son was wounded in Iraq several years ago. Forsythe and his wife, Darlene, were deeply worried about their son’s fate, they had received little information for many weeks and thought their son, Jake, might have been lost in action. They finally received word that their son was hurt and would survive.

Since then, more than 60 combat veterans recovering from wounds have been guests of Forsythe’s “Fishing With Heroes” weekend program, held once a year. The volunteers working the event need no special invitation to help year after year. This year, the volunteer group heard quite a few first-hand stories with quite a few new words; Such terms as Taliban, Al-Queda, Kandahar, Wardak Province, Sunni-forces, Operation Phantom Phoenix and others. But the dedicated volunteers were about to change their mindset and talk about something all the veterans seemed to be very interested in — Lake Erie fishing.

As the vets enjoyed dinner at Bluewater Beach Campground with hosts, Brian and Donna Hayes, the deluxe chicken barbecue recipe of Pete Norek was complimented by fresh gourmet style walleye fish fillets from Don Knappenberger. With a location right on Lake Erie, it was just perfect. It gave the troops time to ask lots of questions about fishing, at least thoughts of the battlefield had gone for now. Volunteers shared special tales of good fishing days to help the vets identify the big fish Lake Erie trail just ahead for them.

Three ladies from recovering military combat groups were part of the veteran’s this year, all of them had an uncanny desire to go fishing. It was hard not to be impressed. After breakfast at Jack’s Restaurant, a quaint diner located right on the west shore of Barcelona Harbor, the veterans were paired up with charter captains and the fun began. Some vets shared they could hardly sleep the night before.

Several of them had a showdown with big fish, but SSGT Marcos Rodriguez, who served with the U.S. Marines and then the U.S. Army 1st Brigade/71st Infantry/10th Mountain Division in Iraq, held tightly onto his eight-foot Shimano fishing rod and Daiwa 27LG fishing reel. It occasionally screamed from the fight of a big fish aboard Captain Forsythe’s Castaway Charter fishing craft.

Rodriguez had hooked up with a nice walleye using a simple spinner/worm rig with a three-ounce clip-on weight set half way back to a lure sent 100 feet out on the side-planer boards. As Forsythe slipped the net under the 29-inch walleye, Rodriguez hollered, “Yes! That’s my first-ever walleye! I’ve always wanted to catch one!”

As Rodriguez high-fived everyone on board, Forsythe weighed the fish at 7.71 pounds and told the vet that at present, his fish was large enough to win the coveted “Biggest Walleye” walnut wall plaque trophy later at dinner. With several other vets catching fish within one-tenth of a pound, Rodriguez did hold on to win the top prize. The San Diego resident, that was far from home said, “You know what? There is nothing to help me totally relax like going fishing like this. Thank you guys,” he told the crew. “I think I may have also won the biggest fish bet with my friend in another boat too!”

Those weren’t the only big fish caught. Fishing with Captain Don Walters aboard Eerie Eyes Sportfishing Charters, SSGT Mel Kramer using his one-leg prosthesis and a sturdy walker, claimed a beautiful brown trout that weighed 8.89 pounds, big enough to win a “Best Catch” wall plaque. Formerly of the 1st Battalion/50th Infantry during the Vietnam conflict, Kramer had a hundred jokes to help anyone looking for a laugh. These guys and gals provided all the volunteers with amazing examples of courage and intestinal fortitude, as some of them are in the battle of their lives to overcome physical adversity.

There were other prizes too, one for the smallest walleye, with first place a 16-inch fish, released, going to PFC Kyle James, from the 4th Battalion /31st Infantry/2nd Brigade, U.S. Marines, Afghanistan. He received a beautiful Penn fishing reel and line. The smallest walleye in second, a 16-1/2-inch fish went to a lady veteran, PFC Cathy Eimers, U.S. Army, 5th Battalion, a large, 5-star, freshwater Zebco fishing reel

As all of us enjoyed dinner at Zebro’s Seafood restaurant in Barcelona that night, there was an aura of good feeling all around the table. The jokester of the group was SGT Travis Harvey, U.S. Army, 2nd Battalion/124th Infantry, who provided stories during the silent moments of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Each of the honored war heroes from the U.S. Military service ranks of Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force, 15 of them, were awarded a special fishing prize box loaded with lures, line, fishing maps, and a special thank you note. Many of them were still in the process of physical recovery, some with permanent injuries and loss of limbs, all of them with stories of unforgettable experiences.

Some of the veterans were U.S. military troops that delivered the American message of freedom to many other parts of the world during the Vietnam conflict, many still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and physically, from combat wounds. Some in the group were from the Veterans Outpatient Recovery group treated at Veteran’s Administration hospitals within driving distance of Barcelona Harbor. Some of the soldiers were transported from the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home near Erie.

It was an unforgettable weekend and a pleasure to share time with these amazing Americans and all the volunteers who worked tirelessly to assure that a day or two of Lake Erie fishing fun would allow for an honest excursion from the reality of their recovery. God Bless America!

Outdoors Calendar

July 18: Southtowns Walleye Association, monthly meeting, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, 7:30pm, Buffalo Border Patrol agent Kris Krahl is the guest speaker, call 549-8202.

July 18: Lake Erie Federation of Fly Fishers, monthly meeting, Legion Post 735, 35 Legion Pkwy., West Seneca, fly-tying 6pm, meeting 7pm, call 675-4766.

July 18: WNY Erie County Chapter of SCOPE, monthly meeting, VFW Post 8113, 299 Leydecker Rd., West Seneca, 7pm, call 825-4174.

July 22/27: NYS Trapping Certification Course, Elma Conservation, 600 Creek Rd., Elma, 7/22: 6-10pm, 7/27: 7am start, call 681-5690.

July 27: NYS Archery Certification class, Southtowns Walleye, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, 8am-6 pm, call 627-0147 to register.

July 27: Sunset Bay Walleye Shoot-Out, Lake Erie at Sunset Bay, six fish/day for one day, e-mail capt.donr@yahoo.com or call Bob Rustowicz at 830-6394 for information.

Aug. 2-4: Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Walleye Derby, Dunkirk Harbor, three/day for three days, call Zen Olaw at 640-2776 to register.

Send outdoor events 10 days in advance to nugdor@yahoo.com.
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