The second day of their fishing trip was unlike the first.
Up to their chest in mud, Airmen from the 435th Munitions Squadron were still catching fish, albeit with bare hands in sucking mud, in an attempt to save hundreds of them from suffocating in the muck.
“Time was of the essence; fish were going belly up as we were rescuing them,” said Master Sgt. Scott Windorf, 435th MUNS first sergeant.
In an effort to revive the ecosystem in one of Grafenwöhr’s many fishing lakes, the wels catfish – native to Germany and the largest freshwater predators in Europe – were to be evicted from one of the lakes. According to Grafenwöhr’s fishing program authorities, draining the lake was the best way to achieve that goal.
As the lake was drained, a dam was built in a creek to keep a neighboring lake from refilling the tapped lake.
But, for some reason the dam failed, and fish from the lake poured by the thousands into the small creek and were caught in mud-thickened water.
That’s when the munitions Airmen came in.
The group, Sergeant Windorf and his son, Zachary; Airman 1st Class Johnathan Farmer; Staff Sgt. David Kieper; and Airman 1st Class Jeremy Burney, were on the second day of a fishing trip. The first day, they’d spent culling catfish from one of the area lakes. At 7 a.m. the following day, they were preparing to enjoy a quiet day fishing when they were approached by anxious game wardens, who needed help in rescuing the trapped fish that were quickly dying in the over-crowded creek waters.
“There were so many fish – we had to feel around in the mud for them, and pull them out,” said Sergeant Windorf.
The group spent nine hours catching, washing and filling tanks with the fish. The fish were then transplanted to another base lake.
“It was incredibly cold and muddy,” said Airman 1st Class Jeremy Burney, 435th MUNS munitions maintainer. “Our hands and arms were numb, which made it almost impossible to pick them up.”
At the end of the day, the team guessed they saved about 150 fish.
“It was almost as if they knew we were trying to help,” said Sergeant Windorf. “They weren’t flipping around or fighting much. A lot of them were so tired − even when we set them loose, we’d have to hold them so they could get their bearings in the water and build energy to swim away.”
While the team said they were happy to help, as true sportsmen, they recognized there was also something in it for them.
“It was worth the time and effort because we all love to fish,” said Airman Burney.
Sergeant Windorf agreed.
“I hoped these 10- to 70-pound fish would be the ones we’d have the chance to catch next spring or later,” he said. “There was no way we were going to let them die without a fight. Time will tell, but it sounds like the fish owe us one.”