2015 Fish With a Hero Event in Marathon

Fish With a Hero Boat

The American Flag Flies High for the Veterans

This year was the second in a row for the Fish With a Hero event led by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. The Florida Keys community of Marathon welcomed veterans from Tennessee and North Alabama for a week of fishing and fun from September 21-25.

Veteran, local resident, angler, and PHWFF supporter Larry Kendzior succeeded in raising the funds needed to bring the 33 veterans and 9 volunteers to Marathon. Middle Tennessee Electric Co-Op generously gave a grant that paid for the transportation. For many of the veterans, deep sea fishing was a new experience, which made the event special for everyone involved, anglers and captains alike.

vets going fishing at the dock in marathon

Vets and charter captains at the dock getting ready to go fishing.

Twenty fishing charter captains and crew donated their boats for two days of fishing with the veterans. Local restaurants donated food and Pigeon Key Foundation donated lodging. For many of the veterans, the 18 hour bus trip to the Keys can be a difficult journey, as some have severe physical handicaps or PTSD. Just like the fishing, organizers try to ensure that the trip is therapeutic, with veterans joining together with others, eating brown bag dinners, and meeting their “bus buddies.”

The Fish With a Hero event organizers describe the veterans’ trip as “sharing part of your life with someone who has been there and really understands your feelings. To be able to open up and talk about the dark side, relieves and relaxes veterans who have PTSD.”

After a day of travel, the veterans were greeted by the antique military vehicle group the “Monroe Marauders” on the second day of their trip. They were escorted to the Coast Guard station in Marathon, where they met the Commander and set off on a tour of the facility. Then, ferries carried the men from the Coast Guard dock to Pigeon Key.

vets in Marathon at Coast Guard station

Vets at the Coast Guard station in Marathon with gifts from local kids.

The Pigeon Key crew welcomed the veterans to their accommodations with sun-protective long sleeve shirts and sunscreen. After dinner and a meeting, veterans crowded the dock to throw the first lines of the trip in the water before heading off to bed for the day.

The third day of the trip was the first full day of fishing, and local charter captains arrived to gather the veterans for a day of on-the-water fun. In spite of pain felt by some of the veterans after a long day of travel the day before, spirits were high, complaints were non-existent, and everybody helped each other aboard the boats to soak up the day ahead.

wahoo caught by the veterans at fish with a hero event

A nice pair of wahoo.

Day 1 of fishing and Day 2 resulted in lots of big catch for dinner and even more memories. Anglers said that the fish and stories got bigger and better from the first day to the next. The men caught over 200 pounds of fish to bring home and enjoy, with the volunteer charter captains filleting and packing it on ice for travel. The veterans rounded out the trip with an evening meal of fish, lobster, and steaks, and of course, sunset and great company.

mahi caught by vets in Marathon FL Keys

A bunch of mahi caught during the vets’ fishing trip in Marathon.

One volunteer described the experience like this: “What I noticed most…was the change in attitude by most who attended. They were more outgoing, not holding so much inside…As for me, I realized from talking with them, it is not easy to start your life over after war…we can share a part of our lives so that our veterans might go on with theirs knowing someone cares.”

Anyone who wants to contribute to the Fish With a Hero Event in 2016 has several options, one of which is volunteering. The website also has sponsorship and donation options. This year’s successful fundraising auctions included a Rohlmann/Apte Tarpon Sketch and a Ritter Guitar.

I had a great time this year as always when spending time fishing with veterans and I’m looking forward to next year!

~ Capt. Dave Schugar

Watch the Fish With a Hero 2014 Video

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