Du was the first to arrive for our final 2015 Veterans Trip. He’s originally from Vietnam. The other veterans – Joey, Thomas, Vega, and Brandon- showed up relatively at the same time.
Du, the eldest of the group (guaranteeing him the biggest room) has multiple talents. He wrote a book about his life and gave me a copy and shared a letter with some of his story. That moving letter will be posted separately. He also really enjoys video and photography. Here is the link to the video he made the first day. Veterans Swordfish Trip I enjoyed watching how much fun they had on just the boat ride out for our 2015 Veterans’ trip (minus the seasickness).
Two former vets also joined on this trip. It sometimes happens that some recipients have to cancel last minute. We always want to have full trips and this last 2015 veterans trip was no exception. Andrew (Brandon’s older brother) and Hipilito planned to come down for part of the trip.
The first day we split up in two boats. On the first boat were Capt. Robbie Delph and Capt. Brandon Cyr, along with Brandon, Thomas and me. In the Spanish Fly boat was Capt. Dave Moloney, Capt. Jared Cyr, along with Joey, Du, and Vega. Dave and SF crew went to the Vandenberg, which is an old Navy ship that was made into an artificial reef.
My dad did a piece on the ship as it was sunk on one of his shows. The Vandenberg had a long and proud history above the water. It means a lot to me to now since it has this new life as a reef. You can hear more about it here: Artifical Reef.
The tunas were going crazy on the Vandy (for short). Robbie decided to hit a couple of his secret mutton spots. Robbie, like me, is the child of a Keys’ fishing guide. We have a lot in common. His dad ,Ralph, was an established, very successful guide when my dad started out. Robbie grew up fishing between Montana and the Keys. My dad also enjoyed off season fly fishing in Montana with dear friends such as Stu Apte. When you have a job that is ruled by Mother Nature, you learn to travel with the seasons.
Robbie said that we would have the other vets catch the sushi (aka tuna), and we could catch the fish to fry (aka muttons). Thomas and Brandon caught some nice size muttons, along with some tuna. Then the seasickness kicked in for Brandon. He is exactly like his brother, Andrew, in this sense. Even though they took Dramamine they both got sick. It was rough and the ocean can over power any medication.
After the muttons, we started hooking up the jacks. Brandon caught a Jack Crevalle before he got too sick. Thomas was talking crap and was saying things along the line of “That was easy. Are these the biggest fish you have?”Robbie rigged him up right and brought him to a wreck where he knew the amberjacks (AKA “reef donkeys”) were. They are strong and fight like a mother…Whenever our kids or Vets start to get their heads blown up, we introduce them to AJs. Lets just say they will humble you. You only need to catch one, and you will never want to do it again. Thomas called in Brandon for help. He did as much as he could before getting sick again. He offered it up to Robbie, Captain Brandon, and me…no thanks. We have caught plenty. Du has got an infectious laugh, and we could hear him from a mile away. Well maybe not a mile, but pretty close. When he starts laughing everyone starts laughing. We went back to the dock. Joey, Du, and Vega were taking pics with Brandon, Thomas fish. We gave them a hard time just for fun.
The next day we all went on one boat. It was blowing about 20-25 knots which is rough if you’re not used to being on a boat. Jared couldn’t make it, so we fit everyone on the Spanish Fly. Captains Robbie, Dave, and Brandon, Du, Joey, Vega, Brandon our vet, and me. It was cool to have Robbie on the boat. He’s been doing this for 30+ years, and obviously, with experience you gain more knowledge. He shared some tips and tricks with Brandon and Dave. Brandon, our vet, got sick almost immediately. Even riding out offshore when we were looking for bait was comfortable. Robbie utilized the young captains Dave and Brandon. Dave threw a couple of times and let Brandon take over. Brandon is 23 so we let him do it. When he missed a school or threw badly, we made sure to let him have it. Besides, Vet Brandon was the youngest one on the boat. He would say something like “other Brandon is younger than me”. Vet Brandon would say “Yeah, but I’m a Marine.” Good laughs.
Finally we got bait, and Robbie was going to take us sword fishing. Sword fishing is not easy. Your rig, what bait, how to drift, how much weight to use, what color blinking light to attach to your rig, etc. It takes quite a few tries if it is your first time.Well, it was not Robbie’s first time, and within 5 minutes of our first drift we were on. Now the great thing I love about fishing is that it doesn’t get old. Sure some guides get beat up and worn out over time. The prepping – bait, tackle, tying flies, cleaning the boat – and all of that fun stuff is hard. But when you hear that rod go off, it’s amazing…even for a captain that’s been doing it awhile like Robbie. After the first 5 minutes the line starts ripping out. I will never forget it…might be one of the best, most memorable reactions I’ve seen fishing. Robbie started jumping up and down yelling “Wind!!!! Wind the reel!” Everyone kind of looked at each other…duh what do I do? Joey was already in the fighting belt. Robbie clipped him in and guided him through the process. Now it was on an electric reel, which some may not like, however you can turn it on and off. That is what Joey did. When he would start to get tired he would let the reel do the work for him….so we watched and waited to see how big this fish was and if it was even a sword fish. I’ve been sword fishing plenty of times. We all think it’s a swordfish only to find it’s a shark (which is still cool just not the target species.) We can see color, and it is a swordfish! It jumped a few times next to the boat. Little guy. We got some quick pics and let him go.
Next it was Thomas’s turn…by this time Brandon, Du, and Vega had already thrown up. When Joey was done taking pics with his swordfish, he threw up too. Thomas again started bragging that he wasn’t getting sick. (Robbie, Brandon, and myself have never gotten seasick. Dave has gotten land sick after coming into port while he was in the Navy but never sea-sick.) Thomas gets strapped into the belt, and again in 5 minutes we are hooked up. High fives, whoo hoos, going around and pop goes the fishing line. Bummer. We un-clip Thomas from the rod. He leans over and pukes. Gotta love karma.
