ENGLEWOOD — Last summer, when red tide hit, Jim O’Brien knew he couldn’t take veterans out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
That hasn’t stopped the charter captain from raising money to bring even more wounded vets out this year.
“Red tide was horrible,” he said. “There was no way I could go boating with the veterans. Many have respiratory and other illnesses that would have been agitated by the dead fish smell. As a charter captain, I was only able to go out on the water seven times in three months. It was so bad.”
Back in 2012, O’Brien founded a nonprofit foundation Fishin’ for Heroes Wounded Warriors Inc. Over the years, he’s taken about 275 wounded veterans on fishing trips.
“I take a group of six out about 30 miles off shore of Stump Pass in Englewood,” O’Brien said. “The veterans fish. We furnish the license, bait and tackle. We then clean and bag the fish. It’s brought to Snooks Bayside Bar & Grille. The vets eat what they catch that day. What’s left over is packed in ice. The drinks and side dishes are included at no cost to them.” Now he’s looking for more veterans for a future ride.
He hosted his chili cook-off on West Dearborn Street that raised about $3,500.
O’Brien is always looking for new fundraisers to sponsor the veterans for a day on the water, fishing, relaxing and meeting others who served in the military.
He went to Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson a few months ago and asked if they’d be interested in helping his cause.
“Not only did they say yes, they donated money back from the $20 entry fee and made up flyers for us to help promote a poker run,” O’Brien said.
The ride was held Feb. 2. About 47 riders visited bars in Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte before returning back to Bert’s Harley-Davidson. The winners were Kimberly Workman, who won first place of $200. The $75 second-place winners won by three people, Nick Lorenzo, Gary Casterlin and Shawn Wenderlin. Third place was won by three including Shawn Thompson, John Hodge, George Schwarz, who each received $25.
“I can’t thank Elizabeth Brown, the marketing manager at Bert’s Harley-Davidson enough,” O’Brien said. “She was really great. She did so much work. She also promised to work on the event again next year. There was a three-way tie and Harley-Davidson put out quite a bit, plus the food and free beer. They had Bloody Marys there. It was an outstanding day. They said we can do it again the first Saturday of February.”
O’Brien raised more than $1,000 through the poker run. O’Brien said he met so many new riders during the event he will easily be able to attract more than 100 next year.
Now he’s volunteering with two car show organizers who are helping him raise more money. One big show is planned by the Venice FL Chapter AACA Club on March 31.
“Last year, there was 18,000 who attended that show,” he said. “It is really popular. That group always gives us a good donation.”
Another car show and golf tournament is planned April 13 at Rotonda Golf & Country Club’s Long Marsh Golf Club.
“I’ve become involved in the 17th annual ball drop,” he said. “The American Legion Post 113 in Rotonda is working with Fishin’ for Heroes. We will have a lot of prizes including cash prizes. There will be a barbeque. The tournament is $65 a person. That’s about what you would pay for a day of golf. I’m really glad to be involved because this is a real money maker for veterans causes. It’s great fun. Tickets for the ball drop are $5 each, or $20 will buy you five tickets.”
On May 12, O’Brien is working with the Port Charlotte Florida West Coast Car Club for another car show.
“I wanted to do more than just the chili tournament,” he said. “I want to take as many vets out as possible. We are always looking for veterans to take out, if anybody knows anybody as long as they have a — a hold of me and I can tell them how it’s done. I can take people who are wheelchair bound out in groups of four along with four volunteers to help. If there are other vets even with prosthetics, I can take them out in groups of six. Give me a call and I will tell you how it’s done. The veteran must produce a DD-214.”
For more information, 941-473-2150.