Ten years ago Manistee charter boat captain Bob Guenthardt had an idea to Honor Veterans with a day of fishing,  “I thought it would be a one-time deal,” Guenthardt said. “We could never have imagined how it has grown.”

Every year the Manistee Community hosts Tight Lines for Troops on Armed Forces Day weekend, May 17 and 18 this year.

  • November 1 – March 1: Veterans file application to participate.
  • Friday, May 17: Veterans register and share a meal with their Comrads, Charterboat Captains & Crew.
  • Saturday, May 18: Before dawn, 5:00am, Veterans board their fishing boats, parade to the pier heads at Lake Michigan and gather around the USCG’s Life Saving Boat.
  • In the still of the morning sunrise, the Bagpipers play “Amazing Grace,” followed by a bugler playing “Taps,” and after a prayer, the engines roar to life and head out on the big lake for a day of tournament fishing. Air Force vs Army vs Marines vs Navy vs Coast Guard
  • Around noon the boats return to the Manistee River channel to receive a hero’s salute from a community of flag-waiving, welcoming cheers and “Thank You for Your Service” along the piers, Riverwalk and drawbridges.

Charter Captain Craig Kent hosted the Veterans on his boat for the first six years of the event, before joining the Tight Lines board of directors. As a captain, he said,

“You learn to let them share their experiences with the other Vets. The guys tell their stories while they fish, then when they return to the river and watch the people on the shore cheering and waving American flags they go speechless, soaking up the moment.”

“It makes a huge impact on the charter captains,” Kent said. “How Veterans felt about this event, how important it was to them was an eye opener. It gives you a desire to be more involved. We’re fishermen, it’s what we do. But it’s not about catching fish – it’s about camaraderie, telling jokes, stories, eating. Now the Vets have a new story.”

“We get as excited as the Veterans,” said Guenthardt. “This could never have happened without the volunteers and the board and the different service organizations. We’re proud that there is no paid staff. We do it out of respect and appreciation for what the guys and gals have done for our country.”

Bonnie Livingston, Secretary of the Tight Lines for Troops Board of Directors, said with respect for the Vets’ privacy during this experience, the public is encouraged to gather along the pier and riverwalk to welcome the Veterans home.  For an experience you won’t soon forget, bring your flag or borrow one on-site from Rolling Thunder and show our troops the gratitude they deserve.  Livingston said she never gets tired of participating in the event. “It gets hold of you and you can’t let go.”

Every Lake Michigan fishing tournament has a weigh-in, and this one is special. Volunteers and National Guardsmen clean and pack the fish fillets in eCoolers donated for the Veterans to take home the catch of the day.

To honor our fallen Veterans, the Michigan Veterans Memorial Wall, and the Middle Eastern Memorial Wall will be on display.

Eric Gustad, Vice Chair of the Tight Lines for Troops Board of Directors said they expect to receive over 500 Veteran applications between November to March 1.  Veterans pay no charter fees or entry fees. 

300 Vets will be able to fish Lake Michigan on 40+ charter boats, many more fish the rivers in drift boats or in the Pier/Shore Division.

While some Veterans participate more than one year, the priority is to host at least 75 percent of new Vets each year. Boarding priority goes to Veterans from WWII, Korea, Purple Heart recipients, Veterans disabled, POWs, Families of Gold Star Veterans, and then any Veteran of any branch of service.  The Vets from different wars or conflicts are placed together on the boats.