Big Blue Charters and Freedom Alliance Team Up in Sitka – BY Shawn Arnold

By September 10, 2019Fall 2019

The year is 1972, Mike Keating was in high school and getting ready to join one of the branches of our armed forces as it seemed likely he would be drafted. Like the Kenny Rogers song, Mike has told me that he would have been proud to go and do his patriotic chore when drafted. When he was in high school, he felt in awe of those that served. In 1973 the draft had ended though and while Mike was ready to go and serve there was not a need without the draft and or war.
Flash forward to 2019. Mike is living his dream. He runs Big Blue Charters in Sitka, Alaska along with his wife Karen. He loves Alaska and loves fishing. He has a fleet of what he and many think are the nicest boats in Sitka. His captains are held in high esteem in the industry. And while he never served in the military, he still feels a sense of need to give to those that did.
Mike holds the utmost respect for those that have served, and every Memorial Day he and Big Blue Charters and other Sitka companies work with the Freedom Alliance to take wounded servicemen out fishing in Sitka.
Freedom Alliance provides wounded troops with recreational therapy that improves their rehabilitation. And what better way to spend recreation time than while catching fish in Alaska. Freedom Alliance takes troops that were wounded and takes them to beautiful and peaceful places like Sitka to help them heal.
They say that traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress are the most common war injuries inflicted on this generation of combat veterans. Medical professionals and the troops themselves say that the great outdoors is the medication in treating the lingering wounds of war.
Ryan Behm from Freedom Alliance who was previously a combat medic brought a group of wounded vets to the Last Frontier. In addition to Big Blue Charters the vets fished with Vonnie’s Charters too.
The vets fished 3 days and while I never spent time on the boat with them, I communicated with them every afternoon after we all came in. I fished with Captain Mike on his boat as the Big Blue boats worked as a team to find the fish. We were not disappointed as every day produced solid Alaska fishing.
It was easy for the vets and anyone for that matter who fishes with Big Blue Charters. You just show up with a good attitude. Everyone gets an excellent homemade sandwich made by Karen Keating, chips and cookies and the cooler is full of beverages. First class fishing gear is provided including reels by Okuma and Avet and rods by GLoomis and Whopper Stoppers. Big Blue Charter even provides Xtra Tuff boots which are very comfortable.
On to the good stuff. Drop your bait to the bottom and in typical Sitka style you can bring up a halibut, a lingcod, shortraker, yelloweye, or an assortment of other tasty fish that all make great fish tacos. While we did not catch anything huge one of the vets brought in a well over hundred -pound halibut while Kevin Briles who lives in Sitka pulled one in about 70 pounds and I got one around 60. There were so many halibut caught and released because they were too small that would win jackpots in southern California it was unreal. At one point I had 10 straight drops and pulled in halibut in the 10 to 20- pound range every drop and all were carefully released.
In addition to the excellent bottom fishing the king salmon fishing was better this year than the previous year. There are two ways to fish for salmon and Big Blue Charters both trolls and mooches. I personally prefer to mooch, which is simply dropping either a cut or whole herring down to near the bottom and reeling up and then repeating. I like this method as you get to feel the salmon hit. Salmon have very soft mouths unlike bass so there is some finesse needed when hooking them. The old rip a lip method will lose you a lot of fish. When the salmon hits you reel, reel, reel until it is tight then just give a slight hookset. And once the king is on be prepared for battle. They are known to come to the boat rather easily until they figure out they are hooked. At that point hold on as you are going on a ride. Just like catching a yellowtail or tuna, it is a follow your fish mentality until you get it in.
The kings we caught were average size ranging from 17 to 25 pounds. They are a fun fish to catch and make excellent table fare. One of the nice things about fishing with Big Blue Charters is they have a deal with an excellent processing plant, so your fish is fillet and flash frozen that day. Then when you go to the airport the processor will meet you at the airport and for a very fair fee will box it and let you take your fish home with you. They say the fish last for a year, but I have always eaten mine before a year. The fish is so fresh it is hard to eat it elsewhere.
While Captain Mike guided me for 3 days, Captain Jesse Graham took the vets out two days without being paid and Captain Dan Corduan did it once. That was their contribution to the vets, and it was a huge one. Dan served in the military and through conversation found out he was in boot camp with one of the wounded vets. Small world, right? Since this was early in the season the Big Blue deckhands were not available yet, so Jesse and Dan also did double work and really worked their butts off for free. But both understand freedom is not free and without these vets risking their lives for us we might not be free at all. I feel that both Jesse and Dan are to be commended for their efforts and honestly, I feel lucky to know such fine young men.
There was a sweatshirt that one of the vets wore that stated, “ Those that expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” Thomas Paine. A truer statement could not be said, and the vets, Jesse and Dan did their part. And while Mike did not serve in the military those many years ago, he is still serving those that did.

 

finesse needed when hooking them. The old rip a lip method will lose you a lot of fish. When the salmon hits you reel, reel, reel until it is tight then just give a slight hookset. And once the king is on be prepared for battle. They are known to come to the boat rather easily until they figure out they are hooked. At that point hold on as you are going on a ride. Just like catching a yellowtail or tuna, it is a follow your fish mentality until you get it in.
The kings we caught were average size ranging from 17 to 25 pounds. They are a fun fish to catch and make excellent table fare. One of the nice things about fishing with Big Blue Charters is they have a deal with an excellent processing plant, so your fish is fillet and flash frozen that day. Then when you go to the airport the processor will meet you at the airport and for a very fair fee will box it and let you take your fish home with you. They say the fish last for a year, but I have always eaten mine before a year. The fish is so fresh it is hard to eat it elsewhere.
While Captain Mike guided me for 3 days, Captain Jesse Graham took the vets out two days without being paid and Captain Dan Corduan did it once. That was their contribution to the vets, and it was a huge one. Dan served in the military and through conversation found out he was in boot camp with one of the wounded vets. Small world, right? Since this was early in the season the Big Blue deckhands were not available yet, so Jesse and Dan also did double work and really worked their butts off for free. But both understand freedom is not free and without these vets risking their lives for us we might not be free at all. I feel that both Jesse and Dan are to be commended for their efforts and honestly, I feel lucky to know such fine young men.
There was a sweatshirt that one of the vets wore that stated, “ Those that expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” Thomas Paine. A truer statement could not be said, and the vets, Jesse and Dan did their part. And while Mike did not serve in the military those many years ago, he is still serving those that did.

 

 

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