Wounded Warriors compete in North Country fishing derby
June 26, 2012
The second annual Wounded Warriors Bass Derby was held Saturday near the Dobisky Recreation Center in Ogdensburg, N.Y., located on the St. Lawrence River. The early-morning event had over 30 Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division being paired with local anglers to form fishing teams for the day.
The fishing started at 7:30 a.m. with the goal of catching as many smallmouth bass as possible before the final weigh-in later that afternoon. The clear skies, warm weather and calm water conditions, as well as the generous hospitality of the all-volunteer guide staff, made for a memorable event that already sparked interest for next year.
"This was my first time coming here, but it will not be the last," said Sgt. Kevin Storms of the 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry Regiment - Warrior Transition Battalion - based at Fort Drum, N.Y. Sgt. Storms had plenty to smile about, having caught three smallmouth bass during the derby.
The derby's overall winners were Staff Sgt. Matthew Wilson, with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, and his wife, Sgt. Ketty Wilson, with the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, who along with the rest of their family, caught the largest combined weight of 15 pounds, 2 ounces. Ketty Wilson also caught the largest fish of the derby - a 4 pound, 7 ounce largemouth bass.
The Ogdensburg post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars hosted the awards ceremony, where following a spaghetti dinner donated by the VFW, the first, second, and third-place winners received brand-new fishing rods, reels and tackle as prizes. A raffle held afterward gave everyone else a chance to win more fishing gear.
The professional fishing guides, gear and tackle, and the prizes were donated completely free to the Soldiers and their families by members of the local communities. Myer's Pub, a local establishment in Ogdensburg, even held a series of darts and card tournaments to help raise money for the derby. Fishing licenses were not needed, due to New York State's "No License Needed" weekend to promote fishing.
"The response from the local community for this event has been overwhelming," said Don Meissner, co-organizer of the Wounded Warrior Bass Derby. "Volunteers were coming out of the woodwork wanting to be a part of this."
Meissner, who may be best known to the public for his fishing show, "Fishing Behind the Lines," is a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, and along with Bob Giordano, a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant, organized the event to give the local communities a way to thank the Soldiers for their sacrifices made in service to the nation. The event offered them and their families a chance to experience the numerous fishing opportunities that the St. Lawrence River offers, along with a chance to enjoy each others' camaraderie.
Capt. Jayson Williams, commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, also served as a co-coordinator for the derby, acting as a liaison for Meissner and Giordano at Fort Drum. Capt. Williams met the two veterans when the Warrior Transition Battalion participated in the "Take a Soldier Fishing" event at Oneida, N.Y., last year. Capt. Williams and Capt. Max Ferguson, also of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, went on to form the Wounded Warrior Fishing Club.
"We established the club on (February 12, 2012), and now number around forty members," said Williams.
The Wounded Warrior Bass Derby is part of a larger project, "FishCap," which is a three-year initiative established jointly by the St. Lawrence River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Giordano and Meissner. "FishCap" is an abbreviation for "Fishing Capital of the World."
Originally the derby was limited to the first 30 Soldiers to sign up; however, the organizers had no problem accommodating a few extra people. In fact, there are plans to grow the event to accommodate even more wounded warriors next year.
"Each year, we want to make it a little bigger; but we also want to keep it manageable so that each Soldier has a boat to himself," said Meissner.