SOUTH PORTLAND – “It’s an event to give back to those who have given,” Port Harbor Marine President Rob Soucy said, discussing the details of the Veterans Appreciation Fishing Tournament.

While giving back to veterans who have served the United States is the main goal of Saturday’s event, organizers of the second annual fishing tournament are also hoping to achieve another goal.

“I hope we have a day where the fish are biting,” Harvey Weinstein said. “When you go fishing, you like to catch fish. … It’s about having fun.”

The idea for the tournament was born last year after Weinstein saw a news segment featuring two young veterans fishing in a rowboat.

“The video was of vets coming off the boat and holding (up) their fish. Clearly their mind was off the war and they were just having fun,” he said, adding he thought, “instead of two guys, let’s take 100 guys out.”

So a committee was formed and local captains offered their time, their vessels, the gas for the boats and their tackle to take nearly 100 veterans out on the water for a day of fishing.

“Last year was by any stretch of the imagination a huge success,” said Jeff Irish, Port Harbor Marine’s director of parts and accessories. “It’s fun and very rewarding.”

Kerry Birmingham, manager of the Military Family Assistance Center of Maine, said veterans who participated last year and are signed up this year represent all branches of the military and all the wars and conflicts since World War II. After the first tournament, he said one of the Vietnam veterans expressed his appreciation to the volunteers.

“When he came back in and went to the boat captain, he said, ‘This is the first time anyone’s done anything for me since I left Vietnam,’” Birmingham said.

“People today may disagree with the politics of the situation, but it’s unanimous that veterans are doing what they’re asked to do and they’re doing the best they can. Nobody spits on vets like they did (with) Vietnam,” Weinstein said.

This year, a fleet of 35 boats will depart Spring Point Harbor on Saturday morning, carrying more than 100 veterans out into the open sea for a daylong fishing tournament. Once the tournament wraps up at 4 p.m., the fish will be weighed for awards and then filleted for a fish fry.

Weinstein said the fish fry was a big success last year, so they could not pass it up for this year’s event.

“We’re the only tournament that we know of where … the catch, we drop it right into the deep fryer, right on the spot and serve it just moments after it was right on the dock,” he said. “Every single fish was eaten.”

Another highlight of this year’s tournament is retired Army Col. David Hunt, who will speak to kick off the event and wrap it up in the evening with awards. A military analyst for Fox News and author of “They Just Don’t Get It,” Hunt approached the organizing committee about the tournament, asking how he could take part.

“He’s a big name that’s stepped up to participate,” Irish said. “(The tournament) is growing by leaps and bounds in a short period of time.”

Irish said the tournament is quickly becoming one of the largest in the state and the only one, to his knowledge, geared toward veterans.

“It’s a day they can go out (and) we want to say thanks and let’s have some fun,” Weinstein said.

His hope is that the idea behind the tournament take root across the country.

“I’d like to see this spread,” he said. “I believe it could catch on in other states and Maine would set the tone.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]