Pay it Forward any Way You Can

Of all of the places where I have hunted or fished in North America, my recent visit to Brave Hearts Estate near Pellston, Mich. ranks as one of the most unique experiences. The occasion was the second at Mark Martin’s Ice Fishing Vacation/Schools for 2017. Mark annually holds three such ice-fishing events, all on productive waters in the Wolverine State.

What made this event unique was that not only were there “students” and members of the press in attendance, but we were also joined by several armed forces veterans who came in to fish on nearby Burt lake. But fishing, while being fun, was not the only reason we were there. Brave Hearts Estate is a place of retreat for veterans who seek a means to get away from the world for a weekend or for a few days.

The beautiful 238-acre ranch and retreat center was donated to Operation Injured Soldier by a patriot and generous supporter of our wounded veterans. Opened in 2015, Brave Hearts Estate serves as a retreat destination for vets with a main house, campground, children’s playground and a wide variety of sporting amenities including hiking and biking trails, campfire singing and S’mores, hunting, target shooting, archery, horseshoes, volleyball, basketball, cable and board games. Brave Hearts is located just outside the village of Pellston. Veterans and their families can also enjoy nearby attractions such as shopping in Pellston, Harbor Springs and Petoskey, ski resorts, snowmobiling, boating and swimming in area lakes, visit Mackinaw City and Island, a sporting clays hunt club and scenic drives in the country.

To say I was impressed with this facility would be an understatement. The main house, the buildings and surrounding grounds were beautiful, well maintained, clean and comfortable and the staff went the extra mile. The main house is over 8,000 square feet with eight bedrooms and four bathrooms. The food was great and the beds were comfy.

Nearby Burt Lake is one of the largest of Michigan’s inland lakes and has superb fishing all year. While we were there the lake yielded northern pike, lots of walleyes, big perch, a variety of panfish and a 27-inch brown trout. The trout was landed after a nearly 30-minute fight in 8 feet of water by walleye ace and Martin pro staffer Mike Schneider. Every vet who went out on the ice with us caught fish, some for the very first time through the ice, and all had a great time.

One of the highlights of the evenings were the “show and tell” times when every angler was given the opportunity to recount his or her adventures and tell what worked and what did not. All in all, quite a few good fish were pulled up through the ice. It was a pleasure for yours truly to be in the company of some brave men who laid their lives on the line for our nation. I never was in the armed services, so I feel a special debt to those who served.

Martin is discussing the possibility of returning to Burt Lake for another event next year. If he does, I’ll be there. This was my first time on this big, sprawling lake, but hopefully it will not be my last. If you are looking for a good fishing trip/family vacation, Burt Lake and the surrounding area has much to offer in the way of four-season fun.

If you are looking for a way to pay it forward for a vet, or vets, remember that Brave Hearts is for the most part run by volunteers and its continued future rests upon donations. For more information, visit Requests for weekends can be made by email to or by calling the office at 231-539-7111 (estate), or 248-437-3130 for the other office. There are caretakers at the estate 24/7. Please remember and to pray for our veterans.