Levern Johnson wasn’t sure what to expect when he went to his first Top Shelf Fishin’ Festival. Now he’s hooked like a bass at the end of a pole.
The Desert Storm veteran says he was thrilled by the camaraderie among fellow servicemen and servicewomen while participating in recent bass and crappie events designed for them. So he’s looking forward to the first Lake Norman Top Shelf Fishin’ Festival on April 16.
“I really enjoy bass fishing,” says Johnson, a Dillon, S.C., resident and former Army sergeant who served from 1983 to 1992. “Most of all, I love the fellowship with the other veterans. And we’re all treated very well.”
Preserving that fellowship and thanking Wounded Warriors and disabled veterans for their service is the impetus behind the Operation North State fishing events, which have expanded as interest grows. Operation North State, based in Winston-Salem, provides military support service programs.
Fishin’ festivals are also planned this year at Badin Lake, on the Yadkin River, on April 30; Randleman Lake, May 19; New Bern, June 5; Jordan Lake, Oct. 3; and Oak Island, Oct. 9.
Operation North State founder and chairman Terry Snyder said the event is free to all Wounded Warriors and disabled veterans, who get to fish with premier tournament fishermen. It’s also free for fishing hosts/boaters. Snyder is seeking both – as well as volunteers – with a goal of hosting 75 such veterans who are paired with a fishing host.
“We need Wounded Warriors and disabled veterans to sign up,” Snyder says, “and we need the weekend tournament bass fishermen” as hosts. He emphasizes that for veterans, “It doesn’t matter what their percentage of disability is. If they’re classified as a Wounded Warrior or disabled veteran, they’re welcome to fish.
“We also want to get the community engaged. If they would like to help in any way with a contribution, whether a contribution or door prize.” Some of those prizes will include gift cards, as well as autographed NASCAR pictures and hats.
Participants will be treated to breakfast, snacks and drinks, as well as an early dinner at Berea Baptist Church on N.C. 150 in Mooresville following the festival’s 3 p.m. weigh-in. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission provides licenses for those who don’t have one.
Lou Mintzer of Mooresville, the Lake Norman coordinator for the festivals, is a writer who has many connections in the fishing industry and writes for Lake Norman News. Though not a veteran, he has a passion for taking care of them: His father lost both hands in World War II and died when Mintzer was 11.
“Veterans’ causes will always be close to my heart,” he says. “I’ve gotten about 15 local guys, mostly from my fishing club, to be my volunteers to help with this. It’s a pretty big undertaking.”
Snyder, also not a veteran, feels just as strongly about them. “We’re coming at this as North Carolina citizens,” he said. “We just feel like our citizens ought to take care of our veterans and military personnel.”
The Fishin’ Festivals began in 2013 with two-a-year events on Badin Lake. “The Wounded Warriors would come up to me and tell me they had nothing to do except go to doctors and physical therapy appointments all the time,” Snyder says. “They said, ‘This thing is so cool, we wish there were more.’”
Snyder and Mintzer eventually led a meeting at Berea Baptist Church to discuss a similar event in the Lake Norman area.
“When we finish this year by having six of these events across the state and hosting 600 or so Wounded Warriors, no other organization or state has accomplished this throughout the United States,” Snyder said.
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at email@example.com.
Want to help?
The first annual Lake Norman Top Shelf Fishin’ Festival for Wounded Warriors and disabled veterans will be held 8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 16, rain or shine, at Pinnacle Access Landing, N.C. 150, Mooresville. Prospective entrants, hosts and volunteers should contact Operation North State at 336-764-5967 or firstname.lastname@example.org.