Evers and W.W.I.A: Lessons in faith

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James Overstreet

The participants (L-R): Ott DeFoe, Jesse Steele, Brian Eisch, Edwin Evers, Justin Walts, Andy Montgomery, Andy Vallombroso and Dave Dziob.

AUBURN, N.Y. — This story contains all the elements: life, death and life after the death of a child. It’s about war and peace, freedom and its cost. It’s about seemingly chance human connections that later seem orchestrated, as if they were meant to be. Ultimately, it’s about faith.

And, yes, it’s about bass fishing. This story even has fishing tips.

“Andy has already taught me how to fish a hairy jig,” said Justin Walts, early Monday morning, June 28, adding a humorous “y” to the name of the simple lure that’s become widely known over the past year as dynamite for smallmouth bass.

“Everybody wants to put some action on it – hop it, twitch it – but you’ve got to reel it straight back,” said Bassmaster Elite Series angler Andy Montgomery.

You want to know why big smallmouth bass bite a little black synthetic hair jig? Keep reading.

The event

The latest chapter of the Optima Batteries Healing Heroes in Action Tour presented by General Tire unfolded at Skaneateles Lake, one of central New York’s Finger Lakes. Edwin Evers had no inkling of what he was getting into two years ago when he made a decision to honor, in his own small way, U.S. military veterans. The result has been bigger than Evers could have imagined.

On this day, fresh off the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Cayuga Lake, Evers enlisted the help of two fellow competitors – Montgomery and Ott DeFoe. They were paired with Purple Heart recipients through the Wounded Warriors In Action Foundation: Evers with Brian Eisch of Sandy Creek, N.Y., DeFoe with Jesse Steele of Croghan, N.Y., and Montgomery with Walts, who lives in Great Bend, N.Y.

Healing Heroes N.Y. photos: On the water | Weigh-in

Winning the bid to compete in this event was Andy Vallombroso and his partner Dave Dziob. Those two made this quite an assembly of fishing knowledge. Vallombroso is the owner of Andy’s Custom Bass Lures in Madison, Conn. It was with a jig designed by Evers and Vallombroso that Evers won the Bassmaster Classic in March. Dziob, a prominent tournament bass angler in the northeast, owns Tackle Supply Depot in Wallingford, Conn.

The rules for his four-team tournament were as follows: Rule #1 – There are no rules. That was the light-hearted theme of the day, but there actually were a couple of rules: five bass limit for each team, and the pros could contribute only two of those five. Competition would end at 2 p.m., give or take a few minutes, as it turned out.

No matter how carefree the format, it’s impossible to keep tournament anglers from slipping into competitive mode. Shortly after the 7 a.m. takeoff, Evers hooked a smallmouth bass that put a deep bend in his spinning rod.

“Wow, that’s a big one!” Ever shouted within earshot of Vallombruso and Dziob. Evers landed the fish on the opposite side of the boat from his competitors, high-fived Eisch, opened the livewell lid as if he were keeping the “big one,” then slipped the half-pound smallmouth back in the lake.

“Tell me we’re not in their heads right now,” Evers whispered.