Vets treated to day of fishing on Lake Superior

Participants of The South Shore Fishing Association’s sixth annual Veterans Appreciation Fishing Day hold up their catches from their morning fishing excursion during the patriotic boat parade Saturday afternoon at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — Many Northern Michigan residents have a relationship with the sport of fishing that goes as deep as Lake Superior itself. The South Shore Fishing Association –a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance fishing in the area — is working on getting more people hooked on the sport with fishing activities that give back to the community. On Saturday, the SSFA hosted its sixth annual Veterans Appreciation Fishing Day in Marquette. The event gets veterans from all across the Upper Peninsula out fishing on Lake Superior with volunteer chartered fishing boats at no cost to participants. The only requirement of vets was that they have a valid Michigan fishing license. 

“All the volunteer captains volunteered their time, they volunteer their boats; their baits, whatever it is. It doesn’t cost the vets anything to come on out,” said Todd Scott, president of the South Shore Fishing Association.

Volunteers and veterans met early Saturday morning to register and were out on the water by 8 a.m. The city of Marquette waived launch fees at the Cinder Pond and Presque Isle marinas for participating boat owners in Veterans Appreciation Fishing Day.

Captains took participants north of the Lower Harbor and traveled between two to 20 miles from shore in search of lake trout. U.S. Army veteran and first-time participant Charles Tirpik, of Bessemer, rode on Scott’s boat that morning. Tirpik reported it was a beautiful day to be out on the water and that the crew was able to reel in five fish that morning.  

“I’d recommend (this event) 200 times over,” Tirpik said. “These people are just wonderful. I can’t believe what they are doing for us. I know they say they appreciate us, but we sure appreciate them.”

After four or five hours of fishing, boats headed to Mattson Lower Harbor for a patriotic boat parade. Dozens of spectators gathered at the shoreline to cheer on the fisherman. As each boat sailed by, vets showed off their catches or passed out candy to spectators.  In total, about 80 vessels and 170 veterans participated in the event. Once the parade ended, vets were bused to Tourist Park for a pig roast picnic.

“Everyone is fishing for everyone here,” Scott said. “It’s not like we take the fish we caught on my boat and give it to the vets I took out, everybody collaborates.”

The entirety of the day’s haul was put into coolers, taken down to Thill’s Fish House and cleaned up by volunteers at the facility. The fish fillets were divided up so that each veteran could take some home.

At the picnic, a small ceremony took place before the food was served. U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, went out fishing that morning with participating veterans and spoke at the picnic. 

“It does take more than individuals, it takes groups, it takes communities, it takes all sorts of different entities to make good things happen,” Bergman said. 

Scott spoke before food was served to thank all the individuals and groups contributed to making the event possible. Contributors included, but are not limited to, the Northern Michigan University Olympic Wrestling team, the National Guard, Thill’s Fish House, Elks 405, Marq-Tran, Veterans Affairs Chapter 22 and many corporate sponsors. 

“Without this group of men and women we would not be able to do what we did out here today,” Scott said. “We wouldn’t have the freedom we enjoy to spend the weekends out on the water with our family and friends. We seriously wouldn’t even have the fish in that lake to go chase without the sacrifice defending and protecting our nation. On behalf of the South Shore Fishing Association I would like to thank all the veterans who are here today; all the active veterans who are not here today and of course all the families who support supported our military; and of course to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that is no longer with us; it’s you who we owe our freedom. Thank you.”

The SSFA started in 2002 with a group of avid fisherman who saw a need to promote fishing in the community and to also preserve the area’s lakes, rivers, and streams. The associations host annual river and lake clean-ups, the Kids Fishing Day event, a Women’s and Children’s Fishing Tournament, as well as a spring and fall tournament. This year the SSFA gave out about 300 rods and reels to families that attended the Kids Fishing Day event held on Fathers Day at Lakenenland in Chocolay Township. To learn more visit, southshorefishing.com, or contact the group at SSFAboard906@ gmail.com.

Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is ckelly@miningjournal.net.