Five minutes after dropping his lure into the Kenai River, Staff Sgt. Warren Woods landed a 43-inch king salmon and spent the rest of the day kicked back watching others try for the same.
Woods, an Army veteran with 23 years service, joined 117 other soldiers and 37 guides on the river Thursday for the start of a two-day king fishing adventure hosted by the Kenai River Wounded Warrior group.
"It's my first time ever fishing," Woods said. "I definitely feel appreciated."
It was a good day on the river for the soldiers who brought in 12 fish in their four hours out on the water.
"One boat limited out," said Dave Goggia, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association and chairman for the Kenai River Wounded Warrior group. "That's pretty darn good."
The Kenai River Wounded Warrior group is not affiliated with the national Wounded Warrior Project.
Goggia said several active-duty members of the military who weren't wounded got to join their counterparts on the river.
"They didn't have as many wounded soldiers rehabilitating this year which is great," Goggia said.
Guide Alex Douthit said he took the day off of work to assist with the event because it felt good to help such a good cause.
He sat quietly in his boat until about 12:45 p.m. when things started to get interesting. The soldiers arrived at the Pillars boat launch and Douthit grinned up at the sky saying the cloud cover made the fish braver. He was one of the first to grab four soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and motor out onto the river. He couldn't wait to get everyone's lines wet saying they couldn't catch anything if nothing was in the water.
He ran them through basic boat safety and had the group laughing in no time.
"I've never had a fire, hope I don't have one today. But, if we do jump out," Douthit said.
After the first 10 minutes, Douthit settled in and relaxed motioning for everyone else to do the same.
"Fishing on the Kenai is a lot of hours of sheer boredom broken up by a few seconds of sheer terror," he joked.
"Sounds like my last relationship," A.J. Compton said as everyone else on the boat dissolved into laughter.
Compton, a native Texan, said he'd been in Alaska since December and was excited to get the chance to get outside and try fishing.
"Someone said fishing," Compton said before sitting bolt upright in mock excitement. "I was like, fishing? Usually I'm either at work or trying to do some type of sport at the gym. We're in the office all day so we don't get much of a chance to get out and do stuff."
The fishing is a little bit different on the Kenai than what Compton is used too.
"I grew up with bass and catfish," he said. "I'll use live bait like minnows."
Phil Kuznicki, a Michigan native who works alongside Compton in protocol, laughed as Compton cracked jokes about Kuznicki's pregnant wife not wanting to let him out on the river. This prompted a round of jokes and stories on the boat about pregnant wives and men who'd rather be fishing.
Kuznicki said later his wife was 34 weeks along so it wasn't a big deal.
"She just teased me a little," he said.
He said he was happy to have gotten the chance to go out onto the river.
"I probably wouldn't have done it if it wasn't paid for," Kuznicki said. "It's a three hour drive and gas is like five dollars."
Goggia said it was one of the largest groups that he'd ever seen during the six years the group has been hosting soldiers on the river.
The group will go out again early Friday morning before having an afternoon cook-out and Goggia said he was proud of the community members who pitched in to volunteer their time or money.
"We never have any problems finding people to donate," he said. "I think it's because of the cause. These troops are so deserving. I think everybody has a place in their heart for that."
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.