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Baghdad Fly Fishing
A Soldiers' Story
By: Jerry Kunnath
Previously Published in the
Michigan Streamside Journal
Sacrifice

Most of us, when we think of the brave young men and women who so unselfishly protect us and our
precious freedoms; tend to just be aware of the fact that the military are risking their lives in their
service to our Country. However, the realities of life are that the dedicated members of our armed
forces sacrifice much more than just life and limb to protect our American freedoms. Many of the daily
perks of living in a free world that we civilians take for granted, such as working in our gardens,
stopping at a coffee shop for a cappuccino, or just attending our children’s soccer games, are quite
often out of the normal reach of activities to those in the military. Add to this the stress, the isolation and
the hazards of being stationed in a war zone; and you have a more complete picture of the true
sacrifices we expect and receive from our service people.

Staff Sergeant [SSG] Kelly Gillespie, Baghdad

About six or seven months ago I received an email from sergeant Kelly in which he inquired about an
online article that I had written about a carp fly called the ‘
Jamies Krazy Carper’. Kelly told me in the
message that he had just learned to fly-fish and fly-tie, in of all places Baghdad, Iraq. He informed me
that he was a soldier stationed there in the Army and that he had learned to fly-fish from an avid fly-
fisher, Joel Stewart. Joel was a sailor who had started the ‘Baghdad School of Fly-Fishing’ to help
combat the boredom and stress that his fellow service people were experiencing on their duty station. It
seems that their barracks were in the area of the palaces that Saddam Hussien had ‘donated’ to our
soldiers for their use while they are visiting Iraq. Kelly told me that these palaces had numerous ponds
and man-made lakes that were teeming with about five kinds of carp, a fish called an asp, another called
a shaboot, and others, many of which he hadn’t yet seen. He asked if I could send him a picture of the
‘Krazy Carper’ so that he could tie it and perhaps use it to catch the carp in the ponds. I gladly sent him
the pictures, along with some materials, and I soon had another fishing friend with whom I could ‘talk
fishin’.

A Life-Long Outdoorsman

Kelly Gillespie has been a fisher for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Franklin County, Virginia
and later moved to Charles Town, West Virginia, while he was in his junior year of high school. Between
fishing at his grandparents’ place on Smith Lake and camping with his parents along the James River,
Kelly got in his share of fishing while growing up. He has also been hunting for about as long as he has
fished. Mary, his wife of thirteen years, often kids him that hunting and fishing is his mistress.  

Kelly joined the Army Reserve while in his junior year of high school in 1990. He went to ‘basic’ that
summer and finished his training for his field of service the following summer in 1991. He stayed in the
reserves till 1994 when he moved over to active duty. Since that date he has been stationed for either a
duty station or training at Ft. Bliss, Texas, Ft. Richardson, Alaska, two tours to Korea, Ft. Riley, Kansas,
and his current home base of Ft. Huachuca, Arizona; from which he was deployed to Iraq. By the time this
article hits the stands Kelly is scheduled to be back in Arizona fishing with his wife Mary and their two
children, a 13-year-old son named Donavan, and a 12-year-old daughter named Cameron.

In most of the locations that Kelly has been stationed he has managed to enjoy some fishing and
hunting. But when he got his orders to be stationed in Iraq he never dreamed that he would be able to
fish there, let alone that he would be able to learn to fly-fish in Baghdad.


The Baghdad School of Fly-Fishing

In Baghdad Kelly found that he was stationed with his unit in a camp that is on some lakes that surround
some of Saddam’s palaces. During off-duty hour’s time can really drag on in a combat zone. Not only are
you away from your stateside friends and loved ones, activities are usually pretty limited. Kelly says that
there are computer and phone centers where you can connect with home. There are places to watch
movies and play video games. And there even was a selection of traditional archery bows and
equipment where he would practice his arrow shooting skills with equipment donated by a sportsmen’s
group from Florida. But it can still be a pretty boring place to pass the time.

Then Kelly met Joel Stewart, another serviceman stationed in Baghdad. Joel, an avid fly-fisherman, had a
great idea to help his fellow service people beat the stress and boredom of their stint in Iraq. In his
spare time he started a fly-fishing class that teaches people how to fly-fish using the close by
opportunity of the stocked ponds that are on the base. Word of his effort made it to some of the fly-
fishing message boards and before long donations of money and equipment, both for fly-fishing and fly-
tying; were being made to the school from companies and individuals back in the States. Kelly was one
of the many lucky soldiers to have learned to fly-fish from Joel. The school is still up and running, even
though Joel has been stationed elsewhere. [
www.baghdadflyfishing.com ]

Fly-Fishing Baghdad


Kelly says, “the school was well organized and had everything needed to learn fly-fishing and fly-tying.
All the people and all the companies that made it possible deserve a big thanks for what they have done
to help the troops.”

