Fishing with Veterans: Giving Back to Those Who’ve Served

Few folks are more deserving of our appreciation, assistance and friendship than those who have served our country, whether in war or peace. All have sacrificed in some ways, and many in ways that deserves an extra helping of understanding, friendship and grace.     Spend a little time at a VFW, American Legion, DAV or the VA, and you’ll hear a lot of stories. Visit vets in recovery at hospitals, and you’ll witness situations that range from rewarding to eye-opening.

We’ve all learned that wounds are often more than visible; some go to the root of the soul. If it’s in our power to relieve some of that distress, even in small ways for just a little while, it goes a long way for a vet and the person who lends them a heart, a hand and a fishing rod.

The Let’s Go Fishing volunteer-based non-profit in Minnesota and northern Wisconsin takes over 20,000 guests fishing per year at no charge aboard their handicapped-accessible pontoons. The majority of these are seniors from care centers or ones who are independent adults. Many are veterans who come aboard as part of a care center, church or community group. Some trips are comprised wholly of vets from a local VFW or Legion. Yet in my experience, the latter is far less common than the former, despite obvious effort to invite more veterans groups aboard.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that many vets are pretty independent. It all depends upon the individual, of course. Some aren’t bashful and may even ask you if they can go fishing sometime. Others are comfortable in controlled group settings with their buddies, but some less so with those who haven’t served. Just like the rest of us, I guess, when faced with stepping outside our comfort zones.

One thing I have found, though, is that when veterans accept an offer to spend a little time on the water, they generally appreciate it. Many love it, and can hardly wait to do it again. Some start the day kind of on the quiet side, but once they breathe in some fresh air, take a boat ride across the lake and get a few fish tugging on their line, they tend to open up, smile and settle into the business of outfishing their boat partners.

In Minnesota, there’s an annual event called Trolling for the Troops (davmn.org) that takes place every June at Camp Ripley near the town of Little Falls. Volunteers take veterans fishing for the day on surrounding lakes and rivers, and everyone generally has a blast. It’s a pretty obvious success, partly because everyone involved really wants to be there and to spend a day on the water with other anglers.

Even so, that doesn’t cover everyone who’d benefit from a day in the boat. It’s often up to friends, relatives, co-workers or other veterans to reach out and invite someone aboard, even if at first they don’t accept. If not, it’s no problem. Ask again another time, letting them know the offer remains open should they change their mind. Meantime, show ‘em a fish picture or two from a recent trip—just like dangling your lure in front of a reluctant fish. Eventually, they may bite.

In the end, it’s up to each of us to serve in our own way if the spirit is willing and the opportunity arises. Ask any dedicated volunteer why they volunteer to do what they do and they’ll tell you that they get as much out of the experience as they put into it. Plus, they make new friends in the process, which sounds pretty rewarding to me. Besides, a good net man comes in handy on occasion, especially if you often fish alone.