By Mike Bissonette for SCN –
On the 26th of May, the boats of 15 of Seward’s Fishing charters got underway with the single purpose of honoring the men and women of the US military. Originally the tournament was the brain child of local business leaders Bob Candopoulos, owner of Saltwater Safari Company and Keith Manternach the owner of Specialty Truck & Auto of Anchorage. The Armed Forces Combat Fishing Tournament has grown to the largest military appreciation fishing tournament in the United States.
The first Armed Forces Combat Fishing Tournament brought 66 services people out on the water. The tournament is now an official program of the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, more commonly know as the ASYMCA. The ASYMCA is a non-profit organization that provides no-cost and low-cost programs to make military life easier for nearly 500,000 active-duty enlisted military and their families each year at 31 branches and affiliates nationwide.
The Combat Fishing Tournament now brings over 200 services people out to honor their services. Since its inception, over 1,800 service members have taken part since the first trip. The soldiers will be provided transportation from different parts of the state for a day of deep-sea fishing. Participation is open to enlisted members of the US military stationed in Alaska. All participants are active duty, and about 80 percent come from Joint Base Elemendof-Richardson, with others from Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and the Coast Guard base in Kodiak. Priority is given to those who have returned from the combat zone in the last 15 months or are scheduled to deploy within the next 6 months.
The participants lined up behind a pilot boat for a shot gun start. Many of the boats were too far from shore to hear the shot that started the tournament, but the smoke was visible and there had been a countdown by radio. The day began looking like a race by Seward’s diverse flotilla of sports fishing boats rushing down Resurrection Bay. Once out of the bay, every boat headed toward wherever they thought their best fishing grounds would be. What had been a game of speed became more of strategy.
The Seward Military Resort’s vessel Arctic Warrior (from which this writer was aboard) chose to fish their furthest fishing ground within range and work back in.
Representing the total force from many branches of service and hailing from as far away as Texas, these service members came with fishing expertise from novice to old hands. The strategy worked well for the service men and women on board as they all reached their limit of two halibut. The Arctic Warrior then moved to shallower waters where rock fish gather. Soon thereafter, rock fish were rapidly striking lines on every side of the boat. Many of the service people caught their limit of four rock fish before it was time to come back in to meet the tournament deadline.
With the boats of Seward streaming back towards the harbor, the service members who the tournament had been all about were allowed time to relax. Many fell asleep, others watched silently as the natural beauty of the region surrounded them. With everyone alone in their thoughts, it brought to mind why we honor these young troops and why veteran’s organizations like the American Legion always choose to get involved. If it is their first deployment or if they have deployed before, these young people carry the weight for all of us. As a Marine once said in the way of advice and observation, “you never get the war you expect.” While not all of these service people may be facing imminent deployment to the world’s hot spots, they all serve knowing that they can be called upon at any time.
As the fleet streamed back through Resurrection Bay, the radio crackled and the completion sprung back to life. Fish were weighed and measured. A carnival like atmosphere prevailed as photos were snapped and sea stories swapped. Service people made and modified their weekend plans with enthusiasm. Buses crowded around the Harbormaster’s Office to retrieve the participants and like a shotgun start in the other direction, our servicemen and woman went back to their duties. Though they may still be stationed far from home, they have more memories of Alaska to make it more of a home.