Veterans find peace on Lake Erie waters, catch 500-plus perch


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ERIE, Pa. -- Ron Anthony sent his line, hooks and bait into the depths of the placid waters of Lake Erie early Monday morning. A minute later, he reeled in.

No bait, no fish.

He put minnows back onto his hooks and once again dropped them into the water. A minute later, he reeled in. The sun shone off his silver hooks.

No bait, no fish.

"I'm just feeding them," he said, jokingly.

Eventually, Anthony and 24 other veterans from the Erie Veterans Outreach Center began reeling in the perch, piling 500 to 600 fish into buckets aboard the O'Danny O, a 44-foot head boat operated by Tiny Tim's Fishing Charters, serving this day as a perch-fishing charter for veterans in Erie.

Veterans who served as far back as Vietnam and as recently as Iraq were aboard the O'Danny O.

Anthony, 65, of Centerville, Pa., said he would have been just fine with continuing the trend that started his morning of fishing.

"I don't even have to catch anything to enjoy myself," he said. "It's peaceful and relaxing."

For many of the veterans there, including Anthony, who served in the Vietnam War, trips like these prove to be therapeutic.

"I probably saw more than I should have at 19," he said. "For many, many years I stayed in the back of the hills and didn't associate with anyone."

Associating with veterans helped him to become more sociable and open. Anthony was fishing with two friends: Nolan Phillips, 64, of Titusville and Dick Hart, 62, of Union City. Both served in the military as well.

Also on board were six members from the S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie fishing club, who helped put the trip together.

"Doing stuff with the vets, they're always pretty appreciative," said Jim Mattson, a S.O.N.S. director.

The appreciation comes from both sides. The captain of the O'Danny O, Stan Kalicky, said he was honored to be able to take the veterans out for a day on the lake.

"I'm appreciative of not only what they've done for me, but for the country," he said. "If I can give back, even just this little bit, it's great."

Kalicky took the veterans out to 48 feet, where he said the perch were beginning to collect into larger schools. Where they choose to fish, Kalicky said, depends on the time of year and the temperature of the water.

"When the water temperature gets warmer, we have to follow them out farther," he said.

Veteran Chris Reitsma, 34, originally of Dover, Del., now lives in Erie. He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and suffers from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He had previously been on the ocean, but it was his first time out on a boat in the lake. He caught 19 fish.

"This has been a great experience," he said.

Reitsma owns a barbershop that mainly works with veterans. He said he has to take mostly appointments and very few walk-ins due to his brain injury and disorder.

"The only time when I feel safe is around other vets," he said. "It's a safe environment. You know they have your back."

Being able to talk and interact with other veterans is one of the main reasons Reitsma said he enjoyed the trip.

"It's a relief to be around these people because I can let my guard down," he said. "When you've been through what a lot of us have been through, they're the only ones that understand. A lot of these guys know what it's like, and it's someone to talk to."

Most of the anglers aboard used a medium- to light-action spinning rod with 6-pound to 8-pound monofilament line and a Sabiki rig, as preferred by Kalicky. The Sabiki rig, a multi-hook jigging rig used to catch smaller-sized fish, has swivel snaps at each end of a 2-foot line with three droppers and a three-quarter-ounce to 1-ounce casting sinker attached to the clip at the bottom of the rig. The charter provided live golden shiners 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and Kalicky advised anglers to drop it to the bottom and reel in one or two cranks. The result was several 5-gallon buckets literally filled with fish.

By 1 p.m., the O'Danny O was ready to go back to shore. Many of the veterans had caught their limit of 30 perch.

Mattson, Kalicky, and S.O.N.S. director and hatchery manager Bob Zawadzki agreed that the event was a success, and that they would try to do something similar in the future.

"We're trying to make this an annual thing," Kalicky said. "This is like 20 therapy sessions for them, just getting them out and out of their routines."

As they cruised back, Reitsma, 52-year-old Richard Williams of Erie and some of their new friends shared memories of military experience, the hard times they had after returning from war, and, eventually, the good times in their life.

One day, the veterans hope, the memories from Monday's fishing trip will be part of the reminiscing, too.

Contact the O'Danny O at 1-814-450-3571 or tinytimsfishing.com.

huntingfishing

Brandon Boyd: bboyd@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1724. Twitter: @brandonmboyd.


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