PVA holds bass tour for paralyzed veterans

The Capital Clash, the final bass tournament of the Paralyzed Veterans of America series, took place on the Potomac River June 9-11, 2023. The seven-event tour began in September of 2022 at Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula and followed with tournaments in Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia and Maryland.

Editor’s note: Check out the photo gallery from the 2023 PVA Capital Clash Bash.

Tony Choe of Manassas, Va., bested 35 of his fellow veterans to win the Capital Clash with a limit that weighed 13.54 pounds. He sacked his bass by casting and flipping a green pumpkin Zoom Baby Brush Hog to grass and wood cover.

Although Choe is paralyzed from the waist down, he maneuvers his own boat from the casting deck while fishing. He sits in a wheelchair that has been modified to fit into the standard base for a fishing seat.

A remote control allows him to operate a Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor, which deploys and retracts electronically. Power-Poles give him plenty of time to dissect likely bass cover

Besides PVA events, Choe regularly competes in open tournaments on the Potomac River and does well.

He sustained his injury the year after he had severed in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1989 to 1992. He was shot during a robbery while working as a clerk at a convenient store.

“When I got injured, I thought my life was over,” Choe said. “I used to run three miles a day. When I fished my first PVA bass tournament in 1994 my life completely turned around. It gave me so much energy and brightness in my life. I told myself anything is possible if I put my mind to it.”

The PVA’s mission

The PVA has 33 B.A.S.S. chapters across the U.S. They qualify an angler for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, just as the state chapters do. Texan Jack Barber claimed the PVA Angler of the Year title at the Capital Clash and earned a birth to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship this October at Lake Hartwell.

An Army veteran, Barber served from 1967 to 1989. During the Capital Clash, he especially enjoyed coming across the same stage B.A.S.S. employs for their professional events. This normally isn’t the case.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said the 74-year-old Barber. “Thanks to B.A.S.S., Chris Bowes and his staff for making it so special.”

Bowes, Bassmaster’s vice president of tournaments, attended the Capital Clash and was inspired by what he saw.

“I was really excited to be part of it,” Bowes said. “We’ve supported PVA for as long as I’ve been at B.A.S.S. Even though some of the vets are severely handicapped, they share in the passion for fishing and competing.”

Bowes works with PVA’s Senior Associate Director of Sports and Recreation Jennifer Purser, to strengthen their relationship and improve the tournament experience for PVA anglers.

“Bass fishing started almost 30 years ago as a single tournament in Florida and grew from there,” Purser said.

The main tournament at a PVA bass fishing event pairs a veteran with a volunteer who usually provides a boat and operates it for the veteran. This is the tournament that awards B.A.S.S. Nation points along with cash prizes.

The following day the veterans and volunteers pair up and fish a team event. After this tournament the PVA awards prize money or gift cards for the highest finishing teams, explained PVA’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Liz Deakin.

“In addition to that, each PVA chapter can hand out other prizes or merchandise such as plaques, fishing gear or other prizes that PVA bass fishing tournament participants can use, like raingear or other fishing related items,” Deakin said. 

During the boat events, a two-day bank fishing tournament allows for anything with a gill that measures 4 inches or longer. During the Georgia tournament at Clarks Hill Lake, one of the bank-fishing veterans caught a 22-pound catfish.

“The veterans fishing from the bank are probably more competitive than the ones in the boats,” Purser said.

How events work

Typically, 40 or more veterans show up to participate in PVA bass fishing events. It takes as many as 45 volunteers to carry out these programs.

“The challenge really isn’t finding people,” Purser said. “We always have a ton of anglers who volunteer and who want to be boat captains. Some volunteers have been coming for 20 years.”

The severity of each veteran’s injury determines the angler’s ability to move about the boat and how much assistance they need from their boat captain.

Some PVA anglers must cast from the passenger seat. Others have devices that help them stand. A few anglers, such as Choe, have adapted wheelchairs to fit into the bases for regular fishing seats.

When a boat captain runs the trolling motor, the veteran tells him how to best position the boat for casting.

Some of the anglers come mainly to enjoy fishing and to keep company with fellow veterans. But many others compete with same fervor that infects every bass tournament fanatic.

If you’re one of the addicted, you understand the excitement you feel when you look ahead to the next tournament. You study maps, scour the internet, fiddle with tackle and scheme about strategies that will catch them. It is no different for our paralyzed veterans.

This anticipation keeps that internal flame, the zeal for life, alive. It is just as essential for PVA members as it is for the rest of us.

More than fishing

Bass tournaments are one of many PVA activities. To accommodate a wide variety of injuries, needs and desires, the competitions range from shooting air guns to roughhousing wheelchair rugby.

 The annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the PVA’s Olympics, are slated for July 4-9, 2023, in Portland, Ore. During this weeklong competition, 450 to 600 veterans will participate in 22 different sporting events.

“Fishing is not part of the Wheelchair Games, but it could be added in some form in the future,” said Purser, who manages the games.

She plans to have a casting contest at the upcoming Wheelchair Games as a fun event to see how it is received. She hopes it will introduce more veterans to the sport of fishing.

Grants and individual donations comprise PVA’s funds. If you’d like to donate or volunteer for a PVA event, contact www.PVA.org/Donate.

Whenever you get on the water, casting for fun or intensely competing in a tournament, take a moment to think of our veterans. Without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t be free to enjoy our passion for bass fishing.