Pt 2: Montana Veterans Describe Alaska Fishing Trip
We caught our limit on day one of fishing in Yakutat, Alaska. Several of us pulled in 80-pound plus Halibut. Iraq veteran Clint Mainwaring brought in the Halibut topping 100 pounds (pictured above). He also happens to be a teacher at Ben Steele Middle School in Billings.
Here's a bigger view of his Halibut.
Our boat captain Bill McCutcheon is a Coast Guard veteran who now runs Bottom To Top Charters in Yakutat, Alaska. For five years in a row now he and his wife Tammie have graciously donated these Halibut fishing trips to Montana veterans.
Bill took us all out on his "Show Girl" fishing vessel. When the Halibut fishing slowed down, he took us over to a spot about a half mile away and we had a blast reeling in our limit of Rockfish in about 45 minutes.
(Click here for Part 1 of our Alaska fishing coverage featuring Bill and Tammy McCutcheon with Bottom To Top Charters)
Jory is an Iraq war veteran who still serves in law enforcement in Eastern Montana. He couldn't say enough about how incredible the trip was. He said the fishing was "amazing- a lot of fun."
Jory: It's definitely one of those things you do once in a lifetime. You know, if you could do it, if I did this every year, I would always be comparing it to this- this first time I've ever done it. It's always gonna compare to that.
Check out the video of Jory catching his first big Halibut:
It wasn't just the fishing- it was the time hanging out with the guys, fellow combat veterans. Oh yeah, and our living quarters for the week consisted of this cool classy house boat that has made 16 trips through the Panama Canal. I call it a house boat, but yacht is probably a better description.
The big white boat in the middle was our house boat for the week. I took the shot while pulling back into the docks after a day of fishing:
Here's how Tammie McCutcheon describes the "Show Mama" boat we were living on.
Tammie McCutcheon with Bottom to Top Charters: It's a 73 foot boat that was made in Stockton, California originally as a Marlin boat and got overhauled in '83. A gentleman bought it for his family, and they traveled the world with it...she's got four state rooms. She's got four heads, a full galley, and a big salon. She has an upper deck. She's pretty spectacular.
You heard me describe the fishing in Yakutat, Alaska. It was the trip of a lifetime for this group of Montana veterans. But as is the case with any fishing trip, it always ends up being about more than fishing.
Ryan Kovach described being "in a very dark place" after his deployment to Afghanistan. Chris Grudzinski, who had organized these trips through the Montana Veterans Meat Locker, highlighted Ryan's three years of recovery. He said he enjoyed just seeing all of the camaraderie and the joy on the faces of his fellow veterans.
Ryan Kovach: I look back now and like you said- going through deployment and then going through a dark place and then build it back up to get to know people like Chris and people like you and veterans out there...Got to get myself out of a dark place and then get offered the opportunity to do something like this it has been absolutely phenomenal. I couldn't have told you three years ago that I would have been where I'm at right now and get the experiences with you guys. It was amazing.
It was all possible thanks to Chris Grudzinski with the Montana Veterans Meat Locker and Bill and Tammie McCutcheon with Bottom to Top Charters.
Chris Grudzinksi on impact of trip: Since we started this, I've seen this is really therapeutic. And in the sense of we're not talking war stories, we're not bragging about accomplishments, kills- there's none of that stuff. None of that goes on. This is opening up with guys with their experiences, you know, good or bad...They come here, and it's away from their life, it's away from their work, and the stuff that comes out is what's been bottling up...they needed to express something that they never remembered until they're around guys that served and had similar experiences. And there's something about this whole trip, this whole experience, that being around this group of individuals and away from their element that this genuinely comes out.
Chris Grudzinski says we've all had struggles, we've all battled demons and had to reel ourselves back in.
You know, here, you're dropping the bait down in the line in the water, and fish or not- you're getting rid of something and you're pulling up something even healthier.
To hear more about the trip- including audio interviews- we'll have a special 4th of July show on Monday's "Montana Talks with Aaron Flint" between 9 and 10 a.m.
Big thanks to the Montana Veterans Meat Locker and Bottom to Top Charters for making this happen. A big thank you to Leonard's Landing for the fish processing as well.
Click here for Part 1 of our coverage.
Even a bad fisherman like me was able to reel in a Halibut thanks to Bill.
Here's a Ling Cod that I caught. Bill says he likes the taste of Ling Cod even more than Halibut now.