Minn. troops hooking 'Saddam bass' in Iraq

Service personnel have spent free time in Iraq fishing, as Sgt. Anger and this 25-pound plus "barbel" can attest, but one group needed help obtaining gear. 

In mid-February, shortly after the Minnesota Air National
Guard's 148th Fighter Wing settled into Iraq, Staff Sgt. Joe
Anderson of Duluth sent a post to a Minnesota online fishing forum.

``If anyone is cleaning out their boathouse or garage and comes
across any fishing supplies no longer needed, I am deployed in
Baghdad with other MN fishermen and all we have is one purple
Snoopy rod combo with a broken tip. Anything you're willing to get
rid of free or cheap would be great. If so, contact me. Thanks.

Staff at the forum, part of Minneapolis-based
LakeStateFishing.com, quickly mobilized a ``Tackle for Troops''
campaign. On March 22, several packages of rods, reels, line,
tackle and other fishing accessories were in the mail to Baghdad,
where Anderson is stationed at Sather Air Base. Forum members
pooled cash to buy some of the tackle.

Manufacturers, including Frabill, Lindy, Northland Tackle and Strikemaster, also contributed
gear. ``It was unbelievable,'' Anderson, 46, said when he learned
of the response.

``It really turned out to be a feel-good project,'' said Jeremy
Baker, a staff member at LakeStateFishing.com. ``We're looking to
continue it. We're trying to find other men and women there we can

Here are excerpts from an e-mail interview with Anderson, who is
a firefighter with the 148th, which is based in Duluth:

Q: Where do you fish?

A: We haven't found out the names of any of the lakes around
here, so we will have to just make some up as we go.

Q: How safe is it?

A: Everywhere we travel is inside the wire (in a protected area)
but well in reach of rockets and mortars. When we go, we are
required to carry with us Kevlar vests, helmet and a weapon. The
last time we were out, the air-raid siren went off while one of my
Ohio buddies was reeling in a fish. We got some good laughs from
that — after it was over.

Q: Does anyone else (military or locals) fish there?

A: One evening we fished next to two guys from India. They were
using an empty water bottle for a spool, string for line and using
locally made flat bread for bait. They managed to land a carp that

Q: What kind of presentation, baits and lures do you use?

A: Mostly small spoons and spinning lures, silver in color.

Q: What kind of fish are you catching?

A: Carp and what we think are asp (a member of the carp family).
Some might call them Saddam bass.

Q: How has fishing been?

A: Between a few of us, we can usually catch 15 to 20, although
our best time out we managed to beach 31 in just over an hour. They
were real aggressive just before dark.

Q: Are these fish native or stocked?

A: It's believed that (former Iraqi president) Saddam (Hussein)
stocked all of the area lakes for his own enjoyment. You were not
allowed on these lakes unless you were a personal guest of Saddam.

Q:: How far is Saddam's former palace?

A: Saddam had many palaces, one of which is literally a stone's
throw away.

Q: How many times have you fished?

A: Since we first got hold of fishing poles, we have been out
more than a dozen times. Every chance we get. Our work schedule is
24 hours on and 24 off. Our off days can be very busy on the base.
We volunteer at a clinic that serves Iraqi children from the area.
Sometimes we go there to help with medical care, and other times we
go just to play with the children (giving them toys and candy). To
see the smiles on their faces is priceless.

Q:: Is fishing a big deal there, or are you kind of a pioneer?

A: Other than those two from India, I can count on one hand how
many other fishermen we have come across. We work with two other
units, one from Nevada and the other from Ohio. The nine of us from
Minnesota have fished all our lives but out of the others, some
have never fished. It's a great feeling to turn someone on to this
sport. Many of them said they will spend more time fishing once
they get home. Some have even showed interest in coming to visit
Minnesota to fish.

Q: Are others in the 148th fishing with you?

A: Yes, Jon Ries, Zach Graves, Grant Gimpel, Tom Simmonds, Jason
McCusky, Aaron Nelson, Mark Halvorson and Dan Lysher.

Q: Have you eaten any of these fish?

A: I have not eaten any yet. I am not sure what contaminants are
in these waters. In a combat zone, you never know.

Q: We heard you started with a broken Snoopy rod? How did you
get your hands on that?

A: We inquired about fishing equipment not long after we
arrived. There was none to be had. A few days later, we traveled to
three other bases before we found two rods. A Snoopy rod combo with
a broken tip and a telescopic rod. Both had fishing line that was
probably the original when the rod was new. On the line was a small
hook and bobber. First we tried using corn and any other vegetables
we could stuff in our pockets on the way out of the chow hall. My
partner, Jon Ries, managed to land one small fish that day on a
small piece of carrot. The next spot we tried, Jon found a small
silver spoon. The first cast with that got me my first fish and
another six before we had to go back to the base.

Q: How much tackle have you received?

A: Our wives and girlfriends sent over some basic tackle to keep
us going, but when I placed an ad in the LSF site, it was
unbelievable. We had fellow fishermen that we had never met wanting
to help us out. Two hours after the ad was placed, one guy from the
Iron Range replied and boxed up poles and tackle and sent them the
following day. By week's end there were hundreds of dollars worth
of supplies on their way. Rods, reels, tackle boxes, hooks,
sinkers, nets, bobbers, line, plastics and the like. Mail takes a
while to get here, so we haven't received anything yet but soon we
can all go out fishing as a group. Another nice thing about all
this is that long after we leave to come home, troops stationed on
this base can enjoy using this equipment.