'Largest military fishing tournament in the world' gives Alaska's combat veterans a change of pace
Over 200 military men and women made their way to Seward on Wednesday for the 13th annual Combat Fishing Tournament, which is hailed by the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska as the largest military fishing tournament in the world.
"In addition to thanking them, we want them to see what Alaska has to offer," ASYMCA of Alaska executive director Sarah Riffer said. "An opportunity they probably would never have."
In its first year the tournament only had two charter boats, this year it had 27. The tournament style event takes Alaska based junior enlisted service members from all branches, on charter boats through Resurrection Bay and into the Gulf of Alaska primarily for halibut.
"It was a good experience but I was sick the entire time but I'm very grateful of everyone there," Charlot Davies with the U.S. Air Force said. "I caught my first halibut so that was pretty cool."
According to Riffer, it takes around $80,000 to $100,000 to put on the event. Charter boats donate their time, captains and crew. The crew also fillets all the fish free of charge. The fish is then processed at a discounted rate. Each military member gets to take home the fish they caught and also receive prizes at the banquet that follows for biggest fish, smallest fish and biggest "chummer" of the day. It's an event that couldn't be pulled off without the help of over 40 volunteers.
"It's unbelievable," volunteer Jim Lee said. "The food donors, the beverage donors, the list is endless, the staff at the ASYMCA the hours they put into it, the prize donors, its nothing short of phenomenal."
Besides the volunteers that stay back and help set up tables for the banquet or help weigh and clean fish, the charter captains also know how important this day is.
"Last year I had a military member come up to me," Lee said. "He wasn't even on my charter. He thanked me and said he'll be deployed for the third time to the Middle East soon. He said, while he's surrounded by desert, this is a day he's going to think about to get him through."
It's also an opportunity for the service members in Alaska to see what else the state has to offer.
"Many of them have not been outside where they are permanently stationed in Alaska," Riffer said. "Whether that is Fairbanks or Eielson, JBER or Juneau, this gives them a chance to see another part of our state."
This was the first time the tournament was held on a Wednesday. It is always held in Seward at the end of May.
For more on the services ASYMCA of Alaska provides, visit their website.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sarah Riffer's last name as Riffen.
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