Gary Rasnake, Jeff Sykes

Retired Army Sgt. First Class Gary Rasnake, left, and Jeff Sykes, captain of the Sykesville, hold a 37-inch rockfish Rasnake reeled in Sunday at the Rock on Warriors fishing event, hosted by the Annapolis chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. (Matt Schnabel / Photo for The Baltimore Sun / April 27, 2014)

Gary Rasnake leaned against the starboard side of the boat, arms crossed, hoping for a bite.

The retired Army sergeant first class had been waiting about four hours on the Chesapeake Bay waters, much of it in the same position, for the telltale jerk of a fishing rod.

Rasnake, whose nearly 25-year infantry career was cut short in 2009 after suffering a back injury in Afghanistan, was one of 58 retired and active-duty military members who joined the Annapolis chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association on Sunday for its annual Rock on Warriors: Operation Rockfish event.

Dozens of former and current military personnel and family members boarded 20 boats captained by MSSA members and departed the Annapolis Yacht Basin for six hours of trolling for rockfish on the bay.

Rasnake joined Jeff Sykes, captain of the Sykesville, and Jim Catterton, who also volunteered for the event, aboard Sykes' 27-foot Chesapeake model, setting off at about 8:30 a.m. on a crisp, clear morning.

Shortly after the Sykesville left the yacht basin, Rasnake watched as Sykes and Catterton unraveled lures and set out planer boards and 13 fishing lines.

"That's what I do, just soak it all in," said Rasnake, of Deale. "It's amazing what they go through to get it all ready."

Rasnake hasn't gotten out on the water as much as he would've liked since moving to the area, he said. These days, he works as an occupational safety and health manager at the Naval Sea Systems Command at the Washington Navy Yard, where he's been for about 41/2 years.

Though Rasnake said he wishes he had been able to remain on active duty longer — "I was going for 30" years, he said — he conceded he's luckier than many of those with whom he served.

"I'm walking; a lot of my buddies aren't walking," he said. "They're missing limbs."

As the Sykesville motored through the waters, Catterton and Sykes swapped stories about bay fishermen and talked shop while Rasnake listened, occasionally chiming in.

"It's just a whole bunch to learn about this type of fishing," he said.

Though the event's captains reported favorable marks, the first fish wasn't caught until nearly 11 a.m., about 21/2 hours in.

"In my opinion, the rockfish are only here to spawn," Sykes said. "If there's nothing to eat, they're leaving."

But the early lack of success didn't worry the captain, who said he was convinced the rockfish would start biting.

"The smallest boat in the warrior fleet has to come back with the biggest fish," Sykes said.

As noon crept past, however, with bites yet to come on any of Sykes' lines and few catches relayed over his radio, the trio settled in for the long haul.

"C'mon, Lady Bay," Sykes said.

Growing pains

The MSSA's Annapolis chapter hosted its first Rock on Warriors event in 2010, after George Brown, a club member who served in the Army during the 1980s, urged the chapter to consider sponsoring a Wounded Warriors Project event, fishing trip chairman Ron Schaefer said.