by Roy Hill
Des Moines, IA -(AmmoLand.com)- Bobby Dove was born to fish.
He always dreamed about starting his own charter operation. A Virginian who grew up fishing and hunting on and near Chesapeake Bay, Bobby frequently talked about his dream with his buddies in Florida, Cliff and Jimi.
“All we talked about was fishing,” said Bobby.
Only they weren’t standing around the office water cooler when they talked fishing. Bobby, Cliff and Jimi were all on the same Green Beret team with the 7th Special Forces Group, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base. Eventually they deployed to Afghanistan together, but their thoughts never strayed far from fishing.
“It was all we talked about, even when we were deployed,” said Bobby.
Bobby and his team called themselves “The Hooligans.” Bobby and Cliff liked the name so much they kept it, starting Hooligan Charters in 2015.
It was my great privilege to fish with Bobby on July 1, 2016. After waiting for early morning thunderstorms to dissipate, my wife, son and I finally arrived at the Destin Marina after a two-hour drive from Gulf Shores, Alabama. Bobby was already aboard the Emmy-May, a 24′ Skeeter SX240 loaded down with rods and ice and electronic fish-finding gear.
Even from halfway up the parking lot, I instantly recognized Bobby by the signature red-white-and-blue American flag wrap around his neck. As we got closer, I could also see the dark carbon fiber of his prosthetic right leg, and the empty right sleeve of his white shirt.
On June 9, 2012, a little more than four years earlier, Sgt. Bobby Dove was riding a motorcycle on combat patrol north of Kandahar, Afghanistan. He ran across a concealed pressure-plate IED and the blast destroyed his right arm and leg. He was the only medic at the scene. When he regained consciousness, he was able to instruct his fellow soldiers on how to stabilize him until the evacuation helicopter arrived.
He underwent months of treatment and therapy and learned to use prosthetic limbs. He fought his way back to active duty status and went on a non-combat deployment in 2013. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2014.
Bobby welcomed us aboard, and we all found seats. Within minutes we were bumping through the choppy waves of the mouth of Choctawhatchee Bay out into the Gulf of Mexico. The pale green of the sandy-bottomed shallows gave way to the dark blue of deep water. We pulled up to a weathered buoy anchored along the border between the pale green and the dark blue, and Bobby pointed to a large splashy swirl. “Dolphin!” he exclaimed.
Thousands of cigar minnows blackened the water around the old buoy, and occasional flashes of silver glinted here and there as some of the small fish rolled onto their sides. Bobby wanted to gather a few minnows for extra bait, so we grabbed rods equipped with Sabiki rigs – vertical strings of tiny rubber jigs with a pyramid sinker at the bottom. Several times we cast into the throngs of cigar minnows and jigged the Sabiki back to the Emmy-May, but none of the minnows took the jigs. After a few minutes, Bobby said he already had some bait in the live well, and since the cigar minnows weren’t biting, and another dark cloud threatened rain, it was time to head out to where the red snapper and kingfish lurked.
We skirted a couple of rain showers, and cruised for several minutes across the dark blue water until Bobby’s GPS system said we were in the right spot. Bobby cut the outboard motor and looked around, smiling. He slipped a rubber sleeve over his right upper arm, and then slid on his prosthetic arm that terminated with a hook.
Bobby clambered up to the bow, and plugged the spot’s GPS coordinates into the computerized trolling motor that would work automatically to keep us over the structure some 80 feet below on the bottom.
“I was fishing a day ago in Galveston, Texas, and we had to go 50 miles offshore to get into water this deep,” Bobby said.
He then netted several pinfish out of the live well and hooked them just under the dorsal fin. Finally, he told us to drop the hooks all the way to the bottom, and reel up three or four cranks to suspend the bait in the perfect zone for hungry red snappers.
Once he made sure we were all fishing, Bobby grabbed his own rod, tied on a large flat jig, and began ripping it up and down through the depths, hoping for a kingfish to strike. Bobby cradled the butt of the rod with his prosthetic hook hand and cranked the reel with his left. It was hot, hard work, but I could tell he loved it. Fishing and hunting have always been large parts of Bobby’s life.
The same year he retired from the Army, Bobby met some members of Special Operations Wounded Warriors. They invited him to Takin’ Bacon, an annual hog hunt put on by SOWW for wounded Special Forces veterans.
