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. Joe."
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.
The gear hasn't arrived yet, but Anderson and several fishing buddies hope to see it soon, he wrote in an e-mail interview from Baghdad.
"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 help."
Here are excerpts from an 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 night.
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.