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Soldiers rope 'em in at rodeo

Fishing trip for wounded warriors

POSTED: October 2, 2013 12:35 p.m.
Photo by Magdalena Bresson/

Burton Jaillette, right, admires his prize-winning trout Saturday during the weigh in at the third annual Wounded Warriors Fishing Rodeo at Fort McAllister Marina in Richmond Hill.

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Seventy-four soldiers packed their tackle boxes Saturday afternoon for a full day of fishing out of Fort McAllister Marina at the third annual Wounded Warrior Fishing Rodeo.
Though a few of the wounded veterans and active-duty soldiers had plenty of experience on the water, most were casting their lines for the first time.
“If a soldier has never offshore fished, we try to help them along. We like to accommodate each soldier with at least one experienced crew member,” said Rhonda Gordon, chairperson and third-year president of the Fort McAllister Sport Fishing Association that sponsors the event. “Some have fished but some haven’t, so if they do have an injury we don’t want overcrowd the boat.”
The soldiers and boat captains left the marina at about 6 a.m. that morning in the hopes of bringing home the biggest catch in one of seven categories: trout, sheepshead, redfish, flounder, whiting, offshore and shark. Rough seas prevented many soldiers from reeling in the big catches in the offshore division, but the trying conditions weren’t enough to prevent them from having a good time.
Lee Flowers, a newly retired sergeant, was competing for the third time. He said he loves to fish, but the camaraderie is what keeps him coming back for more.
“It’s fun to get out with someone who, even though we come from two walks of life, can still get on the boat and fish. You can’t beat that,” Flowers said.
Flowers was paralyzed from the waist down in 2010 but started walking again in. His hard work and determination paid off on Saturday, when he was able to fish standing up for the first time.
For him, there was no better way to reward that effort than a day with friends out on the water.
“This year, I told myself, ‘I’m not going to fish like I’ve been fishing — from a wheelchair. I’m going to fish standing up.’ And I did it,” he said.
Though Flowers didn’t come out on top in any of the categories this year, his personal success was mirrored throughout the competition.
One soldier, according to Gordon, was in a wheelchair just two weeks prior to the competition, but still was determined to try his hand at offshore fishing.
“They’re resilient,” she said. “And I could have had at least a 100 or 150 soldiers in the tournament if I only had the boats to accommodate them.”
Burton Jaillete took home top honors placing first in the trout category and second in the sheepshead category. John Skipper won the top prize in sheepshead, Allen Six had the biggest whiting, Andrew McKinley won the flounder division, and Eric Sheehan took top honors in the redfish category.
Finally, James Gordon was the only participant to catch an offshore barracuda, and Jesus Maldonado hauled in an 11-pound, 4-ounce bonnethead shark.
For more information on the Wounded Warrior Project or how to participate in future Wounded Warrior Fishing Rodeos, go to woundedwarriorproject.org or woundedwarriorfishing.com.

 

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