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What a fantastic event we had on Saturday entertaining almost 80 troops on 24 different boats for the third annual Military Appreciation Day event headquartered at Wallace's Bait and Tackle in Hampton. As always we started Thursday night with an online captains meeting, then the board members (myself, club VP AJ Cole, Bret Wesson, Steve Grodin, Dawn West along with other volunteers) spent most of Friday gathering food and supplies before meeting at Wallace's to begin set up, then it was early to bed on the boat as I had 4 troops meeting me at 4am.

Woke up Saturday to slightly more east wind than predicted (no surprise there) but we were rigged and baited for sea bass on some offshore wrecks and ready to go at 4am. Except one sailor was not there. Called him 5 times and the last message was "see ya next time" so we cast lines at 4:25am heading east. I have to invest in radar because I still get nervous leaving at zero dark thirty, even with a full moon over my back shoulder. My biggest fear is floatsume that can't be seen or boats dead in the water with no lights so I had the crew with eyes front as well. I had put on the curtains in case of rain or early morning chill but the reflection off that plastic was a pain. About 5:00 we got a text message from the missing troop which said only "F**king alarm clock".:(( Oh well.

The east wind was just under 10kts so I kept my speed to about 12 kits to avoid beating the crew to death. Beautiful morning and I was very glad to see the sun come up providing better visibility. The seas were rolling a bit and the current was faster than I'd hoped so we dropped anchor off the wreck and let the current drag it to catch, then pulled in extra line to get over top. After a few throwback bass and a conger eel (about 4' long and FAT) we finally got a keeper black sea bass about 14". But not much more so we pulled anchor and headed further east. Deeper water (100') got us more throwbacks and one more keeper bass then a fat 17" flounder. Two of my troops had never been that far out in the ocean so they were really enjoying the day even if slow catching. And truth be told it was the farthest east I've taken the REEL COOL. I had another MAD boat fishing 8-10 miles south of me so we stayed in touch all day. They found some mahi but we hadn't prepared for trolling and that's not a mistake I'll make on the next trip since we had some mahi follow our baits right to the boat. We tried chunking in front of them but no luck there. We fished a few more wrecks as we headed back west, passing on two that had divers. Lots of 11" bass but few keepers. I fished longer than planned since the catching was slow so I had to push it home to make it to Wallace's at 4pm. AJ's son (he's got 20 years in the Army) and I got beat pretty good up front but the other two guys were comfortable just sitting on the deck in the stern drinking beers and napping. They all had a great time and while the catching was slow we managed 5 bass up to 15" and one flounder.

At Wallace's we had a full blown party going on with games for the kids and adults. A face painter and balloon animal maker, bouncy house. This was a marvelous event that could not have been possible without the hard work of volunteers who came from as far north as Delaware and south from North Carolina. All but 3 of our boats caught keeper fish including mahi, cobia, flounder, black sea bass, croaker, bluefish, Spanish mackerel along with the obligatory **** fish like sharks and toads. One of my troops got a $50 Bass Pro card for most unusual fish (the conger eel) and two other troops tied for biggest fish (both had 41" cobia). One of those cobia was caught on the Rudee Angler which donated 8 seats to the event. We finally had calm seas and low wind so the Captains and crews worked their tails off for the troops and I cannot thank them enough. Food was fantastic (donated chicken, dogs and brats). We finished clean up about 7:30pm and since most of us started at 3:00am it was one mother of a LONG DAY. What can I say about the volunteers who worked all day setting up, making sure all was right for the families, keeping them entertained and then breaking down all the tents, chairs and other items? They did not do this for a tee shirt. They did it to support the troops and their families. I want them all to know I'm very proud and grateful for each of them for all they did. :clapping2: Randy and Irene at Wallace's did a FANTASTIC job and also worked their tails off all day long. Support this small tackle shop if you can because they are good folks, plain and simple.

Best comment came from one of the troops wives who spoke to AJ. She said that in her years as an army wife they've attended tons of events and most are geared to the troop OR the spouse OR the kids so there's always someone bored stiff with nothing to do. But this was the first event she could remember where everyone had fun and there were smiles on all the faces. That one comment made all work worthwhile.
 

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Jack, one hell of a long day was a true understatement! I can definitely say it was the most rewarding days I have put in since last year's event.

My hat is off to all of our volunteer's on land and to the boat captains who graciously gave of their time and hard earned funds to support our Service Members.

I am already looking forward to 2016!

For those interested in more coverage of the event, please visit the Military Appreciation Day - Tidewater Facebook Page and Website.
 
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