David Stammen of Sidney, Ohio reeled in his first halibut aboard a Homer Ocean Charter boat on Tuesday, June 21 — followed by 12 more over the course of his fishing trip on Tuesday and Thursday, June 23.
“It was amazing, other than the fact that you’re just about falling off the boat,” David said, who isn’t used to the choppy waters of Kachemak Bay. “The longest one (fish) I had was 37 inches.”
While many come to Homer for a similar experience, this particular trip is the result of acts of kindness and several months of struggle for 16-year-old David, who has been fighting Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma since December 2015. When the doctors found the cancer, it was stage four, said his mother, Robin Stammen. The cancer had also made its way into David’s bloodstream, causing skin cancer as well.
After going through a research program that only three other patients had gone through at the time, David’s scans came back clean with no signs of lymphoma, Robin said. At the time of his trek to Homer, David was cancer-free.
While David was in the hospital, the doctors connected him and his family with A Special Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to any child diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. David’s original wish was to go fishing at a local lake with new fishing poles for him and his father. David Seyer, executive director of A Special Wish Foundation, suggested he dream a little bigger.
David is a natural-born fisherman, according to his parents Robin and Doug Stammen. Ever since his first fishing trip at age 3, he has both loved and been successful at fishing.
“Doug took David fishing and put the pole in his hand and that kid stood still and never moved. Doug had to go out and stand so his shade of his body was over him and rotated with the sun. He did not want to stop fishing and then ever since then, David has loved fishing,” Robin said. “David used to make (his uncle Mark) so aggravated because Mark would sit and not catch anything for hours and David would walk up as a little boy and go ‘plunk,’ and about five minutes later pull something out.”
David eventually changed his humble first request to halibut fishing in Alaska. Seyer, who had never sent a child to Alaska for a trip before, searched the Internet for the ideal place.
“I actually went to Google and typed in ‘best halibut fishing in Alaska’ and Homer popped up, so that’s where I started,” Seyer said.
Seyer began making calls around Homer, securing a charter reservation for Doug and David for Tuesday and Thursday. He also called Bear Canyon Cottages, located off East End Road near mile 3, to inquire about making a reservation for the Stammens. Owner Bob Rude donated the Garden Cottage at no cost to A Special Wish. However, when asked about this act of kindness, Rude’s fiancée Kelly Blue said that they simply did what any other Homer lodging owner would have.
“We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that anybody wouldn’t do. They just happened to call us first. The story around this family is really amazing. We were trying to do the right thing as a Homer citizen,” Blue said. “Bob and I have lost a lot of good friends to cancer and to see a young one going through it … it’s a gift to be given an opportunity to give back.” Blue’s brother, pilot Kris Oldham, also took David and his family flying in his plane on one of their off days from fishing. Oldham took David, Robin and David’s younger sister April up first for about an hour and a half, and then Doug took the place of David’s mother and sister for another 90-minute flight.
“We were trying to make it work so he could do everything,” Blue said.
On the boat, David and Doug saw much of Alaska’s famous wildlife.
“We saw a lot of otters, a lot of whales and one bear,” David said.
David said the views in Alaska, from both the plane and on the ground, struck him the most.
“Where we’re from, we’re used to seeing cornfields, here there’s mountains and trees everywhere,” he said. “You come here and see all the mountains, different animals, it’s just amazing.”
Between fishing and flying, David got more than a taste of Homer life, and is eager to come back. He wants to come back and work on a commercial fishing boat in a summer or two, he said. In addition to planning a future Alaska summer, David looks forward to other dreams, ones that he can make happen for himself. He wants to join the Marines, partially inspired by family members’ paths before him and partially because they have the best dress uniforms, he said. Doug was in the Navy, David’s grandfather was in the Army, and his uncle Mark whom he looks up to is a Marine.
Anna Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.