DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- A fishing tournament for disabled veterans and wounded warriors hit the water at High Rock Lake Thursday as the Operation North State Top Shelf Fishing Festival came to the lake for the first time in a homecoming of sorts for the Davidson County-based organization.
Fifty-four volunteers, anglers with their own boats each, took a veteran and spread out across the lake looking for their favorite fish.
“They know this is an opportunity they don't get every day. They don't have the equipment; they don't have the expertise and the opportunity to get on this boat. It's pretty much they want to do more,” said Terry Snyder, Operation North State founder.
By mid-morning, the fish caught by these men and women were plentiful and the smiles were growing large.
“It’s wonderful man. I look forward to it and I appreciate all these guys do. Take out from their time to come and take us fishing. I think it's a great thing,” said veteran Thomas Lewis, who came from Dillon, South Carolina, to fish in the festival.
And the day was not without its share of stories, such as Kim Reed’s catch.
“I had one and it was an LDR; long-distance release,” she said with a laugh.
“You know, we just sat there and tell stories. You know, I'm a veteran, my dad was a World War II veteran. He fished in one of them two years ago. He was in the Pacific and I just have a big-time doing this,” said Steve McCrary, who is one of the volunteers sharing his experience and boat for the day.
Snyder reiterates how important days like this are in getting these veterans out of their doldrums by getting them out of the house.
“They need fellowship, they need friendship. They need to get out of the house. In my opinion, the curing and working with their disabilities is outside,” Snyder said.
For most of these veterans, this may be the only fishing trip they take all year.
Jeff Cockerham is one of them. He hooked the biggest fish of his life today.
“I got a great teacher in Mr. Dean [Lambeth] right here, and he said, do this right here; I did it and second cast, look what I got,” exclaimed Cockerham, about his 5-pound largemouth!
“I told him, if we don't catch any more or do anything else, I could go home now and I'd be fine,” Lambeth said.
“When you get the wounded warriors themselves, validating it and they're having a good time, that's when you kind of know you're doing the right thing,” said Snyder, about the popularity of the festival, which is in its eighth year.
“I haven't fished in a while, so this has been a good day, a real good day, whether I catch anything or not, but that's what all true fishermen are supposed to say,” Reed said.
Operation North State holds eight fishing tournaments a year across North Carolina.