They came from across Minnesota, from Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota.
More importantly, they had also come from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forty veterans of military service gathered last weekend to fish on Trout Lake near Coleraine. The event was put together by fishing guide Justin Bailey of Keewatin and Jeremy Colsen of Bloomington, Minn., founders of the nonprofit group Fishing With Veterans. Both veterans themselves, Bailey and Colsen founded the group last year. It holds special events to get veterans on the water with fishing guides.
Last weekend’s event was the largest of five the group has held so far.
“They all caught lots of fish, mostly walleyes and smallmouth bass and some pike,” Bailey said. “The weather was awesome. A lot of the vets caught their first fish.”
Perhaps surprisingly, it can be difficult to draw veterans to such events, he said.
“Almost all of these vets had to be talked into it,” Bailey said. “They’re timid at first. They don’t want any recognition for anything. They always feel someone is more deserving than them. But once they come to an event, they go more and more into the vets’ community.”
Some of the vets were accompanied by therapy dogs. Some vets required oxygen tanks. Others had specific medical conditions.
“It’s amazing how the guides got out of their comfort zones,” Bailey said. “They were able to make the vets feel comfortable and work with their disabilities. They never made the vets feel out of place.”
Justin and AliceKae Wiese of Wheezy Outdoors in Grand Rapids served as guides for veteran Kent Nelson of Hastings, Minn.
“It’s more than just helping veterans out,” AliceKae Wiese said. “You get to know them on a personal level. It’s showing them the positivity and that there are good places to go rather than to a dark place after combat. It’s getting them involved in something that truly brings you happiness.”
The event, the second annual on Trout Lake, began on July 23, when vets and guides gathered in Coleraine. The guides, too, came from across the Upper Midwest, Bailey said.
Participants were signed up for the event through Facebook and through veterans’ groups.
The day’s big-fish award went to veteran Travis Ryan of Taylors Falls, Minn., who was guided by Dan Swensen of Grand Rapids. Ryan took top honors with a 24¾-inch walleye.
Bailey and Colsen solicited $40,000 in donations for the event. Many sponsors offered goods or services at discounted rates, and the Coleraine community got behind the event, he said.
“Everyone went home with fishing rods and everything they needed,” Bailey said.
The oldest veteran to attend was 88 and had served in the Korean War, he said.
About 150 veterans had applied to attend the event.
The next Fishing with Vets event will be in October on Lake of the Woods, Bailey said.
For more information, go to fishingwithvets.com or the Fishing With Vets Facebook page.