MONTGOMERY, Ala. — “Visiting the vets is a very humbling experience; it always is,” Bassmaster Elite Series pro Edwin Evers said outside of a Central Alabama Veterans Health System hospital. “They’ve given up so much so we can do what we do.”
Evers’ sentiment was echoed by all of the Bassmaster Elite Series All-Stars who went to the Montgomery VA hospital this morning. They met with numerous veterans who served in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East.
Most all of the veterans were fishermen of one sort or another. Frank Graham, a Vietnam veteran, said he enjoys fishing in Mobile Bay, Ala., as well as Tampa Bay, Fla.
“I love deep sea fishing and bass fishing and think that it’s just great that these guys made it out today,” Graham said. “But, I want whoever wins the money this week to remember me!”
The All-Stars signed autographs and posed for photos with the veterans. Conversation topics ranged from catfishing to cooking fish to today’s modern SONAR/GPS systems and how the military uses many of these technologies.
“This is real nice,” DeWayne Williams said as he shook hands with Steve Kennedy, Aaron Martens and Ott DeFoe. “I hope I can make it to weigh-in.”
As the group wound through the hallways of the hospital, one room caught their eye. It was an office decorated with fishing-related things, including numerous bass and salmon.
Dr. Schaffner, the occupant of the office and a dedicated angler, was not there today, but Gerald Swindle had one of the nurses dial him up for an interesting “prank” call.
Swindle heckled the doctor for a few minutes until his identity was revealed. Schaffner was disappointed that he could not be in attendance to meet some of his favorite anglers, Swindle included.
“There are only a couple things that could have kept me away,” Schaffner said.
Later, Trip Weldon revealed Schaffner to be one of the best anglers on the Alabama River, site of the head-to-head battles starting Friday.
The highlight for many of the veterans was getting to share fish stories with the pros. The VA hospital covers a wide area, not just Montgomery. Brian Henderson lives on Lake Eufaula, a lake many of the nine anglers have fished.
“These guys fish around my dock all the time,” Henderson said. “I tell them where to catch fish some times.”
James Kelley was visiting family at the hospital when he heard Michael Iaconelli was there and rushed into the hallway.
“I have always wanted to meet KVD and Mike Iaconelli,” Kelley said. “We fish everywhere around here, but I really like watching that Iaconelli on TV.”
The anglers had signed a few B.A.S.S. hats and were giving them out to the people they saw. Johnny Nelson put his on right away and was walking around the halls showing it off.
Nelson offered some advice to the anglers competing this weekend. “Don’t do anything that will get you in trouble.”
For more information about Toyota Trucks All-Star Week, visit Bassmaster.com.
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Luck “E” Strike, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ramada
For more than 40 years, B.A.S.S. has served as the authority on bass fishing. The organization advances the sport through advocacy, outreach and an expansive tournament structure while connecting directly with the passionate community of bass anglers through its Bassmaster media vehicles.
The Bassmaster brand and its multimedia platforms are guided by a mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry-leading publications — Bassmaster Magazine and B.A.S.S. Times — comprehensive website Bassmaster.com, ESPN2 and Outdoor Channel television programming, Bassmaster provides rich, leading-edge content true to the lifestyle.
The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, B.A.S.S. Federation Nation events presented by Yamaha and Skeeter Boats and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Bassmaster Classic.
B.A.S.S. offers an array of services to its more than 500,000 members and remains focused on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.