Pros team up with vets to catch bass in 'Fishing with Veterans'

By MATT MARKEY | The Blade, Toledo, Ohio | Published: August 22, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Very early on the morning of Aug. 31, about 30 veterans will take on a challenge that is tough for most of us but might seem like nothing too harrowing for this group of soldiers, sailors and Marines. 

After what many of these wounded warriors have gone through, fishing for largemouth bass qualifies as relaxation and therapy, and another chapter in a lengthy, sometimes lifelong healing process. Burwell Angling, along with a dozen or so area sponsors, will host “Fishing with Veterans” in an effort to provide a bit of emotional, psychological and physical rehabilitation for these soldiers and their families.

“As much as anything else, this is about showing appreciation for their sacrifices,” said Elliott Shaffer, a Fostoria videographer who is helping his friend and Fishing League Worldwide bass angler Craig Burwell of North Baltimore stage the first-time event. “These guys gave up a lot to go off halfway around the world to serve their country, so giving them a day of bass fishing might not seem like a lot, but we hope it makes a little difference in their lives. We just want them to know people care, and people appreciate them.”

Burwell, who fishes competitively on both the FLW circuit and in the Bass Fishing League’s Buckeye Division, has marshaled the troops in the region’s bass fishing ranks and expects to pair each veteran with a pro.

“Often, we fish for the thrill, to fill a competitive need within us, or sometimes to put food on the table,” Burwell said in introducing the premise for the event. “For our wounded warriors, however, fishing can be so much more than the reasons you and I fish every day.”

The event will launch from Cullen Park at 7 a.m., utilizing the recently rebuilt ramp and dock facility there that was funded by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources watercraft division grant.

The waters around Cullen Park, where the Maumee River opens up to feed into the bay and Lake Erie, have numerous piers along with a mile-long causeway and nearby Grassy Island, so there is plenty of ideal bass habitat and structure for the anglers and their veterans to fish.

“Cullen Park is one of the easiest places to launch boats out of, and it’s a very good place to fish, so it made sense to hold this event there,” Shaffer said.

The anglers and veterans will gather at 6 a.m. for coffee and doughnuts provided by Dunkin, and the event organizers also plan to have shirts and hats to present to the veterans, along with a new fishing rod and reel rigs from Ardent, an American-owned company that designs and manufactures fishing equipment.

“Since this is the first year for the event, we’re kind of testing the waters in a number of areas, but we hope to get enough donations and sponsorships to make it a success,” Shaffer said.

The event organizers are seeking $200 donations to sponsor each veteran, and they have raised some funds through a car wash with help from the Van Buren High School soccer team, and through a raffle at the Findlay Balloon Fest that featured a $200 Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite rod and reel, donated by Bass Pro.

Shaffer said the event was spawned during conversations between him and Burwell.

“Craig said he really wanted to figure out a way to take some veterans out on Lake Erie,” he added. “just to show some appreciation for everything they’ve done for us and for our country. He knows fishing and I know videography, so we talked about combining the two and hopefully doing something that will create good memories for these guys.”

The duo used contacts through the Veterans Administration, flyers, social media and personal contacts with local and area veterans organizations to get the word out. It didn't take long to get their target number of 30 veterans interested in taking part. Burwell used his connections among tournament bass fishermen to round up boats and anglers to accompany the veterans, and the project continued to gain momentum.

Sponsorship assistance from Bass Pro Shops, Dunkin, Chick-fil-a, ADP, Reineke Family Dealerships and a number of other area businesses helped the project get afloat, and the event organizers are hoping that individuals will step forward to provide the sponsorships for the veterans. More information is available at the facebook.com/BurwellAngling/ website or by emailing Burwellangling@gmail.com.

“We would like to make this an annual thing,” said Shaffer, who added that the group of individuals signed up for the Aug. 31 event includes veterans from 80-years-old to those much younger. “We hope to hear some of the stories of their service, and put together a nice video for everyone to remember this experience.”

The event organizers plan to play the national anthem prior to the launching of the bass boats for the start of the day’s fishing. Shaffer said it seemed like the best possible way to formally salute these heroes and let them know their community appreciates them and their efforts in serving their country.

“We’re hoping this generates a lot of support for our veterans, and we want to see it grow year by year, and see more people benefit from it,” he said. “We’d like to include veterans from across Ohio in the future, and maybe someday see it expand into a national event. These guys certainly deserve everything we can do for them.”

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