LONG BEACH —While fishing the WON charter last March to San Nicolas Island aboard Toronado, the boat’s owner, Joe Philips approached me with an interesting and generous proposal.
“I’d like to use the boat to take a bunch of veterans out fishing, giving them a free day on the water, to be with other military vets, and maybe get some fish,” said Captain Philips of the endeavor.
Several organizations work with veterans, those returning from recent service and even vets with Vietnam conflict experience.
Capt. Philips reached out to Brian Barber of Mission F.I.S.H. and Wounded Warrior Project outreach specialist Giovanni Perez for help getting anglers for the trip.
“These guys were very helpful, and we got people from both groups out on the trip,” reported Captain Philips.Both groups also sent along volunteers to help with the rigging and adding fishing expertise for those anglers new to ocean fishing.
“The local fuel dock donated fuel, Long Beach Bait Company filled the tanks, and Smart and Final donated the food and drinks,” the affable owner of the boat, Philips explained. Western Outdoor News sent along Berkley ProSpec Chrome long sleeve shirts from the Tuna Jackpot for each veteran angler.
Boarding completed for a 6:00 a.m. departure and seasoned skipper, Captain Ray Lagmay at the helm, took Toronado out to the flats for some serious sculpin fishing.
While the 75-foot sportfisher made its way to a spot about and hour out of the Long Beach Harbor veterans got acquainted while the deck crew, Matt, Fatima, and Shawn, rigged the rods.
Jason Tmanakit of Fishing Syndicate was aboard to assist with fishing and rigging of gear. Serena Chapman, Exodus Sportfishing Charters, Long Beach, lent a hand for the day, running the galley like a seasoned cook.
Connecting with other veterans is one of the benefits of a day on the water, and several of the participants found relationships that will last beyond the boat trip. A pair of recently returned Army Veterans found they both have an interest in crypto currency and planned to meet up after the trip. A couple others have horticulture interests that blossomed during the day at sea.
“My own experience, with more than eight years as a Marine, and being injured in Iraq, led me to Wounded Warrior Project for help. I became their outreach specialist and each day we find more veterans needing our assistance,” explained Perez.
The numbers are staggering. Veterans coming home with physical wounds that make daily life difficult and those that have hidden scars, like PTSD, creating havoc where joy should be. An incredible 22-veterans take their own lives each day.
“We are here to offer a helping hand to anyone that is suffering,” says Mission F.I.S.H. president, Brian Barber, Sr. Volunteers Lei Brewer and Steve Duran represented the organization for the Veterans Fishing day aboard Toronado, and it fell to Lei to hold a brief memorial service.
At 11:11 a.m., a time of day referencing the 22-veterans lost each day, Brewer asked for a pause in the action and moment of silence, in remembrance of those brothers and sisters that never made it home, giving their full measure while serving this country.
The fishing proved spotty throughout the day but in the end limits of sculpin and a few whitefish helped to give everyone filets to take home.
Adrianne, a Marine, retired after 20-years of service managed to nearly always be hooked up.
“This is awesome. We get out on the water, some for the first time, and it’s like being back with my platoon, just the way we all relate to each other,” says angler Adrianne.
Retired Army vet, Carmen Estrada, began working for government agencies when she got out. “I’ve got 15-years of government service now,” beamed the dedicated vet.
Always quick with his wit and ready to fish, Vietnam veteran Rueben Elias of San Dimas, pulled in a limit of sculpin and a few whitefish to boot. Despite duty related health issues and the loss of his right leg, the veteran spent plenty of time at the rail getting fish into his bag.
Owner Captain Philips looks forward to having another Veterans Fishing day, perhaps enlisting other local boats in the effort.
“We all need to be working towards a goal of giving these folks back just a little bit when they have given so much,” beamed Capt. Philips.
Mission F.I.S.H, www.missionfishusa.org, Brian Barber, Sr. 805-827-9567
Wounded Warrior Project, www.woundedwarriorproject.org 877-TEAM-wwp
Toronado Sportfishing, Pierpoint Landing, www.PierPoint.net 562-983-9300