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    The Connection

    This particular edition of Black Hills Bites isn’t as much about fishing as it is about a connection. It’s about a set of circumstances that bring things full circle. It’s also about a life taken way too soon.

    I love to catch trout. Some people don’t but I really do. I’ll never turn down an opportunity to go trout fishing. Kevin Woyjeck loved to catch them too. The fact that the kid from Seal Beach, CA loved to trout fish did surprise me a bit. After all, I had seen pictures of Kevin standing in what amounted to an oversized Jon Boat with a gaff hooked Thresher Shark at his feet. When I told Kevin about how his affinity for trout puzzled me his reply was simple, “I just love to catch fish dude”.

    Kevin and I had much in common. Obviously our love for fishing and the outdoors was one thing. Kevin also grew up idolizing his father, a Captain for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It was his goal to one day join his fathers department and work side by side with him. We both worked as firefighters, Kevin for South Dakota Wildland Fire and I for Rapid City Fire. He and I shared a love of softball as well. Kevin joined our Benchwarmers Wednesday night softball team which was comprised primarily of firefighters. With a dip in his lip, a smile on his face and some country music on the radio it was almost as if Kevin was the kid that grew up down the road rather than in Orange County, CA.

    The Bear Mountain Hand Crew got very few days off and with my work schedule being like it was we only got to hit the lake one day together last summer. We fished Lakota for a few hours chasing Northern Pike, or “Slough Sharks” as we called them. We talked a little about work, a little about family, mostly about fishing. It was one of the few times Lakota has skunked me. Kevin didn’t catch anything either. At the end of the trip, though, we both remarked that it was just good to be out. We headed back to town and that’s when life and work got in the way of fishing. Fire season had announced its arrival with authority. Neither one of us got to fish much after our trip to Lakota although we talked about it quite a bit and it wasn’t long before Kevin left the Black Hills altogether to head home and pursue his dream job.

    On June 30th, just over a week ago, Kevin was one of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots that were killed fighting a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona. The Yarnell Hill Fire will go down in history with the likes of South Canyon, Thirtymile, and Mann Gulch as fires that once again remind everyone how dangerous our profession is. Kevin and his crewmembers made the ultimate sacrifice to save lives and property of those they most likely did not know or had never met. 

    When the news started to break late that Sunday evening, the news of lost firefighters hit close to home. The fire service is a family, a close knit community of brothers and sisters who not only shed sweat, and sometimes blood, together but also spend much of their free time together pursuing their other loves and passions. Monday Morning the news went from hitting close, to landing right in our collective laps. 

    I find it unfortunate that I only got to know Kevin as briefly as I did. I would have loved the opportunity to play more ball, catch some fish, and fight fire with him. At the same time it feels like I knew the guy forever. His easy going manner made him fun to be around. Kevin immediately made friends no matter where he was. That in itself is a testament to what an outstanding human being he was. Always positive, constantly smiling, and absolutely loved to do whatever it was he was doing at the time. Kevin’s life, albeit taken way too soon, was one lived to the absolute fullest, and should be looked at as a model for how more people should choose to live theirs. Anyone lucky enough to spend any amount of time with Kevin grieves his loss but should at the same time be grateful for having had the chance to know him. I know that I am.

    This edition of Black Hills Bites is going to end without a fishing report. Instead I’ll leave you with this thought: Instead of focusing on what we’re catching or where, or how big, let’s head out this week and just enjoy being there. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Woyjeck family, Kevin’s close friends, and all of those affected by the tragic loss of the Granite Mountain 19.

    Be safe and fish on!

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