We decided to head in since all the captains had to work the next day…and all the vets were puking.
Hipilito and Andrew arrived that night. We made some sushi and traded stories. This trip had so many different personalities, yet they all had similarity. Some have seen combat, some have not. Some have had PTSD before the military, some while in, some have had injuries ranging from head trauma from IEDs, to falling off a helicopter. Being in the Keys, an amazing day of fishing, and staying in a beautiful house, we are all sharing this experience together. Even though I’m not a vet, and I have been blessed in life, it’s never a “who has had it worse”. Even if one vet has had a lot of trauma, we share and talk together and not compare and talk over each other, one of the great features that embodied our Final 2015 Veterans Trip.
It was great to have Hip and Andrew join us. They know Dave and I (we’ve seen them quite a few times since their trip). If you want to talk about someone who has come leaps and bounds, it’s Andrew. Brandon,the vet, is Andrew’s brother. During his trip, he was documenting it on his Go Pro. I asked him what he was going to do with it? Andrew said he was documenting his transformation, and boy he has done that. He and Hipilito work with this group called “Combat Hippies” (tag line “Post traumatic growth”). More info can be found on this link: Post Tramatic Growth With Control Hippies
Andrew went from being very quiet and reserved to open, honest, and proud of where he is in his transformation. He is very adamant that it’s not over; You are always transforming. As long as it is for the better.
The next day was spent spearfishing with Michelle Morris who has been a part of several past trips. Tabitha , the liaison I work with at the Recreational Department of the Veterans Affairs, is Mom #1. I’m Mom #2, and Michelle has been dubbed Mom #3. She is very maternal and a bad ass. She always respected my dad, and my dad always tried to help her as much as he could. She was a woman in the boy’s club. It’s not easy. Almost like you had to work twice as hard just because you are a woman. It’s the same theme I heard from our women vets. Well she did work twice as hard, and it shows!
Mom #3, her boyfriend Tim, Du, Vega, Thomas and myself were on one boat. Joey had gone spearfishing before, as had Hip and Andrew. Brandon was with them as well. They went with a fellow captain. Visibility wasn’t great. They all were having a blast even if they missed some fish. Du just swam around getting some underwater footage popping his head up once in a while to say “This is unbelievable” which in his accent, and excitement is wonderful. Michelle would come back to the boat pulling hogfish that she stuffed in her wetsuit. When she would find a lobster she would ask Tim or myself for the net and tickle stick. For every fish that everyone else shot, she had 5 just herself. We got ready to leave and the other boat needed to be towed in. The canals are very skinny going back to Michelle’s place and she did it like a BOSS! When we got back we cleaned the gear, and Michelle showed some of the guys how to properly filet the hogfish, and get the meat out and “de-poop” the lobster.That night Michelle and Tim joined all of us back at the house. They treated us and made sushi, baked mutton, fried hogfish. At the end of dinner the guys thanked Michelle and went to get their bathing suits on. Michelle stopped them and said “No one is going anywhere until this kitchen is clean.” She knew I would get stuck doing it, and being a mom she was going to make them work. Dave even said “Oh I will do it later.” Michelle said “Oh no you won’t you will do it now.” Another reason she is Mom #3!
We swam around in the pool and had some really good conversations with our guys from the 2015 Veterans’ Trip. Du’s laugh gets me every time. I haven’t laughed like that for a long time. And for no reason. He would laugh and I would laugh because he was laughing and that kept going. We played “Heads Up’’ for a bit in the pool which was entertaining.
The last trip was with David Harris, brother of Kenny at Key West Extreme Adventures. Kenny and my dad were good friends and guides together and I grew up with his sons. Kenny now works with family on a very comfortable boat that highlights seeing sharks and dolphins in the wild.
While we were waiting for them to get the boat ready, Joey and I were watching a few pigeons commenting on how we disliked them. Just as Joey was about to scare one, David put out his finger and this pigeon landed right on it. David has a background in training marine mammals so he had some experience. We asked him how he did that? He said a lot of bread and a lot of trust. I need to rethink my view of pigeons. I will keep an open mind.
Once on the water, we stopped at a place known for sharks. The boat has a very safe way to feed the sharks and highlight them for visitors. Joey tried it out himself and was impressed by how strong they are. As we were heading in we saw a school of dolphins. David and Kenny know I grew up around Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, where my mom worked. So when we saw the dolphins he just looked at me and told me to talk about them. I explained how to tell males from females and a few other tidbits.
To sum up this trip, good times, great food, and great people, here are some quotes from our Final 2015 Veterans Trip:
“An unimaginable, unbelievable trip that has uplifted my spirit of life, that is all worthy to live, enjoy and help others as fellow human beings!” – Du
“Had the best fishing experience of my life. Great organization along with fellow veterans who also took part. Krissy and the guides really took care of us and showed us an awesome time. Thank you!!” – Joey
“I had an amazing time in Key West while fishing on the Spanish Fly. The hospitality was great, the house was awesome, and the fish we caught were delicious! This trip really helped me rekindle a passion for something I haven’t done in over a decade. Didn’t know who Jose Wejebe was before the trip, but I can see now that he was the Michael Jordan of fishing.” – Thomas
“Sea Sick was an understatement, but the time of my life is what came out of it.” – Brandon
Hope you enjoyed our play-by-play of our 2015 Veterans’ Trip! Almost made you feel like you were actually there huh?