Dawn broke pink over Menemsha harbor as the water rippled softly. Aboard the fishing boat Mary Sea, Captain Jonathan Boyd drove fisherman Brian Curry and veteran Tommy Elliot out to Quick’s Hole in search of bluefish.

Annual event is sponsored by Nixon family of Chilmark. — Mark Lovewell

Mr. Elliott was on the Vineyard for the first time, visiting as a part of the eighth annual Beach Plum Inn American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. The Saltwater Challenge brings wounded veterans to the Vineyard for five days of fishing the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, good food, and relaxation. This year, six veterans and their families participated.

Mr. Elliott, a 38-year-old retired Captain in the Marines, credits his wife, Deborah, with getting him involved in the challenge.

Within a few minutes of arriving in Quick’s Hole, Mr. Elliott hooked his first bluefish.

“We have a fish here,” he announced, beginning to reel in the line.

“You’ve got 300 feet to go,” Mr. Boyd told him, referring to the wire line.

Tommy Elliott, retired Marine (at left) with Capt. Jonathan Boyd. — Mark Lovewell

The good luck of hooking a fish right away was followed by the bad luck of a faulty reel. Mr. Boyd and Mr. Curry stepped in to fix the reel as the fish continued to pull out more line. Then the men spotted a seal breaking the surface, making shallow dives toward the line.

“I hope he’s not going after your fish,” Mr. Curry said. “It’s a race between the seal and the angler.”

Mr. Elliott won the race, pulling in a 11-pound, 30-inch bluefish. A keeper.

It wasn’t Mr. Elliott’s first time fishing for blues. Once in New York he fought a fish for 45 minutes before pulling it up, he said.

“It wiped me out,” he said.

Mr. Elliott’s other pastimes are less exhausting. He’s a ceramic artist, a graphic designer and a golfer — he hit the links on the Vineyard. He now works in cyber security, thanks to another veterans organization, Wounded Warrior Cyber Combat Academy. He lives in Fairfax, Va. with his wife and two kids, four-year-old Oliver and six-week-old Samantha.

“I’m still serving my country, just in a different fashion,” he said.

Mr. Elliott enlisted in the Marines directly out of high school. It had been Mr. Elliott’s brother’s dream originally, but then he died in 1991.

"I'm still serving my country, just in a different fashion." — Mark Lovewell

“He always wanted to be a Marine, and it got taken away from him,” Mr. Elliott said. So he made his brother’s dream his own.

Hailing from Marissa, Ill., a small town where “you either grow up to be a gas station attendant or a coal miner,” Mr. Elliott was looking for something else out of life and the Marines kept him out of trouble.

“After a few years, I realized it’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said.

Mr. Elliott traveled all over the world with the Marines, including to Egypt, South Korea, Iraq, Bahrain, Hawaii, England, Japan and Thailand, spending as long as five months at sea.

“I went around the world several times before I was 20 years old,” he said.

On his last deployment, with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Mr. Elliott fell extremely ill. He stayed in the hospital for more than two years.

“It just got worse and worse until I couldn’t stand up,” he said. Mr. Elliott was forced to medically retire from the Marine Corps in 2013.

With Capt. Scott McDowell at the helm, you're sure to catch a big one. — Mark Lovewell

“I miss it every day,” he said. “There’s a camaraderie you get from the military that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s the biggest thing everyone misses, at least for me.”

Out on the water, he hopped up nimbly as another bluefish caught the line. The second fish escaped after breaching the water. The third fish was too small to keep, but a few minutes later, both rods bent. Two fish were hooked, and a trend started.

Another two fish were hooked at once, and Mr. Elliott pulled his biggest of the day, a 12-pound, 33-inch bluefish. It’s also the last fish of the day, and the Mary Sea headed back into Menemsha. A pizza lunch was waiting for the veterans and their families back at the Beach Plum Inn.

Once docked, Mr. Boyd offered to fillet one of the smaller fish and put it on ice for Mr. Elliott to bring home the next day.

“Got a good recipe for me?” Mr. Elliott asked.