Fishing with a wounded warrior

    By Owen Plair |   A few months ago I was informed that I’d have the pleasure of taking a Wounded Warrior out fishing during the week of events for the third annual Lt. Dan Band Weekend, which has been a really amazing event here in Beaufort for the Men and Women who have served our country. Being able to give back to someone who has risked their life for my freedom was something that I haven’t had the opportunity to do or experience. This  is, to me, one of the best fundraising events around and really helps the veterans.

    My boss and owner of Bay Street Outfitters, Tony Royal, donated all 3 of our guides for a day of fishing with the wounded warriors that wanted to get out on the water here in the Lowcountry and experience our tremendous red fishery. When most people think about wounded warriors they imagine guys with injuries like missing arms or legs etc, but that is not always the case. Most injuries can’t be  seen, which can be some of the worst. The mental part is what we as guides were there to help with; to help these guys catch fish and get back to doing things they love to do. It was a day I had been looking forward to for a very long time, and a day on the water I will never forget.

    We had 4 guides for 8 Wounded warriors and beautiful weather for a great afternoon of fishing. As the warriors walked down the dock, we all were introduced, and I found that there was only one guy who wanted to fly fish, and I was the guide chosen to introduce him to Salt Water Fly Fishing.

    Seargant First Class Jeff Swire stepped aboard my Maverick 18HPX and we were off in search of his dream redfish. Jeff initially wanted to fly fish, which can be hard for the everyday beginner to the sport, so we decided to spin fish for a few hours first to get some fish slime on our hands.

    Well, fish slime we got, and a lot of it! As the tide was dropping, our baits were dropping in the water as well. Right away Jeff started slamming redfish on live shrimp along some oyster shells in a small creek, really getting a taste for our big ole redfish here in the low country. Jeff landed six redfish, and two Jack Crevelle on bait, not to mention two of those reds were over 9lbs, which is huge for our area!

    What I love the most about fishing is the bonding experience you can have with a complete stranger. Soon after catching quite a few big fish, Jeff and I were no longer strangers. Deep in conversation, throwing up high fives full of fish slime, and giving the fish gods thanks for such an awesome start to our trip. I could see in Jeff’s eyes the shear joy he was having catching these fish, and simply just being out on the water during a beautiful day. Our conversation led to his injury in the war, and how it affected his life as a Sargent First Class in the United States Army. Jeff is the true meaning of a Patriot, not only proud to serve his country, but knows how it feels to give everything to insure safety for his brothers in war, and family at home.

    Jeff’s passion and honor for the Army sent chills down my back, and I felt honored to be on the boat with such an amazing guy. Being able to give back to someone who has given everything for me was a feeling like no other, and really made our time on the water special. After catching a few more fish, having a few laughs, it was time to fly fish! At first I was nervous because salt water fly fishing here in Beaufort is not easy, and can be very hard for a new comer to the sport. But with a strong start on light tackle, I knew big things would happen with the fly rod.
     
    We pulled onto the mud flat and started to pole the flats skiff into the skinny water where our school of big redfish were sitting. Jeff was getting used to throwing the fly and I was there to give him instruction on how to make his cast longer, and really help get his fly tofish. From the poling platform I could see a nice size school of reds of about 50 fish sitting in mere inches of water as I said to Jeff, “Look! Here’s our fish Jeff, lets make it happen brother!”. Well Jeff was just a little short on his casting, so I jumped down from the poling platform, threw out a cast on the fly rod for Jeff so he could see how it worked.

     
    BOOM! After the first strip a fish hit the fly, and the fight was on! Jeff was on cloud 9 fighting this redfish on the fly, and to watch it all happen made the moment so special. The smile on Jeff’s face is one I will never forget, a smile that was like no other. As he brought the fish closer to the boat we soon realized it was a HUGE 29 inch redfish! We both yelled with excitement and the energy on the boat was very evident to anyone within a mile of us!
     
    Jeff pulled the fish in and we landed his first redfish ever on the Fly! We shook hands, threw high fives, and even had a hug of excitement. Jeff was a redfish magnet and achieved his goal for our day, but exceeded his own expectations, which made me feel incredible. The time I spent with Jeff was one of the most rewarding days I’ve ever had on the water and special to me. Jeff caught the first redfish ever on my new Maverick 18HPX, which was special to me as a guide; I could not of imagined breaking my new boat in any other way. Our day on the water was not just about fishing but learning about the fishery, and learning about each other, which led to a great friendship.
     
    The other boats all had great days as well, and afterwards we had quite a few happy guys walking back to the van. Jeff caught the biggest fish of the day, and biggest fish of his life. He taught me a lot about the wounded warrior foundation that I didn’t know about, and made our day on the water a very humbling experience. This kind of trip is something I look forward to doing again in the future, and cannot wait till the next time Jeff is on my boat. Sargent First Class Jeff Swire was not only a true hero to me, but a friend, and that’s what one day of being on the water together can create.
     
     

    Capt. Owen Plair was born and raised on the waters of Beaufort, SC and at the age of 18 was able to turn his passion for fishing into a career. A premiere local fishing guide and an Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing guide for Bay Street Outfitters, you can join Capt. Owen Plair for the Light Tackle or Fly fishing trip of a lifetime. Visit Capt. Owen’s website for more information at www.redfishbeaufort.com