Black Hawk hosts Fallen Outdoors group for annual U.S. veterans fishing trip
Niantic — A group of about 35 U.S. veterans from every military branch gathered at the Black Hawk’s dock in Niantic for a special fishing trip organized by the The Fallen Outdoors’ Team New England.
“They reached out to us during the wintertime. We said of course we’d do it,” Black Hawk co-owner Captain Greg Dubrule said about the genesis of the event.
Dubrule, 71, steers the ship while wife Faith Dubrule, 70, and daughter Heather Harris, 41, manage the office. The three are Blackhawk Sport Fishing co-owners and they all live in Groton. Their business supports many community fundraisers, including Sailfest in New London and Niantic’s fireworks, the WARM Center in Westerly, The Elks and the Berlin Lions Club. Their party fishing boat business donates one fishing trip every year for a large group of U.S. veterans.
“It’s important to give back,” Harris said, explaining that her grandfather was a veteran of World War II and her father likes to do things for veterans as an opportunity to thank them for their sacrifices. “It’s one way of giving back that is very small compared to what they did for us.”
Between the boat, bait, tackle, a crew of four mates and a person managing the galley, the fishing trip costs Black Hawk $4,500 to $5,000, according to Harris.
“We’ve been very fortunate in the fishing business, knock on wood. We’ve got a good boat, a good business. It’s just a way of giving back,” Greg Dubrule said, stating that business was even better during the COVID-19 pandemic than now. “The fuel is hurting us now. It’s hurting everybody.”
A commercial fisherman for 56 years, Dubrule said he dedicated a room in his house as a tribute to his father’s U.S. Navy career.
“Before he passed away, he couldn’t tell you what he ate last night but he could tell you everything you wanted to know about the war,” Dubrule said. “He was part of the armed guard on the merchant ships that brought the supply over to Europe for the European campaign. He had so many stories. The German pilots used to wave at him, and he’d wave back. The convoys were from horizon to horizon. You’d see a torpedo go in front of your ship and hit the other one a half mile away. How do you figure? It hits another ship with 300 people, and you miss it by 20 feet.”
Dubrule said the group would set sail for four to five hours for sea bass and porgy fishing “until we catch enough.” The mates run the whole show on the deck, keeping the lines straight, making sure people know how to bait the hooks and cut the bait.
“We make sure everything’s rigged up, everyone has the right gear, is having a good time, successfully catching fish,” said CJ Adams, 33, of Waterford, one of the ship’s mates. “If they catch five fish and they’re laughing and telling jokes, having a good time, they remember that more than the fish. They’re going to come back for that.”
This is precisely what the Fallen Outdoor veterans anticipated. Many of them came alone on this fishing trip knowing they’d definitely end up getting along with everyone else and maybe make a new connection.
“I know zero people. I’m looking forward to having fun and catching some big fish,” Eric Bailey, an Army veteran of 23 years from northwest Vermont, said when asked if he knew anyone on the fishing trip. This was his first Fallen Outdoors excursion.
Immediately, Pete Owren, an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, Rick Dombek, a Coast Guard veteran, and Steve Abbatello, who served in the Navy and Air Force, all introduced themselves. The three chimed in simultaneously.
“Veterans flock to each other,” Abbatello said.
“We get along well in general,” Owren said.
“We all have something in common,” Dombek said.
“I wouldn’t have come this far on a fishing trip, by myself, on a 4.5-hour ride without a buddy or spouse, except if there’s veterans. I said I’ll get along with them fine. I’ll make friends on the boat,” Bailey added.
For Terry Siravo, 72, an Air Force veteran and his friend Ed Bowen, 68, a Navy veteran, this is their second excursion with Fallen Outdoors.
“We kind of hang together,” Sirvano said about he and his friend Ed, both from Warwick, R.I., who regularly eat breakfast with other veterans back home. “We’re the only two that do stuff like this.”
“It really means a lot. A lot of these guys don’t get the opportunity to get out. Some of them don’t have the money to go out. It’s the bonding too,” said Lars Owren, 43, Pete Owren's son and a retired Air Force veteran who is a pro staff member of The Fallen Outdoors Team New England. “We speak our own language. It means a lot to be able to speak freely amongst other veterans. We understand where everyone’s coming from."
According to Darriel Swatts, the assistant team lead of The Fallen Outdoors Team New England who represents Connecticut and Rhode Island, the only requirement to join the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run by volunteer veterans is to have served; they can be a current, active-duty military, Reserves or National Guard veteran. He said he and the national organization of 32,000 members, which plans one to two excursions per month in every state, is grateful to generous businesses like Black Hawk. The East Coast membership, which runs from Maine all the way down to South Carolina, has 19,000 members. For more information, visit thefallenoutdoors.org.
“Especially with combat veterans, family members can empathize and feel sorry but it’s the group of veterans who get together who can really relate,” Swatts said about the value of trips like this. The camaraderie helps address the isolation that many veterans feel and helps lower suicide rates, which statistically averages to about 22 per day nationwide.
When the previous party boat arrives and unloads its passengers, four new crew members hop on and join the four crew members already aboard and in less than one hour, get it cleaned and ready for the next group. The turnover is fast.
According to Faith Dubrule, the business runs two trips a day seven days a week most of the year, though the boats don’t run on holidays. Sometimes it will do a cod fishing trip in January. For more information, visit blackhawksportfishing.com.
"We're answering the phone and looking at boat shows when we get through fishing at the end of December," she said.
“We work just as hard in the winter when we’re not fishing. This is a labor of love. If you don’t eat it, drink it and sleep it, you’d never make it,” Greg Dubrule said. “There’s not a lot of money in it. You do it because you love it.”