MOULTONBOROUGH — Jill Hoffman was all smiles as she held up a pair of small-mouth bass that collectively tipped the scales at nearly 5 pounds.
Hoffman of New York, N.Y., who became disabled while serving in the Air Force, joined dozens of other wounded warriors who had the chance to spend Saturday on Lake Winnipesaukee wetting a line.
Camp Robindel on Geneva Point Road in Moultonborough is one of the three stops on the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Trail, a fishing tournament that pairs disabled anglers with able-bodied partners who serve as coaches, choose baits and help find fishing locations.
Hoffman said her boat captain, Mark Fournier of Tamworth, “knew exactly where the fish would be biting.”
Nam Knights motorcycle club members provided the needed muscle to safely get disabled vets in and out of the 29 boats that participated in the no-cost, all-volunteer event that operates on donated funds.
The morning started off slow, Fournier said. But as soon as they made the decision to have a sandwich, the fish decided it was the prime time to bite. Hoffman landed the first two fish. They culled some of their smaller catches, bringing the five largest to shore where they collectively weighed in at 9.04 pounds.
“You couldn’t ask for better support from people who understand the military,” Hoffman said, as their catches were released back into the state’s largest lake.
Fournier, who regularly fishes tournaments with his wife and son, said he’s been involved with the paralyzed veterans’ event for the past 14 years.
“I love it. I love these people and the sacrifices they have made for us. I do it for my cousin who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004,” Fournier said.
Dan Kenney of Leicester, Mass., has been captaining a boat at the event for the past 19 years. Having the opportunity to spend a day in a boat with a wounded warrior, he said, gives you a new perspective on life.
He recounted sharing a boat with a 24-year-old Brockton, Mass., man who’d lost both legs while serving in the Middle East.
“This kid had both his legs blown off and couldn’t have been more positive. It was a life changing experience for me,” Kenney said, his voice breaking.
“Every time I leave this event I’m energized and recharged. It’s very therapeutic, good for the soul,” he said.
The best thing about the event, Kenney said, is continuing the newfound friendships developed fishing.
“We stay in touch via social media, send each other pictures,” he said.
The season opens with a tournament on the Charles River in Newton, Mass., at the Newton Yacht Club, on June 1. Camp Robindel on Lake Winnipesaukee is the second stop, and the last tournament of the season is held on North Pond in Rome, Maine, based at Camp Pine Tree, Oct. 4-6.
The events, he said, provide an often lost opportunity to get back out on the water and fish, swap fish tales and reunite with old friends as well as forge new friendships.
“This fishery is wonderful. There are a lot of rocks and cover for small-mouth bass. To be able to come to Winnipesaukee, and this camp, is just incredible for the veterans,” Kenney said.