That Girl’s Blog: A Reel Hero Fish Story (AKA: How To Grill Scup)

Grilled Scup 1

What’s the best way to cook Scup? You have probably seen my kitchen adventures in earlier blogs (some of which have ended with a trip to the urgent care clinic). This is not one of those adventures. Tonight I am simply attempting to grill Scup. Let’s be honest, the name alone is enough to make you think twice about taking the time to prep and scale this thin little fish. They are also called Porgy – not much better as far as names of fish go. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about cooking this little guy or how to season it. The recipe doesn’t seem nearly as important as the story that goes with this little fish.

This particular fish was reeled in during “Operation Reel Heroes” Fishing Tournament. This fish was caught by a member of my team on the “JJ”. We had 2 Marine veterans, 2 Firefighters, one of whom was a Vietnam veteran, a police officer… and me. This was the second year I was invited to be part of this full day on the water by organizer Arthur Johnson.

Team JJ 2

Our team met at Bass River Marina at Goofy-O-Clock in the morning. It was very foggy and there was some doubt about when or if the sun would come out. At an event like this, however, the weather doesn’t really matter. This day is a much needed escape from life. Last year it rained, and no one seemed to care. This morning the water was very calm as we made our way down the river past Smugglers Beach were more boats were launching and loading up their teams. There were 43 boats total each with a military veterans, family or friends. The boats came from all over the state. The “JJ” was trailered from Peabody just for this event.

“What you guys have down here is really special,” Captain Rick said as we putted through the “no wake” zone heading to the rally point. “Vets don’t get treated like this anywhere else.” The night before, the Cape Cod Irish Village hosted a captain’s meet & greet that Arthur compared to “fishing speed dating”. Dinner was provided and each captain was introduced to his veterans and guests.

Team JJ

Rick is a Vietnam veteran. He joked that the day he left for Vietnam, his wife left for Woodstock. He talked a little about the draft, but mostly he talked about how every time he comes to the Cape for an event like this, he sees how the Cape pulls together to support veterans. It made me proud, but also a little angry. Support for our troops should come first. No matter where you are. As far as I am concerned, our veterans are the closest thing we have to Superheroes. On January 27th, 1973 the United States ended the military draft. Basically, from the time I was two years old, we have had a military completely made up of VOLUNTEERS: men and women who CHOSE to dedicate their minds, their bodies and, if needed, their life to protect our country and those who need our protection.  All too often, there is an emotional and physical cost paid by these heroes. Operation Reel Heroes is about giving these men and women a break and an escape.

The event is coordinated by Arthur Johnson and Paul Lecesse with a great deal of support from Wounded Warrior Project. There is a lot of planning and coordination involved in the event. One particular detail Arthur keeps in mind: don’t overcrowd the boats. Many of these men and women deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “We had some guys last year that really suffered with a lot of depression and PTSD,” he said. “We don’t try to overload the boats, so that way the captain has an intimate experience with the veterans and they actually become friends.” And there were plenty of friends made on the water this weekend!

The boats gathered just outside the channel with the show of support from the local police and natural resource boats that all had their lights on display. At 7:00AM, the National Anthem was played over the scratchy radio and then there was a scramble with the roar of boat engines as everyone powered to where they thought the most fish could be caught. Our hooks were baited and lines were cast. Bluefish, Stripers, Sea Bass and Scup were all hooked by various teams within minutes! It’s funny how hours can pass so quickly when you aren’t focused on anything except what kind of fish you might reel in next. By the time the sun burned through the fog and clouds, we had each reeled in so many fish, our arms were aching and we were ready for a celebratory beer to end of our trip.

At the end of the day, a lobster dinner was prepared for everyone at Skippy’s Pier 1.  There were several awards and prizes:  Biggest Striper was caught aboard TUNA TALES, 3 Species Combo was caught by the team on FASTLINE, First Bluefish was hooked by SMOKIN REELS and the First Striper was hauled aboard ON TIME.

Reel big Fish

Capt. Kosta from the boat Tuna Tales summed up his team’s award with this Facebook post: This award isn’t about the fish… It’s about giving the Veterans a chance to exhale. The smile on our guests face was epic, they loved every minute. Giving these guys and girls something that those of us fortunate enough with boats and outdoor hobbies to feel what we feel as often as we are able to: A breath of fresh ocean air, a few hours to unwind, to smile, laugh, and relax.

Team JJ didn’t have the biggest, the first or the most of any catch (except maybe sea robins). We did, however, each leave the boat with enough fresh fish to feed our family and friends for a couple days. We also each left with a story to tell our friends and family that had nothing to do with our daily life or a difficult past. More than anything, I saw smiles on everyone’s face –even our team member who probably should have taken Dramamine BEFORE we left the marina.  No one needed to share their past. There were no war stories. All our stories were about plans for the future like buying a house or retirement from the fire department or what it’s like to work on a lobster boat and who would catch the next fist and how many we already had on the boat. It was just a simple fishing trip.

Can one day on the water make a difference? Can catching a fish change a life? Can spending a little peaceful time with a few other veterans have an impact? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that this day on the water brought a smile to a lot of faces. Maybe we were only able to share a distraction long enough for a veteran to get through one more day. I do know that one more day CAN make a difference.Frilled Scup 2

So, this little Scup was cleaned and prepped and rubbed with dried herbs and sea salt, drizzled with olive oil and fresh lime and set on a hot grill. As you can see, it was delicious and I picked it clean (even if I had to pick out a few scales along the way).

I am grateful to be part of a community that cares so much for our veterans. Is Cape Cod unique in the way we treat our Military families and Veterans? I hope not. But if we are, let’s make a point to never change and never forget.


Click here for more information about Operations Reel Heroes

Visit the Cape Country 104 Facebook page for a few more pictures from the Reel Heroes Fishing Tournament

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.


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