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Sergeant receives hero's welcome while chasing bass

To say that Greg Stube is lucky to be alive is akin to saying that the Everglades has sawgrass in it.

Battling fierce Taliban forces in Afghanistan in September, Stube, 37, a U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, sustained massive third-degree burns when an explosive device blew up next to his truck. Shrapnel tore through his hips, intestines and bladder. Part of his buttocks was shot off by machine-gun fire. He also broke two bones in his leg.

Stube managed to crawl into a marijuana field, where medics stabilized him and got him airlifted to a hospital. Following numerous surgeries and skin grafts at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Stube has recovered to the extent that he and his wife, Donna, went bass fishing in the Everglades last week with Bass Pro Shops guide Billy Bob Crosno.

"I truly love bass fishing," Stube said. "But I've never been able to go with a professional. We are the luckiest couple on earth."

The Stubes also went tarpon fishing off Miami Beach with captain Dave Kostyo during their five-day stay in South Florida. They were hosted by Mike Little of the local chapter of Safari Club International, and he and his wife, Anne, put them up at their Weston home, babysat their 1-year-old son, Gregory, and picked up the tab for travel and fishing.

Little had met the Stubes at a deer hunt for wounded soldiers in Kerrville, Texas, recently, where Donna shot a trophy buck. He invited them to enjoy South Florida's outdoor recreational opportunities, and asked Greg to give a speech at a Safari Club meeting.

But the highlight for the Stubes was fishing. Since they often fish for bass near their home at Fort Bragg, N.C., they were eager to learn tips and techniques for plying the sawgrass-lined canals off U.S. 27. It was a bluebird fishing day, with sunny skies and northerly winds that rippled the water's surface.

"The wind is your friend," Crosno told them, pulling out one of his homemade spinnerbaits that was painted white with red-tipped blades.

Demonstrating a cast-and-retrieve, he told Greg Stube: "Don't wake it. You want it right underneath the surface. Spinnerbaits have been catching the big bass out here."

While Greg cast the spinnerbait to the shoreline, Crosno taught Donna how to throw a baitcaster with a crankbait. Within a short time, she was casting almost as accurately as her husband.

"Thank you, sir," Greg told Crosno, smiling. "She won't listen to me."

Between them, the couple caught and released an estimated 60 bass up to about 4 pounds.

When Stube mentioned he was a big fan of television show fishing host Bill Dance, Crosno surprised his guest by calling Dance, a longtime friend, on his cellphone. He handed the phone to Stube, who chatted with Dance for several minutes. When Stube hung up, he was beaming.

"I've never seen a smile on his face like this_not even when he was marrying me!" Donna laughed.

Near sunset, Greg cast his spinnerbait to the shoreline and was rewarded by forceful yank.

As he set the hook and began reeling, a bass so chunky that it was unable to launch its bulk airborne broke the surface with its maw agape. The mouth looked wide enough to engulf a man's arm.

"That's gotta be 10, 11 pounds," Crosno yelled.

But as quickly as it started, the fight was over when the line broke. Crosno couldn't hide his disappointment.

"I really wanted you to get that fish," he lamented to Greg.

But Greg didn't appear at all upset.

"No reason to get mad," he told Crosno. "At least I'm not on my back in the burn ward. That fish won fair and square, and I respect him for it."

The bass might have won the skirmish, but it was pretty clear who the real hero was.

"And he doesn't even realize it," Crosno said.