Northern Michigan Events: It’s the fourth annual Tight Lines for Troops Charity Fishing Tournament. We share moments from last year’s event.

6:30 a.m.

Awaiting the shotgun start outside the break wall of the Manistee harbor, DOZENS of fishing boats filled with men at attention bob in the waves to a bagpipe version of Amazing Grace followed by a trumpet playing taps.

Sometimes you can tell just by looking at a few clues which war a veteran served in. The bearded guy under a boonie hat in the grocery store line is likely a Vietnam vet. The older guy driving a hotrod or a Harley might have fought in Korea. Clues for WWII vet: a grandfatherly fellow with slicked back hair under a proud blue ball cap embroidered with a bomber squadron insignia or a famous carrier ship name.

And those stereotypes apparently hold some truth, if the 250 or so vets gathering on the docks on Seng’s Marina in Manistee, Michigan, in the hours before the kickoff of the third annual Tight Lines for Troops Charity Fishing Tournament are any indication. But there’s also a new crowd of recently returned military men and women to add to the mix.

On this chilly morning in mid-May—Armed Forces Day—many of the vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are the easiest to pick out from a crowd of hundreds clamoring around the docks. For starters, they’re young; almost all are under 30. Some are stepping from their cars on legs braced with metal. A few have hooks where there should be hands.

8:00 a.m.

A school of salmon flickers on the graph in 60 feet of water. Downriggers are set. Cheryl, a single mom and ex-Army MP from Auburn Hills, cracks the morning’s first Bell’s Oberon beer and mentions she’s never caught a salmon. Captain Jeff, Easy Living Charters, shouts, “Fish on!” Ten minutes later, Cheryl boats a 14-pounder.  Bob Guenthardt, the event's organizer, takes a moment to help load one young wheelchair-bound Air Force vet down into a waiting charter boat, mentioning that many in the crowd look perfectly healthy on the outside but carry war wounds nobody can see. He’s talking about post-traumatic stress and mild traumatic brain injury.

Today, however, is not about revisiting old wounds. Tight Lines for Troops, says Guenthardt, is about friendship and how a community known for great fishing shows thanks for the sacrifices made by generations of Michigan men and women who have fought and served in the United States military.

Photo(s) by Angela Brown