When I asked Kelly if learning to fly-fish had relieved his stress he jokingly answered, “Who said it
relieved stress. If you have ever tried to learn this sport you know just what I mean.”  After a laugh he
added, “As far as the boredom, it is nice to just get out on the water and let the day take you where it
will. For a few hours you can almost forget where you are. Heck, it even gives you something to look
forward to.” All of us fishers that enjoy the ‘quiet sport’ know just what he is saying. A little bit of time to
relax and enjoy the water. Time to forget, at least for a bit, life’s worries. Kelly adds, “Is this the day I
hook a mangar [a large carp that runs like a salmon on steroids], or maybe a shaboot [another large carp
that pulls like a bull redfish]. Some days I just walk around one of the lakes looking for tailing carp, and I
just let my mind wander to days past spent watching the flats for bonefish or trout.”

As far as the fishing and the flies used on base lakes Kelly says, “ I have seen the fishing so hot that a fly
couldn’t hit the water without something swallowing it. However, I have seen it so slow that you would
need a grenade to land a fish. Wooly buggers and worms [like the San Juan worm] are my ‘go to’ flies. A
Jamies Krazy Carper will attract asp [24 inch chrome colored eating machines] when stripped like a
streamer; and nymphs and dry flies work under the right conditions.”

When questioned about the weather Kelly replied, “it is absolutely the hottest place that I have ever
fished. Summertime temps can reach 115 degrees and the constant wind can make it hard to fish. But
when the wind lies down, fish up to 50 pounds can be seen cruising just under the surface. Their black
forms will glide through the water, not unlike a whitetail in an oak grove. During the winter it isn’t quite
so bad, except in December thru February when it almost constantly rains and gets almost cold.”

Kelly told me that he definitely would continue to fly-fish the rest of his life. He also can’t wait to take his
two children out to fly-fish when he returns home to the States.

Iraq, and the Army

When asked about what he likes and dislikes about the Army Kelly told me that, ”like most organizations
of this size there are always some things that do not make much sense to the worker bees. But you have
to keep faith and realize that you don’t have the total picture. I truly believe that in some way I am
helping a future generation of people to have a chance at a better life. I like that feeling. I also hope that
the sacrifices that my wife and my children have made are not in vain.”

Between training and deployment for the war, Kelly has only actually been home with his family for six
months of the last three years. I sometimes complain when I don’t see my family for longer than a week.
Kelly’s wife and children also deserve a medal, and our heartfelt thanks as well.

Kelly adds, “I also don’t like the fact that with as much moving as we are prone to do, that I don’t get to
make any ‘core’ friends. You know; the ones that will go fishing or hunting on a whim or plan annual
hunts and know that they will be there. That everyone will go.”

Another ‘Best Generation’

The more contact that I have with the people now filling the ranks of our military, the more convinced I
am that we truly have a chance at defeating terrorism and the more confident that I am in our safety. All
personnel in our armed forces are there right now because they chose to be. They volunteered. Men
and women like Kelly Gillespie, my friends Jeff Selser and Dave Laycock [Sergeant Major, Ret.], and my
son Steven, are the embodiment of the American spirit. They, just like all the veterans that have served
before them, are why we are still a free people.  They have and are serving with pride. We should make it
our job as the people that they are protecting to help and support them in every way possible. The
people who have made it possible for Kelly and his fellow soldiers to learn to fly-fish in that war zone
should be commended.


When I asked Kelly in a recent letter what the fly-fishing class had done for him he closed the letter with
this paragraph. “Not only has it [Baghdad School of Fly-Fishing] boosted my moral, but it has instilled a
feeling in me that I serve the greatest people of all. That we, as Americans, are the most giving and
caring people. Not only for ourselves, but for the whole world that we live in.”

Proud to Serve,
Kelly Gillespie

So the next time you stop at Starbucks for that Latte, try slipping another $4.50 into your pocket to send
to the Baghdad School of Fly Fishing. You just might be able to make another American hero a little more
at ease with their being away from hearth, home, and family. We, the American public, owe them much
more than that.

Support the Baghdad School of Fly-Fishing and our soldiers, wherever they are stationed.
Go to:
www.baghdadflyfishing.com
SSG Kelly Gillespie - with a nice Baghdad Carp
Protecting Our Freedoms While
They Risk Their Lives
A Little Fly - Fishing Helps
Pass The Time
SSG Kelly Gillespie
With a Baghdad Carp
Close-Up of a Baghdad 'Asp' - an Eating Machine
A 'Barbell' Carp Caught on an 'Elk Hair Cadis'
Asp - An Eating Machine
Barbell Carp Caught on
Elk Hair Cadis
SSG Kelly Gillespie with 30lb Baghdad Carp
Asp From Baghdad Caught By SSG Gillespie
SSG Kelly Gillespie with a huge 30lb Carp caught in
Baghdad. Note the ever present M-16 across his
shoulder. A poignant reminder of where Kelly was when
he caught this great fish.
A nice fly-caught Asp that took Kelly Gillespie's
fly in one of the pools on the old palace
grounds of Sadam Hussien.  Go Army!
There is a saying that reads, 'if you love your
freedom, thank a vet.' When is the last time
you really thanked a veteran for your way of
life here in America?
                      
Anonomous
Visit our new page 'Veterans
Assistance Page'
for important and
useful links/information to help you
help a vet