Battle Of the Branches – Military Appreciation Trip

In June of last year, I was involved in a charity event called – Voyage For Vets II.  I documented that trip in my Fishing For A Cause article.  That trip’s organizer, Joe Hines, is ex-Army and he puts on these trips as a way to engage fellow veterans.  He feels that taking vets out fishing gives them that sense of camaraderie (if only for a day) that they may miss from their days in the service.  I really enjoyed the day and told Joe not to hesitate to contact me for future trips. 

Friday, March 25th, Joe put on a trip that was billed as The Battle of the Branches.  This was an even more ambitious undertaking than the Voyage for Vets II trip I participated in last year.  Last year’s trip involved one boat (Legend) and 20 veterans.  This trip involved 5 boats (Legend, Excalibur, Jig Strike, Top Gun 80, and Ocean Odyssey), 148 active duty and veteran service members, plus some Gold Star family members of fallen heroes.  I rode on the Ocean Odyssey with Captain Rick Scott.  Our boat was the boat with active service members from the Coast Guard that serve locally here in San Diego.  We departed from H&M Landing with a color guard send-off. 

Everyone loves a competition, and this trip had bragging rights on the line between the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.  The plan for the day was to fish the Lower 9 Mile Bank for rockfish.  The big fish winner from each boat would represent their branch and submit their winning fish in a weigh-off at the end of the day.  The top 3 winners received trips of varying lengths from H&M Landing who was a major event sponsor.  I introduced myself to the participants on my boat and tried to gauge their experience level.  To my surprise, many of them were regular fishermen, with a chorus from them letting me know that Cade had NEVER fished before…neither salt nor fresh!  I pulled Cade aside and told him that I would be his personal fishing caddy for the day and make sure he caught fish.  He was happy to take me up on my offer.

Once we started fishing, I noticed that Cade was having a problem gauging whether or not he hit bottom, or even if he got bit.  Most of the participants fished rent rods provided by H&M, Cade included.  While that was very generous of H&M, the rods they were using had a very soft tip…more appropriate for fishing a fly-lined bait than dropping down for rockfish.  I brought my personal rods and an array of different reels.  After two drops and seeing Cade struggle, I told him to put his rental gear away.  I had him use one of my setups that I already had rigged up with a double dropper loop.  My reel was spooled with 65lb. braid that I tied off to a swivel and then 30# mono for the dropper loops, to a 16-oz torpedo sinker.  Cade could immediately feel the difference in the sensitivity.  Almost immediately after the switch, Cade caught his first fish ever, a solid 3-lb red, he was very excited.  Shortly after, he caught a small bank perch.  Shortly after he caught another really nice bank perch.  Cade commented to me, “I didn’t even think I’d catch anything.  I don’t know where I will even put all these fish back at base!”  He told me he only had one of those college dorm room-type fridges.

I asked Cade, “So you’re telling me you’re good taking home the fish you’ve already caught?  You don’t need anymore?”  Yes, he replied.  “OK, we’re just going to try to win this thing now and go big.  You ok with that?” Towards the end of some of the drifts, we got into sandy bottom and some sand dabs were caught.  Some of the bigger ones were sacked, but there were some perfect hand-sized ones in the handwells.  I re-rigged Cade’s set up to fish a trap-rigged dab. 

“We’re using that for bait?!?!” he exclaimed.  “You won’t get bit as often now, but if we get the bite we want, it’s going to be a big one.”   Cade’s red was top fish when he caught it, but some bigger bocaccio displaced him as the day wore on.  It was getting toward the end of the day, and we could clearly see the North Island of the Coronados.  Capt. Rick said the next drift would be around 380 feet to a ledge that dropped off into the abyss very quickly.  “We’re going to get our bite here Cade.”  I was right.  We got the bite we wanted and Cade was able to get maybe 5 or 6 cranks on it.  I thought he’d be fine, but then the fish had a drag-pulling burst, rocked him, and busted us off.  Cade was wide-eyed in shock.  “Oh man, that was our fish.  Too bad you lost it, but at least you have a one-that-got-away story.” 

A little girl who was the daughter of one of the service members ended up winning for our boat with a big bocaccio.  The overall winner between all the branches was Don Rodgers, an Army vet who fished on the Legend.  He took the top prize with a 6-lb red.  Among his prizes was a 1.5-day trip provided by H&M.  Congrats Don! 

It was a fun event and Joe said he plans to involve more service members and more boats next year. Thanks to all the sponsors and volunteers.  Everyone seemed to have a good time.  Good job Joe putting it all together.  I was happy to participate, and I’ll be there again next year.