As an EverStart Northern Division pro, Troy Garrison has found plenty of bass with his Lowrance electronics. He just never thought he'd be using his Lowrance HDS-8 to spot something that looked like a human body.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what Garrison did on May 27 when he answered a call for assistance from the Maine Marine Patrol and the Sagadahoc County Sherriff's Department. About 15 minutes into a fishing trip, the local authorities contacted the Topsham, Maine, police officer and asked him to employ his sonar equipment to help locate a drowning victim and his canoe.
"After loading up and responding to their location, I was able to locate the canoe within approx 10-15 minutes and showed them some spots on my screen that appeared to be a body," Garrison said. "They located the body approximately an hour after I cleared. I'm just glad the family has closure."
A Maine native, Garrison is one of several FLW competitors coast-to-coast who enforce the law of the land, while protecting its citizens and natural resources. A few ride-alongs back in 1987 sparked an interest that would smolder for a few years before igniting an 18-year career that began as a reserve officer and part-time dispatcher in 1994. A full-time dispatcher position would follow and four years after taking the oath, Garrison became a full-time patrol officer in a town with which he shares a mutual embrace.
"Being raised in a neighboring town to Topsham and in Topsham as well, I know lots of people and when it comes to getting tips on crime solving, that's a huge tool," Garrison said. "All and all, the people in the town of Topsham and surrounding communities have been great to me both in my law enforcement career as well as my fishing career.
"I feel I have made a difference in some people's lives in the community. Sometimes the negative experience turns into a positive outcome in the person or persons' life."
Case in point: November 2009, a late-night collision with a deer sent a local teen's vehicle tumbling down a ravine. Far from sight, the badly injured girl lay frightened and unable to reach her cell phone for two days before Garrison noticed a slight tire track heading off the road. Following the trail of broken tree limbs, he located the accident site and called in the rescue team.
On the run
Looking southwestward about 3,200 miles, California pro Ken Mah also specializes in finding folks, but they're usually not very happy to see him. As a member of the State of California Office of Correctional Safety Fugitive Apprehension Team, Mah helps round up approximately 400 bad guys a year for the U.S. Marshall's Fugitive Task Force. Time on the run varies by individual, but if Mah's looking for them, a recent and serious crime has put them on his radar.
A lot of telephone and Internet research time enables Mah to locate wanted individuals throughout California, as well as Mexico and as far away as Florida and New York. Most out-of-town cases are transferred to local teams, but Mah's job frequently involves what's called a knock-and-notice in which the individual inside a residence has two options – comply or find out why fugitive apprehension teams train so vigorously.
Asked if his work is anything like the drama depicted in TV shows or the 1998 Tommy Lee Jones/Wesley Snipes movie, U.S. Marshalls, Mah gives a half smile and notes that the job definitely has its hairy moments.
"I'm probably in one of the most high risk law enforcement jobs there are," Mah said. "When we are serving warrants, we're typically going after very dangerous and violent individuals. If our team picks up a case, it's someone who has committed an armed robbery, someone who has shot (another person) or serious sex offenders.
"When our team decides to serve a warrant or force an entry into a home to extract somebody, every room we go into is an unknown. We take more than enough people and we bring ample weaponry – AR-15s and shotguns – to the mission. But if you have somebody who (has decided) to shoot police officers, that could be our day – almost every day."
Notwithstanding the acknowledgement of serious risk, Mah said that he and his team members accomplish their often perilous missions by focusing on the procedural steps designed to ensure their safety. It's awareness without impediment, he said.
"If you're in this line of work, and (the potential for danger) is on your mind every day, you probably need to go do something different," Mah said. "We know it's dangerous, but we just accept that that's what it is. We don't let that drive our every decision."
Mah also refuses to let what could be prevent him from doing what must be done. "I really love what I do, because our team is responsible for investigating, tracking, and apprehending current threats to society – (individuals) that have committed new serious and violent crimes. Being a part of the Marshals is something I am very proud of."
Never a dull moment
FLW Tour pro Trevor Fitzgerald serves as a Sheriff's Deputy in Florida's Marion County, where he specializes in drug interdiction. Two hundred pounds of marijuana was his largest seizure, but in terms of weight – and surprise – it's been hard to top a call he got last year from a homeowner who woke to find a most unwelcome guest on her property.
"We got a call from a lady who found a 9-foot alligator at her doorstep," Fitzgerald said. "This was a populated area about a mile from the nearest lake so we figured that alligator must have walked a long way to get to her house."
And talk about crazy stuff – Fitzgerald was driving a suspect to jail when the resourceful criminal slipped his handcuffs from behind his back and under his feet, kicked out the patrol car's rear window and jumped out – at 50 mp.
"I slammed on the brakes and the guy jumps to his feet and starts running – I had to chase him down on foot," Fitzgerald said. "It's something new every single day you go to work. It's never the same thing and it's never dull."
Apprehension and angling
Anyone who has ever wet a line understands fishing's bipolar personality. The sport can be incredibly relaxing and it can be incredibly challenging. That's probably what makes it such a good fit for law enforcement officers.
Comparing the pursuit of fish to his work as a law enforcement professional, Fitzgerald said: "You're always on the move and you have to make decisions on the fly. You have to be thinking about what the next move is going to be and I think that helps me as a fisherman."
Mah agrees and notes the importance of perfecting organization, labeling tools and being able to quickly identify what he's looking at and select the appropriate course of action.
"There's nothing in fishing that would make me nervous or cause me to panic because of what I currently do at work. There's a real parallel between making quick, definitive decisions for my job and for fishing. The danger level's not there, but the consequences may be, figuratively speaking, terrible.
"If I'm on cut day with an hour to go, I have to decide if I want to do this over here or if I want to take a gamble and do this over there. I have to know what the risk-reward is going to be. At work, I'm required to make dynamic, split-second decisions and that helps me plan my day and make decisions as a fisherman."
Also wearing a badge
Elsewhere, EverStart co-angler Robert Nosbisch is a Senior Special Agent for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives in Fairview Heights, Ill. With a 2011 win at Table Rock Lake to his credit, Nosbisch also owns B&R Outlaw Rods. Shane Melton, top pro at the 2010 FLW Tour Major on Table Rock Lake, works as a police officer in Greentown, Ind.
Also, the recent BFL All-American, held at Maryland's National Harbor hosted several competitors with law enforcement careers. Those include: Boater Duane Snyder (Sergeant in the Kentucky State Police), non-boater Mark Belew (Virginia police detective) and non-boater Jonathan Hankins (Deputy Sheriff in Virginia).
Watching out for those with fins and fur, BFL non-boater Cory Gordon serves as a US Forest Service Law Enforcement officer in Homer, La., where he patrols the Kisatchie National Forest and upholds all local, state and federal laws from traffic to wildlife and fisheries regulations.
We may have missed a couple, but to all FLW competitors who serve and protect, we salute you and offer our sincerest thanks for the great work you do. Stay safe and keep fishing.