FISHING IN IRAQ – not just a fishy tale!

By Jim Turner

This is the real story of what a little support from home means to the troops. I came to Iraq about 15 months ago and things were pretty hot, mortars and rockets were pretty much a nightly thing and you didn’t get much of a break from the war. The Camp I’m working out of is right on the edge of Baghdad and surrounded by man made lakes on one of Saddam Hussein's many Palace complexes. Here in Middle East, water is precious commodity and controlling it a sign of wealth and power. That’s the reason all of his palaces were surrounded with lakes, especially right in this area. When dignitaries or others would fly into Baghdad International Airport he wanted the lakes and Palaces to be the first thing they saw from the air, and being a fish lover (so I have been told) he stocked them with Carp, all kinds of Carp. We have gold carp, Silver carp, Black and Brown Carp. We have big Carp and little Carp. The only variety of Carp we can specifically name is a Grass Carp. Trying to look up fish on the internet isn’t as easy as you might think. All we can find are scientific names with pencil sketches.

We also have some darn ugly Catfish. These fish have a catfish head and an eel tail. In this country there are no common names for the fish that translate well. Most Iraqi’s just refer to them as fish when speaking to us in English. There is a definite communication gap, and lets face it, carp would not be my first choice of a game or eating fish, but here it is a “Royal Fish” and desired. In the early days going fishing was the only real break you got from the war. You could totally take your mind off the pressure and put your self back on your favorite hometown lake. Believe me, we didn’t care that it was 130 degrees and no shade, we were fishing. We were fishing with any tackle we could put together and with anything that would pass for bait, sausage from breakfast, hot dogs from lunch, all kinds of bread and we also found they liked Fruit Loops (but it was hard to get the Loops to stay on a hook). These fish even eat dates.

Fishing here is also a great way to meet and learn from the fishermen from other countries. It seems like no matter where they come from fishermen are all alike. They lie. Their stories are just as tall as ours. It has given us the chance to speak with the Swedes, Brits, Aussies, Polls, New Zealanders and a bunch more. The sad part of meeting and getting to know these fishing buddies is at anytime, this friend may loose his life and some have. We have lost fishing buddies to IEDs and Suicide Bombers.

Now, about OUR stateside unsung troop supporters: When I got here fishing gear was very hard to come by and hooks and sinkers were pure gold. Luckily guys at the unit had told me we had fish, so I brought my own gear and was ready to do some serious fishing. After a couple weeks, I wrote a story in the Local Fisherman News published in the Oregon/ Washington area, sharing the “Fishing in Iraq” story. Shortly after the publication of the story I was contacted by Dave Boyea of The Vancouver Wildlife League asking what they could do. The members of the Vancouver Wildlife League got together and sent enough gear, that when combined with what little we had, allowed the fishing derbies to be put on. The league members donated there own gear, and very good gear it is. They sent us Steel head rigs, Ambassador reels, a 7 foot long piece of 6 inch PVC pipe full of rods and a box (the size a computer would come in) full of hooks, line, sinkers, floats and even spare parts and reel lube. They even had the reels cleaned and filled with fresh line. That is true support when you give your own gear. This group really made a difference when it counted, for a whole lot of troops. Thank you does not cover it. The results of their efforts follow:

Let me show you a real combat fisherman, SFC Steve Hatch from Morton, MS caught this monster last year when I first got here. Using a lure in true bass fishing fashion.

Steve fought this fish for over an hour on 10 pound test line and then came the tricky part, landing the fish. The sides of the lakes are all made of concrete and rock, angled at 45 to 90 degrees. So Steve handed his rod to a buddy and took a bayonet and duct taped it to a broom handle. Using this fine piece of equipment he became a spear fisherman. The monster was 49” long and weighed 63 pounds. Back then there was no catch and release, you needed to keep your gear. The LN’s (Local Nationals) that worked on base are quite poor and it was a great honor for them to be able to eat one of Saddam’s fish. Before the war, this meal could have cost them their lives. These fish fed families, or as big as it was helped a neighborhood. Locals would bring us bread for bait and we would give them the fish in return. The local bread holds together as bait a lot better than ours, being a stone baked flat bread.

These next fish were caught by Kevin Choules of the RAF. He caught this fair sized one using the old floating bread trick.

Then later that day he landed its grand daddy using the same type floating bread.

We figure Kevin’s fish and Steve’s were probably out of the same seasons hatch only this one had an extra years growth, it went 52 inches and we estimated 70 to 75 pounds he broke the 50 lb scale trying to weigh him. I think the real secret to Kevin’s success is he found a spot where he could get down to the waters edge to land them and release them.

This is me and I didn’t catch it. (But I did spend a night in a Holiday Inn Express before coming over). Note about myself, definitely not a writer, I am just an old country boy working as an EOD Tech in Iraq, trying to share a favorite pastime. You can tell by the story and its structure, the only book I ever read cover to cover was a match book.

These next shots are from one of our Fishing Derby’s. SPC Adrienne Williams, who caught this one, took the prize for the ladies division. We have some great lady anglers here, and I got to hand it to these gals they are right in the thick of it, shoulder to shoulder with the guys. Be it fishing or fighting. The area that the fishing derby takes places doesn’t have the monsters that hang out on the other side of the lake, or they might have, until they heard about the Derby.

The derby’s run all day long and into the evening, with hardly anyone having a full day off anglers come and go, getting a couple hours in when duty allows. The prize amounts to getting your name posted as the winner in the MWR building and of course, bragging rights. I’d like to thank a bunch of true Sportsmen, The Vancouver Wildlife League. Who know the true meaning of supporting the troops! Your donations of fishing equipment have been a big hit with the men and women of the Military.

If you like some techniques on Kokanee Jigging in central Oregon you can check out my web site http://www.tritsservices.com/ and if you have any clue what the big fish are called, I would like to know. They do have whiskers. Oh before I forget, to arrange a “Private” fishing trip here, see any local recruiter.

Jim Turner
From Madras Oregon