District employee shares ‘passion’ for fishing

Published July 11, 2013
With summer’s arrival and a pair of major European competitions on the horizon, Brad Smudzinski wants to get more people hooked on fishing, even while chasing his own dreams in the sport.

The administrative officer for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District’s Bavaria Area Office in southeast Germany has carved out a name for himself in the angling world. In May, he was featured in the German magazine Fisch und Fang with a three-page color spread – subscribers also received a 15-minute DVD highlighting a recent trip he made to the East Sea fishing for pike.

But as his tournament star rises, Smudzinski remains active in the U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöehr fishing program via the installation’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. He shares his time as a warden and certified instructor, volunteering to teach American military personnel and family members stationed here about the customs, laws, regulations and traditions of fishing in Germany.

“Fishing is a passion for me, it is in my blood. Time on the water is like air to me – I need it to live,” he said. “Spending so much time on the water alone, or without sharing your experience, would not be fun after long. There is a great joy that comes from sharing your skills with another person and then seeing them have success. I have more joy watching a guest on my boat land a monster than if I caught it myself.”

Smudzinski has certainly landed his share of giant pike, walleye, perch, catfish and carp over the years. At age 5, he and his family were on vacation in the Missouri Ozarks when he won the first tournament he ever entered. Now, more than three decades later, Smudzinski attracts attention from corporate sponsors, who invite him to compete regularly in various local and international events.

In early September, he and friend Chris Tuers will represent the United States as more than 40 two-man teams battle for the Illex Lake Trophy in the Czech Republic, a two-day predatory fish contest on the Lipno Sea. Duos will chase a prize package totaling 12,000 euros.

A few weeks later, Smudzinski and Tuers link up again on Team USA for the 15th annual World Carp Classic at Lake Bolsena in the heart of Italy, a volcanic crater that forms one of Europe’s deepest freshwater fishing spots. For five days, 200 tandem anglers from around the globe will tangle in the biggest and most prestigious event on the continent. Prizes include a Ferrari, two Land Rovers, tackle and cash.

“Other European nations such as Belgium, Hungary or Poland have national tournaments and the winners move on to this competition,” Smudzinski said. “As the U.S. has one standing slot allocation in the tournament, the open slot is given first-come, first-serve. Chris and I were the first U.S. anglers to lock in the one slot.

“All my other competitions have been smaller local events. … These are the first two big international events I’ll compete in.”

Smudzinski, 39, has worked with USACE in Grafenwöehr since 2002. The former Infantry Soldier was stationed in Vilseck and has lived in the area for 18 years. This month, he’ll graduate from the Europe District Leadership Development Program’s Class of 2013.

In 2012, he spent about 250 days on the water. Smudzinski says it’s never the same trip twice – and you never know what might pop up on the other end of the line.

“I fish year-round, and even ice fish when the conditions are good,” he said. “There are just so many sides to the sport. Each day can be and is totally different. Some days, I just want to sit on the bank, throw out a carp rig on a bite alarm and read the paper, waiting for the alarm to go off signaling a fish. Then, the heart starts pounding and the rush comes. … Other days, I want to go out on one of my three boats and search the fish out, making thousands of casts trying all areas of the lake.

“Other nights, I go out in the dark and watch the bobber float silently, with its chemlight tip slowly dancing on the water’s surface, just waiting for it to dive under the surface. What is it? An eel? A catfish? A walleye? That is what draws me in. Each time, it’s a new adventure and you never know if today will be ‘The Day.’”

Smudzinski has been an official with the Grafenwöehr installation fishing program since graduating from the Bavarian Institute for Fishing’s Instructor Course in 2010, he said. That certification allows him to instruct, test and license U.S. ID cardholders and their families to fish in Germany.

“U.S. forces attend a three-day class given through the local garrison MWR program, costing $60. Passing a written and practical test at the end of the training earns them their German fishing license,” he said. “With this license, they can then purchase local water permits across Europe for the most part.”

For example, an annual permit to fish a long stretch of the Rhine River in the Wiesbaden area costs about 40 euro, he added. Some local waters in Bavaria cost up to 12 euro a day. The on-post season pass through MWR for seven lakes and three streams in Grafenwöehr is $125 a year.

Children ages 10-18 can obtain a youth fishing license, called a Jugendfischereischein, at a local German town hall for less than 30 euros. No test is required, just a passport photo. It allows them to fish with an adult who has their German license. Kids under 10 don’t require any youth permit and may fish with a licensed parent.

This summer, Smudzinski said he hopes to offer weekly fishing classes and sessions to children on post through the garrison’s SKIESUnlimited program, which delivers various activities and instruction to military kids registered with Child, Youth & School Services.

“Brad is of high value to the MWR fishing program because of his experience and knowledge of European fishing customs and tactics,” said Hans Hathaway, the hunting, fishing and sport shooting coordinator for Grafenwöehr’s Outdoor Recreation program. “He is very passionate about fishing and is always willing to help others – and pass that passion on to other generations. When Brad teaches, he brings all of his equipment and when the students come in the classroom, you can see the excitement on their faces.”

As for Smudzinski’s own aspirations in the sport?

“Ideally, I want to make a living on the water – not so much with events and tournaments, but rather with guiding clients to their dream fish,” he said. “Testing products, writing articles and developing my own line of equipment are all things I enjoy. Working in a bait and tackle shop and assisting customers is something else I enjoy.”

He said Europe is loaded with great locales and venues for good fishing.

“Holland is awesome as there is one permit for the whole country,” he added. “You can drive from canal to canal and lake to lake and just pull over and fish. There is such a variety of water in Holland. … Pike are all catch and release by law, which is great for the population to reach great sizes.

“The East Sea in Germany, the area called Rügen, is famous for the biggest pike in Europe. The salt water and freshwater mix up there on the coast, driving the baitfish into the waiting pike. There is even a tourist license available in that region, and folks can fish there three months a year without having taken the German exam. The permit can be purchased at local fishing shops in the area.”

Smudzinski doesn’t want to give away all his secrets to success but says fishing is similar to other pursuits.

“Like anything, it takes dedication, practice and determination to keep at it. Time on the water will bring the fish,” he said.

Visit www.stuttgart.armymwr.com/index.php/europe/stuttgart/programs/hunting-fishing-sport-shooting/ to learn more about fishing opportunities, courses and license requirements for U.S. military personnel in Germany. Click on class listings or call Outdoor Recreation at your local garrison or base for detailed information.

Meanwhile, as the Italy event approaches, Smudzinski and Tuers can be followed on Facebook at “World Carp Classic-Ammala Team USA.”