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Deep-sea fishing: Make-A-Wish Foundation organizes Alaskan trip for Dickinson man

Matthew Jahner holds up the heavy, 65-pound halibut that he caught during deep-sea fishing Sept. 5-9 off the coast of Alaska's Kodiak Island.

The water was choppy on the first day of an Alaskan deep-sea fishing trip, but it didn't stem the enthusiasm of Matthew Jahner, 20, of Dickinson who was granted the trip by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"Monday was terrible -- we had 8 to 11-foot swells -- it was nasty and we fished until 11 a.m.," said Jahner. "Tuesday through Friday was absolutely beautiful and the water was calm."

Dan Jahner accompanied his son on the trip, but didn't fare so well the first day -- he got sea-sick.

"Just fishing with my son was great," he said. "It was a lot of work and I think it wore him out a little bit, but he was still out there pushing -- it was a good time."

Jahner was granted his wish after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia -- considered one of the most common types of childhood cancer in November of 2008. He was attending Dickinson High School at the time.

He was taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatment. By the end of December 2008, Jahner was in remission. He still needed one year of extensive chemo treatments.

In March of 2010, he began the maintenance treatments at Bismarck -- receiving injection chemo and spinal taps every 28 days. He will continue this until April 2012.

Jahner was referred to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Dakota in 2009, but because of his condition at the time, he had to wait for his wish to be granted until he was stable.

The Jahners left Bismarck Sept. 3 for Anchorage, and then flew to the Wilderness Beach Lodge on Kodiak Island.

The lodge is located in Port Lions, a village of 200 people surrounded by deep-sea fishing and streams for fly fishing. The lodge provided the meals, snacks and a game room, the fishing gear and the crews to navigate the boat and clean the fish.

The Jahners were among three pairs of fathers and sons who were on the 43-foot boat, along with the deck hands.

By 8 a.m. each day, the boat headed for the fishing waters. Throughout the course of the week, the fishermen caught a variety of fish, primarily cod, halibut and salmon.

"The salmon were done running, but I think we did catch 14 to 15 salmon," he said.

A highlight for Jahner was when he caught a 65-pound halibut -- a fish he describes looking like a kite.

"It wasn't the biggest -- one guy caught a 135 pounder.

'As soon as I hooked it, I knew it was a bigger fish -- the thing almost pulled me into the water," he said. "I was wiped out, but really it took 10 to 15 minutes to bring it in."

He said the bait was pieces of octopus, salmon and herring -- all on one hook.

"It smelled like fish and left an oil slick on the water," he said. "The longest we waited for a fish to bite was 20 minutes -- all six of us got along really well. There wasn't a down time -- we were having fun."

After the pictures were taken and it was time to return to the lodge, the deck hands cleaned the fish.

"They even made sure we had bait on the hooks, but after the first day or two, we had the techniques down and didn't need help," said Jahner.

Because the skies were clear, they could see the mountains in the distance. The dolphins and orcas provided company on the water.

At the conclusion of the trip, the fish were divided equally -- each team was given 185 pounds of fish -- vacuum sealed and frozen for the trip back home.

Deb Kennedy is co-owner of the lodge with her husband G.F. (Doc) Kennedy, who live on a farm in southwest Minnesota over the winter months.

"When Make Make-A-Wish- Alaska contacted us, we were pretty happy to do it -- it's a good cause, a way to give back," she said. "We negotiated a rate with Make-A-Wish, splitting it half and half. It should be supported."

Joining the fishing crew every day, she said, "There were four other guests on the boat with Matt -- they wanted Matt to bring in the first fish. It was a great group of guys -- they all got along well and became friends."

She said a highlight was when Jahner caught the halibut.

"Coming from North Dakota, any time you catch a fish over 3 pounds, it's a big event," she said.

Jahner's wish is sponsored by the Dickinson Noon Lions Club, which hosts annual benefits for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Kelly Braun serves as the Noon Lions Club president and is state vice president of the Make-A-Wish Board of Directors.

"I'm in my fourth year with Make-A-Wish, and personally have helped four youth during that time," he said.

"It's extremely gratifying -- the whole goal is to help kids," he said.

Through granting the wish, Braun said he and Jahner have become friends.

"It's one of those things with every one of the kids, we end up with a special connection," he said. "It's more than granting wishes, it's creating friends."

Jahner's mom, Kathy Long, credits Make-A-Wish for aiding in the recovery process.

"He knew he had to get strong enough to be able to go deep-sea fishing, so for almost two years he was looking forward to that," she said. "It was something he always wanted to do and in order to do that, he did whatever he could to become stronger."

She expressed her appreciation to Make-A-Wish.

"Without the people who support Make-A-Wish, none of this would happen," said Long. "It's absolutely been a dream come true. He has memories to last a lifetime. Nothing can ever take that away from him."

"It's all about the smiles that come into a child's life when they're going through a time of difficulties," said Dana Altendorf, Make-A-Wish director of community relations. "It's about doctors and medicine and us coming in -- bringing magic and joy and letting them be kids again. Like in Matt's situation, kids become young adults with what they're going through. We let them be kids again."

Make-A-Wish Foundation's mission statement is to grant wishes to children with life-threatening conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Since its inception in 1985, the North Dakota chapter has granted 600 wishes across the state, at an average cost of $6,000 per wish. For more information, visit the Web site at

Jahner is attending Dickinson State University to pursue a career in wildlife biology. He expressed his appreciation to the Make-A-Wish volunteers for their efforts in granting the wish.

"It got my mind off the cancer issue -- I probably wouldn't have been able to do it without Make-A-Wish," he said.