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Feature Article: War Heroes on Water

War Heroes on Water Tournament a patriotic success

BY ROD HALPERIN/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Sep 07, 2018

NEWPORT BAY — The inaugural War Heroes on Water Fishing Tournament took an emotional and memorable turn the weekend of Aug. 18 as the Southern California fishing community, event donors and support crew received an unexpected and invaluable gift from the veterans themselves: The opportunity to witness – and share - in the event of a lifetime.

VETS ON BAD COMPANY got more than they bargained for when they hung a triple off the bow.

“Our goal was to give these brave and selfless heroes the weekend of a lifetime, but as it turns out, that’s also what they gave to us in return,” said Anthony Hsieh, whose vision a year prior set in motion the events that brought the tournament to fruition. “I am confident that every person who participated in the tournament returned forever changed in a profound way. The event was at times uplifting and joyful and yet deeply emotional, it was that special.”

For the 27 veterans who participated, the weekend was action-packed. From the moment they arrived and were transported to Hsieh’s home to the moment they returned home, the days were filled with memories. On Sunday, when they all gathered to talk about their experiences, the air quickly fills with fish stories – both about the ones that were caught and even more about the ones that got away. Lit up with excitement, the joy of the entire experience was plainly seen across everyone’s faces. Whether they caught a lot or a little, for the tournament participants, the experience was a dream come true. Here is how it played out:

Each of the yacht owners had offered up their boats and crews to host the veterans for three days of fishing, one pre-fish and two tournament days. The lineup of talent would rival any tournament on the coast.

The veteran teams would fish for qualifying calico bass, white seabass, halibut, yellowtail, rockfish, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, dorado, marlin and swordfish. Points were earned for catching qualifiers and for the weight of largest for each species. The event was designed to be a friendly competition targeting a variety of species using different techniques and styles.


As the teams made their way around the east end of Catalina they revealed their opening strategy. They spread out, some heading south, others heading west, and still others posting up near the kelp lines off Catalina. Before long the tournament channel came alive with reports of kelps holding willing dorado and foamers of bluefin in the channel between the islands.Bad Company called in hooking a big bluefin out of a foamer, as Joint Venture, Chaser, and Motivator also chased the fast-moving schools off the backside of Catalina. Bad Company got theirs aboard then promptly hung a triple for their vets. Over went the inflatable skiff and the angler and crew scrambled aboard it to continue the fight before being spooled. A good while later Bad Company called in that all three were landed and the skiff successfully collected.

War Heroes On Water indeed. By the time the afternoon roll call came around several boats reported catches of dorado, calico bass and rockfish, with several yachts out of VHF range of tournament control and not reporting.

Saturday evening saw the fleet split, with some anchoring up in Cat Harbor and others around the back of San Clemente Island going for the sundowner bluefin bite. Gambler, Joint Venture and Wild In Sac worked together to get located on a school that wanted to bite the flying fish at Clemente. All three found themselves hooked to big ones, with Joint Venture calling in a double. Billy Miagawa on Gambler reported having a “well over 200” at the boat after nearly 2 hours when the first gaff placed in the fish was straightened out as the fish tore off on a long run. The second time at the boat the fish ripped the next gaff shot free and sounded again. On the third attempt and just out of range the fish shook its head one last time and the hook pulled as the fish faded out of the deck lights and into the darkness.

Captain Dave Hansen on Wild In Sac was still connected to a very large model for over 3 hours on heavy gear, the vets taking turns battling for all they worth well into the darkness. With leader in hand and the gaffs reaching, something suddenly gave and the fish was gone.

Over on Joint Venture Capt. Jimmy Kingsmill and crew worked hard to keep both vets connected. In stand-up gear and harnesses, the vets and crew worked as a team to land first one, then the second bluefin that topped the scales at 199 and 201 pounds.

Sunday morning roll call revealed most teams had scored limits of keeper calicos and rockfish, along with a couple handfuls of dorado, a yellowtail, another bluefin for Bad Company and a bluefin and yellowfin for Gambler.

A NICE DORADO for the vets fishing aboard Joint Venture.

Things got interesting Sunday afternoon as Chaser hooked a marlin, but that fish jumped off before they could get a hand on the leader. With time running down our impressive fleet rumbled past Avalon to the anchorage at Whites Cove and the evening festivities. Wild In Sac elected to anchor in a pretty fishy zone and landed two yellowtail in the waning moments to close out the scoring.

When the scorecards were collected and tallied, the veterans and their teams had caught 219 qualifying fish, with a total of 1,287 pounds of total qualifying weight. The teams caught: 92 calico bass up to 4.5 pounds; 99 rockfish up to 16.2 pounds; 3 yellowtail up to 12 pounds; 1 15-pound yellowfin tuna; 8 bluefin tuna up to 203 pounds; and 15 dorado up to 15 pounds.

The angler with the highest overall qualifier points was Vinnie Cunningham, Team Bad Company. He also won high overall angler. The angler with the highest overall weight points was Kaleb Weakley, Team Bad Company. Kaleb Weakley, Vinnie Cunningham and Mike Spivey fishing on Bad Company were the high overall team.

Josh Miles, Director of Military Programs for Freedom Alliance, summed up the event. “War Heroes on Water is the model of patriotic Americans making a tangible and meaningful difference in the lives of veterans and their families. Speaking with many of the veterans involved in the event, they all expressed sheer amazement at the outpouring of generosity from the fishing community, boat owners and event sponsors. For many of the veterans, the event was more than they ever dreamed, and all left deeply touched. Many new friendships were made this weekend and a unique bond between veterans and complete strangers was forged. For Freedom Alliance, the support of all those involved was beyond impressive. We thank Anthony Hsieh for his leadership, the entire team for their hard work, and the event donors for their immense generosity which supports not only the troops who were at the event but thousands of military families, in addition to providing scholarships for the children of service members killed or wounded in action. Those who gave their time, money, and effort to make this event happen stepped into the arena to truly change lives.”

In support of the event, donations poured in from across the country, with fishing supply manufacturers providing vets with an array of state-of-the-art fishing gear. Generous donors outside the fishing community stepped up to help with fundraising efforts, donating drool-worthy fishing trips, luxury vacations, exquisite artwork and much more for the charity silent auction that was held at the pre-event reception. Because of their gracious gifts, the auction raised more than $80,000 on top of the money raised to fund the tournament. The money, donated to Freedom Alliance, will go to support wounded Veterans and their families as well as fund scholarships for children of soldiers killed or wounded in action.

Said Tournament Director Rod Halperin, “We could not be more proud of all of our supporters who helped us make the event happen, and could not be more grateful to these veterans and the many thousands more who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom. These are America’s finest and it has been our honor to serve them. We can never thank them enough, but we will continue to do our best to show our appreciation for what they have done for our great country.”

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THE SECOND OF two 200-pound class bluefin hits the deck of the Joint Venture.

FOUR BLUEFIN TUNA for Bad Company on Saturday morning.

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