Drawn by More Than Fish

Seven veterans took to the sea on Sunday as part of the Healing Waters program
Capt. Ken Rafferty helped Patrice Neil of East Hampton hoist the 12-pound bluefish she caught off Montauk last week. Capt. Ken Rafferty

    There’s more to fishing than the catch, and whether they say it or not, fishermen pursue more than fish when they take to the sea to face both its healing and destructive powers.
    We were reminded of this last week when friends gathered to remember Dashiel Marder, 30, of Springs, who disappeared while spearfishing off a remote island in Indonesia in April. And we were sadly reminded again on Saturday when Donald Alversa, 24, a deckhand aboard the Montauk dragger Jason and Danielle, died of injuries sustained while fishing off the coast of North Carolina. And yet again when seven veterans took to the sea on Sunday as part of the Healing Waters program designed to set them free from the prison of traumatic memories.
    Allan Portnoy served in Vietnam with the 720th Military Police Battalion tasked as infantry that convoyed munitions to the Cambodian border among other things. Perfecto Sanchez, a 2005 graduate of West Point, served two tours in Iraq and participated in the battle for Ramadi.
    Sanchez said he met the former Army captain Andrew Roberts, a 1997 graduate of West Point, at the Orvis tackle shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Roberts had also served two tours in Iraq.
    “We decided to go fly-fishing together,” Roberts said as he, now a leader in the Healing Waters project, and the other veterans on the fishing trip prepared to return to the city. The five men and two women had just stepped from two boats based at the Star Island Yacht Club operated by guides David Blinken of David Blinken Charters and Robin Calitri of Csicagain Charters. Blinken serves on the board of Healing Waters.
    Accommodations for the group the night before the trip were donated by the Montauk Beach House.
    Roberts said when he returned after his last tour, “I would be in a bar and people would be completely carefree. There was no conversation about what was going on — a total apathy.” He said he took a pay cut to join Healing Waters, a group that had grown out of the Veteran Anglers of New York, founded by Richard and Tamara Franklin, a psychologist who specializes in traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
    “There are a lot of shared experiences and so a shared respect,” Roberts said referring to the bonds among vets from the Vietnam War and their younger compatriots. “There’s amazing similarities.” The big difference is what it was like when they came home.
    “We were welcomed home,” Sanchez said. The Vietnam vets made an effort to give his peers what was missing 40 years ago, he said.
    Bob Moran went fishing. He was a Marine based in DaNang, finishing up with the rank of Sergeant. “I never lost any of my men,” he said.
    Manuel Vasquez, known as Manny, was in the Special Forces based in Na Trang, “the Fifth Special Forces Group, Green Berets, Airborne from ’67 and the fall of ’68 to the beginning of ’69 through the Tet Offensive. I got a combat infantry badge,” and he said, holding up several plastic bags-full of filets, sea bass from the day’s outing.
    “I know the resentment. I didn’t know I was even eligible for benefits. I went 40 years. Now kids coming out are on the milk wagon. We were in the wilderness,” Vasquez said.
    Audonelle Loreto had a 21-year career in the Army and served in Operation Desert Storm helping soldiers leave and return on R and R. The other fisher woman on Sunday’s trip was Frankie Page Mayo, who joined the Army out of high school and served from 1980 to ’82.
    Tamara Franklin nodded across the parking lot at Andy Roberts. “He was a captain in Iraq,” she said, her eyes revealing what was left unsaid. “They can learn through fly-fishing to reintegrate to become leaders within the program, get their dignity back. It’s not complicated.”
    The vets said they’d had a great day, but the fishing was not easy. The false albacore that are said to be schooling around Block Island have not arrived in Montauk waters. A favorite of light-tackle and fly-fishing anglers, the “falsies” will soon join striped bass and what Ken Rafferty, a fly guide, called “monster” bluefish to complete the triad of species the light-tackle people target this time of year.
    Rafferty said up until Monday, he had found bluefish in the 10-to-18-pound range in among the rocks of Montauk’s south side. Rafferty moves to Montauk this time of year from his summertime haunts in Gardiner’s Bay.
    “They were hitting poppers only because it seemed to irritate them, instinct, because they were not eating. They seemed to be doing some kind of courting ritual. It was unusual. They usually can eat a seagull.”
    Rafferty said sand eels and silver sides were what he was seeing for prey species and he urged fly fishermen to use a 40-pound test tipit (leader) made of tieable wire to protect their lines from the teeth of big bluefish.
    It promises to be a bountiful fall, with large fluke lurking about, as well as porgies, sea bass, and blues. Fishermen lucky enough to get offshore continue to find yellowfin and bigeye tuna, white marlin, and mahimahi.
    The Montauk SurfMasters tournament for striped bass gets under way on Saturday.
    On Three Mile Harbor on Sunday, younger anglers competed in the Harbor Marina’s 15th annual snapper derby. The overall winner, who also took first in the 13-plus category, was Spencer Kulick, who caught a 6.25-ounce, 10 3/8-inch snapper in Soak Hides Cover with a Kastmaster lure attached to a snapper popper. Also reeling in wins were Rylie Field, in the 3-to-8-year-old category, with a four ounce, 9.25-inch snapper caught at the Three Mile Harbor channel with squid on a snapper hook and Lucas Del Favero, in the 9-to-12 group, with a snapper of the same weight and length caught in Folkstone Cove with a snapper popper.