PORT ARANSAS, Texas — Iraq War veteran Chad Battles wouldn’t be walking this earth today if not for fishing. That’s not a stretch of the truth. He will confirm it, wholeheartedly. The 43-year-old, seven-year Army veteran was broken physically and mentally when he was medically discharged from the military in 2007.
Battles is in Port Aransas this week as a guest of his good friend Dwayne Eschette, who is competing in Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup. Battles shared his story on, appropriately, Veterans Day.
“I had a fractured back and neck,” he said. “My C-5, C-6 and C-7 joints are fused. There are screws holding both shoulders together. Every disc in my spine is herniated.”
All those injuries were the result of wearing heavy body armor and being slammed around in an up-armored Humvee, where Battles served as the gunner of a 7.62-millimeter M240 machine gun. After multiple surgeries, Battles said he was in unbearable pain, even though he was prescribed 160 milligrams of morphine a day. That physical pain left him in a barely sustainable mental state.
“I’m a soldier,” Battles said. “I’m a good guy. In my mind, I’m trying to do what’s best for me and my family. And I’m accused of being a drug addict. I was one day away, multiple times, from being one of the 17 veterans that commit suicide each day.”
The abbreviated version of Battles’ road to recovery began with him seeking other medical advice and deciding to wean himself off pain medication. There have been multiple surgeries along the way. A key moment in this journey was the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, where Battles served as a marshal at the Louisiana Delta in New Orleans. Battles lives in nearby Belle Chasse, La.
“I’m sitting around with all these guys, and I’m thinking this is awesome,” he said.
Battles didn’t even have a boat at that point, but he had found his tribe, so to speak. With his military career over, Battles needed a goal and a group of guys with a common interest. He didn’t even own a boat, but he loved to bass fish. Gradually, he worked up to buying a BassTracker aluminum boat with a 115-horsepower motor and started competing in local bass tournaments.
Then came “another strategic twist of fate,” as Battles calls it. In southern Louisiana, where the bass and the redfish often mix, Battles would get frustrated when he caught a redfish. In fact, he caught so many that a friend said, “You need to think about this.” Battles then volunteered to marshal a redfish tournament.
“I just started showing up at all the weigh-ins, sitting around talking to the guys and looking at all the baits,” he said. “In 2018, I started fishing for redfish.”
To get that high view above the water, like from the tower boats popular in redfish tournaments, Battles used a 4-foot stepladder on the front deck of his Tracker boat and operated the foot-controlled trolling motor with the butt end of a fishing rod.
“I fell a bunch, but it’s all I had,” Battles said.
Battles met 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace while redfishing, and they’ve become good friends. “We hit it off,” Battles said. “He’s taught me a lot.” Then Battles became friends with Dwayne Eschette, who is one of the top redfish tournament anglers.
“Those guys saw my passion and took me under their wing,” Battles said.
Battles now has a 22-foot, 6-inch Majek Illusion boat with a 250-horsepower Yamaha SHO outboard. On June 17th, Battles’ redfish skills were on full display. He won the $11,000 first place check at the Elite Fishing League Contender Series event at Delacroix, La.
“All my dreams came true right there,” Battles said. “That dream started at the Bassmaster Classic in 2011. It took 10 years, seven surgeries and all kinds of grief to get there.”
In retrospect, what a fitting name he has – Chad Battles. Oh, does he ever battle. He didn’t realize it was Veterans Day until someone informed him Thursday morning.
“I respect it,” Battles said. “I will go above and beyond for any veteran in need. But that chapter is over. That book is closed. Everybody is wounded in some way. But you’ve just got to keep fighting. If you don’t, you’re stuck in the past. If your memories are bigger than your dreams, you’re in trouble. You’re just existing.
“I feel like I’ve made it past that. Now it’s time to reach back and bring somebody else with me.”