U.S. Troops in Baghdad Make Fishing a Tradition While U.S. troops in Iraq spend much of their time searching for high level insurgents, some soldiers at Baghdad's Camp Victory try to catch another type of "big one." They fish in the lakes surrounding Saddam Hussein's palaces. After five years, it's become a tradition — soldiers on their way out hand fishing rods to newcomers.
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U.S. Troops in Baghdad Make Fishing a Tradition

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U.S. Troops in Baghdad Make Fishing a Tradition

U.S. Troops in Baghdad Make Fishing a Tradition

U.S. Troops in Baghdad Make Fishing a Tradition

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/88552302/88552847" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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While U.S. troops in Iraq spend much of their time searching for high level insurgents, some soldiers at Baghdad's Camp Victory try to catch another type of "big one." They fish in the lakes surrounding Saddam Hussein's palaces. After five years, it's become a tradition — soldiers on their way out hand fishing rods to newcomers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

So U.S. troops are searching for what they call high-value terrorists in Pakistan. In Iraq, some soldiers are also looking to catch another kind of big one.

NPR's Anne Garrels sent an audio post card from Baghdad's Camp Victory.

Specialist SETH MAJOR (Soldier, Camp Victory): I got one.

ANNE GARRELS: Success, but Specialist Seth Major really wants to catch a big bass in one of the many artificial lakes built by Saddam Hussein. It's a beautiful spring morning at what was a palace compound and is now a vast U.S. military base, headquarters for the U.S. command here.

Instead of spending his down time playing video games or watching movies, this 21-year-old from Iowa loves to fish.

Spec. MAJOR: A couple of weeks ago, there was a visitor here who was sitting out here fishing, and he had a really big one. It broke his line and got away. So that was pretty exciting to see.

GARRELS: So far, after seven months, Seth Major has caught nothing but Japanese carp.

Spec. MAJOR: There's a little one. He's not big enough for me to want to keep yet.

GARRELS: He throws the fish back. He wouldn't dream of eating anything here, whatever the size.

Spec. MAJOR: The water's not too sanitary here. So they get a lot of bacteria in the fish. The Ugandans like to go fishing out in the little creeks over there, and they usually keep what they catch.

GARRELS: As other countries have departed, the Ugandans, along with Rwandans, are now part of the U.S.-led coalition.

Specialist Major puts another piece of breakfast sausage on his hook.

Spec. MAJOR: I tried other things like bread and corn. It didn't work as good as the sausage.

GARRELS: Rumor has it the fish developed a test for meat under Saddam Hussein, because they were regularly fed with his victims.

Spec. MAJOR: They said that they had wood chippers along the shoreline out here and there was like blood and body parts in them still.

GARRELS: Staff Sergeant David Penny has heard the rumors, too.

Sergeant DAVID PENNY (Camp Victory): Carp are carp, you know. They're going to eat anything. So I think sometimes people's stories get a little - you know, I don't think it has anything to do with that. So - kids. So…

(Soundbite of laugher)

GARRELS: Rumor also has it these soldiers can expect another tour here in the future. Seth Major hopes that's not the case.

Spec. MAJOR: I really don't want to come back again.

GARRELS: The same goes for Sergeant Penny, who's looking forward to doing some real fishing before long.

Sgt. PENNY: I'm more of a wildlife fisherman. I'll be fishing about two months from now, South Dakota, Missouri River.

GARRELS: A Lieutenant Colonel walks by the enlisted men carrying a fishing net.

Lieutenant Colonel VAN PRICE (Camp Victory): I'm retrieving golf balls.

(Soundbite of laugher)

GARRELS: (Unintelligible)

Lt. Col. PRICE: They're floating golf balls, so that you can hit them in a lake.

GARRELS: And there are plenty bobbing along the lake edge.

Lt. Col. PRICE: And there's a little driving range around the corner over there. We can go hit these. And then they float, and then you can go back and collect them.

GARRELS: After five years, fishing and sort of golf are a tradition here, a welcome break from monotony or stress. Families and sporting companies have sent rods and golf clubs, which are passed down from one unit to the next. Hundreds of thousands of balls have been driven into the lake. By now, people back home know to send floating ones.

Lieutenant Colonel Van Price is based elsewhere. He's just at Camp Victory for a couple of days - a rare chance for him to practice his swing.

Lt. Col. PRICE: This is just kind of a luxury for me. I've got to leave, so I'm just going to go hit these right now. So it's kind of neat.

GARRELS: There's suddenly activity on the fishing front.

Sgt. PENNY: And he got one right there.

GARRELS: It's the bass Specialist Major has been waiting for. Not the big one, but a respectable four-pounder.

So you got a bass.

Spec. MAJOR: I did.

GARRELS: A good catch here.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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