Lake Norman & Mooresville

New friends help the Baghdad Fishing Club

A random act of kindness.

An e-mail sent from the other side of the world.

"Please see the attached pics, as your husband's tackle is being put to great use," Capt. Jeremy Smart wrote to Judy Irlacher. " Yes ma'am, we did get your packages and as always picked to the bone and gone in a few hours. Thank you so much for everything."

The e-mail continued: "Every fish here was caught on your husband's lures, and some of the poles were completed with your husband's reels! Thank you for your support you have truly made a difference in the lives of the Bulldawg soldiers!"

Judy Irlacher forwarded this and several other e-mails to me. She knew I would be interested. She wanted me to write about the soldiers, not about her; she didn't even want me to take her picture.

A year ago, her husband, my good friend and best fishing buddy, Len Irlacher, died from leukemia. He enjoyed life and is missed by many.

Len and I met at the Harbour/Golden Boys Fishing Club at the Harbour subdivision. Anybody who knew him knows he never did anything in a small way. His love of fishing was no exception. He had enough gear to outfit a small army. Spinning, bait casting, fly fishing, lake fishing, salt water; you name it, he had it. He had the opportunity to fish and hunt all over the world. A couple of years ago, he even went to a school to learn to build his own high-quality split bamboo fly rod. It is a work of art.

A couple of months after Irlacher's death, Judy Irlacher asked me to help her liquidate the fishing equipment that filled a room. The local fly-fishing club was thrilled with the gear, thread, fur, feathers and other supplies she gave them. The members of our Harbour Fishing Club got some great deals on his tackle.

There were still many boxes of lures, line, reels and other tackle left over. Judy decided to sell some on eBay. She took pictures, catalogued the many spinner lures and put them on the site. After the bidding was over, she contacted the winning bidder to see how he wanted the items shipped.

He wanted First Class or Priority, and said UPS wouldn't work. Judy asked why, and he said had a military address, near Baghdad in Iraq. Capt. Jeremy Smart, company commander, said he and his soldiers liked to fish when they were not on duty but did not have enough tackle.

Judy was surprised and pleased. Len had been a career Navy pilot. They met in New Zealand when he was stationed there, flying people to Antarctica. Their son Mike had been a Marine and has recently joined the Army Reserves.

She rushed the tackle to Smart and would not take a nickel for the gear or the shipping costs. Judy even started sending Smart and his Bulldawg Soldiers fishing magazines, energy bars and packaged drinks.

The Bulldawg Soldiers are a National Guard Rifle Unit from San Marcos, Texas. The company deployed to Iraq last year. In an e-mail, Smart said, "First Texas is our nickname as we trace our lineage back to the Alamo and have the Alamo streamer on our guidon (flag.)" Smart commands Company B, 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division.

B Company is stationed near the city of Baghdad on the Victory Camp Complex. There are about 150 men in the unit, and about 40-50 love to fish between missions.

Most people seem to think there is no water in Iraq, but that is not the case. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow through the area, but the soldiers fish on six interconnected lakes built by Saddam Hussein on his estates. Saddam's palaces are almost always in view.

The lakes have a small fish called an asp, shaboots, several breeds of catfish, barbels and some big carp. An Asian breed of carp grows to more than 3 feet, weighs 35 pounds or more and is referred to as the "ghost fish." The soldiers do not eat the fish but often offer them to local residents.

Most fish are caught on spinning tackle and some type of spinner or spinner bait. A couple of guys like to use a fly rod. The "wooly booger" for fly fishing is getting great results.

"What do you catch most of the fish on?" I asked Smart. He replied in an e-mail, "Spinners, (inline) my purchase from Mrs. Irlacher was for a Plano box filled with almost 60 handmade spinners, by far this has been the most successful in catching fish, the asp are very similar to largemouth bass in their feeding tendencies."

Other military groups are enjoying fishing in this area, and they hold tournaments regularly. The Baghdad Anglers Club and Fly Fishing School and Operation Catch Fish are two other fishing organizations in the Baghdad area. Smart and his guys were on a mission and missed the last event on April 28.

The Harbour/Golden Boys Fishing Club and I are helping to further the cause. Through my contacts, Bass Pro Shops, Lucky Craft, Daiwa, Pinnacle Fishing, and Fish Harder/True Tungsten have agreed to donate fishing rods, reels, lures and other tackle to the Bulldawgs. The club has donated money to help pay for the shipping costs.

Len Irlacher would be pleased; Judy is delighted.

And as Smart said in another e-mail, "You know this all started with a simple eBay purchase, my guys and I just wanted to catch some fish and, well due to Mrs. Irlacher's kindness, the rest is history."

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