A chance to give back

With the postponement of the Fort Gibson tournament I suddenly had an unexpected gap in my 2019 schedule. Some of that time was spent mowing grass and catching up on other chores, but the change also gave me a chance to take some other people fishing who probably needed the day on the water even more than I did.

As you may know, for the past three years I’ve headlined the Keith Combs Sam Rayburn Slam, an open team tournament with a payout of over 100 percent. It features an auction and raffle, and we raise a large amount of funds for Warrior’s Weekend. We’ll hold it again later this year. 

At last year’s event I met Bradley Greutzner, a soldier originally from East Texas who’d been injured during a patrol in Iraq looking for terrorists. He was in one of five vehicles in a group that was ambushed and struck by an IED comprised of two anti-tank mines along with several propane tanks. His vehicle was destroyed and three of the men patrolling with him were killed. Fortunately, he was spared, but he suffered massive injuries. He was in a coma for six weeks and emerged to find out that he’d lost part of an arm and his right hand, along with other complications.

After undergoing more than 40 surgeries and retiring from the military, he would’ve been well within his rights to keep to himself, but this dedicated warrior decided to continue his service. He started “Journal of a Homeless Hero,” a project through which he travels around the country to VA facilities and homeless shelters looking for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and gives them the opportunity to tell their stories. Since I’ve gotten home I’ve gone back and read his account of some of his journey on social media, and I encourage you to do the same. 

This past weekend, I was honored to fish with Bradley at a Warrior’s Weekend tournament  on Lake Texana in South Texas. He hadn’t been fishing since before his injury, and while the bite was a little tough given the hot summertime conditions, we each managed to catch a few. I could tell that for him it wasn’t really about how many we caught or about how big they were – it was a matter of getting back out there and celebrating everything that he had to live for.

The local community did it up in grand style, with seemingly everyone in town showing up. They had a band, they fried up some crappie, and everyone mingled and enjoyed each other’s company.

The weekend before that a Texas wildlife journalist named Chester Moore called me and asked me to participate in his Wild Wishes program. It’s kind of like the Make-a-Wish Foundation – they give kids who are battling terminal illnesses or who have lost a parent or sibling a chance to forget their worries for a day and enjoy the outdoors. Since 2014 they’ve granted 90 wishes. Chester paired me up with a really nice, respectful, well-mannered 15-year-old young man named Kale from Gladewater, Texas. We didn’t discuss his situation. We didn’t have to. We bonded through a day on a local lake that was absolutely on fire. He had fished a lot, but hadn’t done a whole lot of bass fishing, and not only did he catch quite a few but he landed his personal best bass. He didn’t talk a whole lot, but I could sense his excitement – all over something that many of us take for granted every day.

Because of the Elite Series rules, and because I’m typically spending long days idling or learning new techniques, I spend a lot of days in the boat by myself. Between tournaments I’m always catching up on things, so sometimes it’s difficult to make the necessary time for events like the two I just experienced. In that respect, I’m glad that Fort Gibson was pushed to September. It may have required changing some plans, but it also allowed me to take a step back and gain some perspective. 

Even though we caught some fish both days, it wasn’t really about catching fish. It was about learning to appreciate all that we enjoy: our freedoms, our health and this great sport. It also helped me to recognize that I have a pretty good gig, and because I fish the Elite Series some people want to meet me or fish with me. I need to make the time for more of those sorts of moments. Both of my partners thanked me for the day on the water, but I really should have been thanking them. 

You don’t have to be an Elite Series pro to take someone fishing. All of us need rejuvenation at times, and a day on water is often the best therapy there is. Get involved with a local organization like the ones mentioned above. C.A.S.T. for Kids is another one that does great work. Even if you can’t find a formal opportunity to participate, just look around you. There are plenty of people who would benefit from a day on the boat, and you might benefit as much as they do.