Gone Fishin'

Time can be an enemy in Iraq. There are long periods of boredom punctuated by sudden terror.

How do soldiers cope? Some go fishing.

Saddam Hussein created a series of lakes and canals at the Al-Faw Palace complex near Baghdad. Right now the area is home to thousands of U.S. soldiers.

There's a gym, you can buy DVDs, and you can get an espresso and a Cinnabon. But for those who know the call of the wild, there's a better way to relax and forget about where you are and what you have to do.

"I love fishing," said Sgt. Jeremy Wolf, as if the hobby were a disease. He paused, raised his rod, and added, "I go whenever I can," then he made a near-perfect cast placing a streamer out past some rocks in the lake near the palace.

The waters are home to a strange collection of sea life from bass to carp to eels and asp. The big ones, though, are a hybrid fish that Saddam created. They often come to the surface to eat bread and scraps thrown in by admiring soldiers. Some weigh more than 20 pounds and have been known to go after ducks in the lake.

The base PX, or military store, can't keep fishing rods in stock. When one fisherman dips a line, others quickly come by to offer tips or make attempts to get intelligence on the best places, times and lures.

It's not uncommon for soldiers to catch a dozen or more fish in an hour or two. "Summer is a little better than now," said Spc. Adam Labonte, as he tossed his spinner into the lake. He is one of many regulars.

It's not just for the enlisted soldiers. Officers go fishing, too. They have a special "discrete" spot on the other end of the lake where the big ones lurk.

"They are healthy fish," one general said. "The Euphrates River runs right through here."

Some fish with bait, some with flies, some with lures but there is one thing all of the anglers agree on: They don't eat what they catch.

"No, I'm good," said Wolf as he wrinkled his nose and shook his head. This is a catch-and-release-only area and no license required.

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