MOORESVILLE – Even before they had the chance to start spinning fish tales about the ones that got away, military veterans participating in the fifth Operation North State Top Shelf Fishing Festival on Lake Norman made it clear they had enjoyed the experience.

“What a great day,” one yelled to another as their two boats converged toward a pier at the Pinnacle Point Access Area after a day of fishing. “I can’t get enough,” the other responded.

Neither cared what the other had caught, yet – that conversation would occur later around the weigh-in trailer, and at the dinner and recognition ceremony at Berea Baptist Church.

But as 65 participating vessels drifted in, and the noisy process of moving boats, trailers and trucks from one place to another unfolded, the most noticeable sound was laughter and cheerful conversations – along with the occasional cheer when a particularly impressive fish hit the scales.

And that was all the proof needed to indicate the event had achieved its ultimate goal.

“We call it a ‘fishing festival’ because it’s about having fun and building friendships,” Terry Snyder, director of Winston-Salem-based Operation North State, said. “It’s not so much a competition as it is a chance to go out and meet each other, get to know each other and have some fun.”

The Fishing Festival on Lake Norman, held April 18, was one of eight fishing events – four in the spring, four in the fall – Operation North State will sponsor this year. It’s just one example of the outings sponsored by the group to support and serve military personnel.

The nine-year-old organization, operated entirely by volunteers, offers 18 programs for disabled veterans as well as active military personnel.

“Since it started,” Snyder said, “the organization has provided about $700,000 in support services for service personnel, veterans, wounded warriors and disabled veterans.”

In addition to fishing outings, Operation North State – with complete details at operationnorthstate.com – sponsors golf and bicycling events and prepares thousands of Christmas boxes each year for delivery to military personnel stationed all over the world.

The Lake Norman event, according to Snyder, has become popular with veterans and fisherman from throughout North Carolina and beyond.

“We have some of the top fishermen in the state out here today,” Snyder said. “Most of the military folks are from North Carolina, but we also have veterans from South Carolina, Virginia and the Atlanta area.”

Visiting fishermen, as well as many local residents, provide “host boats” for the event and are teamed with veterans for the Fishing Festival.

“We have to turn people away every year,” Snyder said. “Some of these kinds of events have to deal with no-shows, but we’ve never had one of those. These guys and gals like being here. And that’s what this is all about.

“It’s about friendships, and making connections, and showing them they have our support.”

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