More than a decade ago, a couple of Alaskans – one from Anchorage, the other from Seward – decided they wanted to do something for Alaska servicemen stationed in the cold, dark north.
Enter the Armed Forces Combat Fishing Tournament (originally the Seward Combat Fishing Tournament), a benefit which now attracts the support of not only the guys who started it but just about every charter fishing business in the big, little community of 2,500 at the head of Resurrection Bay.
And they’re not alone.
With the tournament now the largest military appreciation fishing event in the country, more than a few businesses throughout the broader Prince William Sound area have been joining in, and there is goodly bit of financial support from the state’s largest city.
The money helps fund free and low-cost programs the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska provides military personnel. Not many of those programs can top a free-of-charge chance to go chase the biggest of big Alaska fish in an event where everyone goes home a winner.
The halibut caught on the day gets spread among all the fishermen, and there is a banquet afterward with drawings for prizes.
More than a dozen charter boats turned out this year to take about 200 enlisted men and women – not officers – out to hunt for huge flatfish.
The man getting the most attention at the end of the hook-and-sinker lead into the Memorial Day weekend was the U.S. Air Force’s John-Austin Gillardo from Corpus Christi, Texas, who shortly after his Friday catch posted “so stoked” on his Facebook page above a photo of himself standing next to a 130-pound halibut hanging on the Seward scale.
Gillardo was fishing with John Moline aboard the Nauti Girl. Saltwater Safari Company’s Bob Candopolous, who was joined by Keith Manterach of Anchorage’s Specialty Truck and Auto in founding the fishing event, said he was glad to see Moline in the spotlight when skippers and servicemen gathered for a banquet after the day was done.
He “was the very first guy to donate his boats to the event the year after I started this with just the Legacy & Legend,” Candopolous said. Moline has been on the team ever since.
“He faithfully gives us two boat every year,” Candopolous said.
Surely no one was more thankful for that than Gillardo, though nobody was complaining about the days outing even if rough seas did make things a little uncomfortable for a few. That was more than offset by a bounty of big fish.
Candopolous reported two halibut at or over 90 pounds on his boat alone. Along with Amir Brito-Roy’s 99 pounder, the second biggest fish on the day, Ben Setchel had a 90 pounder.
“One up’d last year’s halibut with this 90-pounder,” Setchel observed on his Facebook page before giving a shout out to Seward.
“The generosity of all the captains in Seward can not be beat,” wrote the airman from DeKalb, Ill. They provide “lifelong memories and stories even if I was hanging off the side of the boat losing every bit of my lunch.”