“SOWW is incredibly important,” said Bobby. “I can’t say enough about SOWW. Things like Takin’ Bacon allow us get away and do stuff outdoors. That event has a real ‘campfire feel’ to it.”
In addition to Takin’ Bacon, SOWW organizes other hunting and fishing trips for wounded Special Forces veterans and their families.
Bobby believes so much in SOWW’s mission, and in the healing power of time spent with his brothers around the campfire, in the woods, and on the water that he now serves on the Board of Directors of SOWW. Bobby hopes SOWW can help more Special Forces veterans in more ways.
“We started with outdoor events, but we’re getting more capable,” said Bobby. “We want to expand into more things, like helping provide treatments for guys with brain injuries.”
Bobby had been jigging only a short time before he got a hard strike. The rod bent and the drag squealed as something struggled against the line. Bobby made sure the fish was hooked well, and then handed the rod to my wife Kim. She shouted “Whoa!” as the fish stripped off several yards of line, but she quickly recovered, and began cranking it back to the boat.
After a few minutes of fight, Bobby netted a nice amberjack, and Kim posed for some celebratory photos before releasing it back to the water. It was hard for me tell who was more excited over the amberjack, Kim or Bobby.
“Pound for pound, amberjack are some of the strongest fish in the sea,” said Bobby.
Not only strong, but fast, too. “Fast fish like fast food,” he explained, saying that’s why the amberjack latched onto the rapidly pumping jig instead of the baitfish drifting a few feet off the bottom.
Not long after the amberjack, Kim got a hard bite on her suspended bait. Another rod-bending battle ensued, ending with a red snapper in the net. Fresh out of the water, the snapper glowed like a neon sign, especially its bright eyes. We took more photos. Bobby measured the fish, and proclaimed it a keeper. Into the fish box it went, under a layer of ice, and we resumed fishing.
A little after that, Bobby again hooked something strong and fast on the jig. This time, my 9-year-old son Isaac took the rod, and with Bobby’s assistance, slowly brought a kingfish to the boatside. But the fish’s wild swirling circles tangled up three other lines before Kim and I could reel them in. I netted the mackerel, almost as long as Isaac is tall.
“Look at all those colors!” Isaac shouted, pointing at the incredible mixture of bright blues and purples and indigoes that iridesced along the kingfish’s silver flanks.
Once we had paused for photos and high-fived each other, Bobby and I set to untangling lines. And then we were fishing once again. Bobby hooked two more fish on his jig, perhaps kingfish, or maybe sharks – we will never know as both bit through the thick leader before we could subdue them.
The clouds of the morning dissolved, and the Gulf Coast sun blazed down on us. Only a few shades of blue told the difference between water and sky. While beautiful, the bright hot conditions took their toll, and Kim began to show signs of being affected by the heat. Bobby advised us that it was probably time to call it a day. We all agreed it was best to not question the word of a Green Beret medic, and Bobby pointed the bow of the boat back toward the Destin Marina.
Even though our fishing was over before we planned, the trip back still held surprises in store. We passed a very large green sea turtle methodically flippering along the surface. At the mouth of the bay, a pod of dolphins rolled in the waves, waiting for the out-going tide to bring them fish. The spouts from their blowholes flashed gray against the water.
Back at the dock, Bobby offered to clean our red snapper and kingfish for us. He produced another prosthetic arm tipped with a large fillet knife, and the job was quickly done. Bobby Dove is that kind of guy. He’s a Green Beret who will take you fishing, make sure you have a good time, and also make sure everybody in your group stays healthy. He’ll even clean your fish for you. Fishing with Bobby and Hooligan Charters was the highlight of our week-long Gulf Coast vacation.
To book your own charter, visit www.hooligancharters.com, or call 804-854-9275. To donate to SOWW and help wounded Special Forces veterans go to www.sowwcharity.com. Donations to SOWW are tax deductible and more than 93 cents out of every dollar directly supports SOWW’s mission and the Wounded Special Operators they serve
Roy Hill is a PR and Media Relations Specialist with Brownells, the world’s leading source for gun parts and accessories, ammunition, gunsmithing tools and survival gear, and proud sponsor of Special Operations Wounded Warriors.