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Steelheaders Take Veterans Fishing Across 130 miles of the Columbia River

By Donny Hyde, Columbia River Chapter President
November 11, 2020

S ince 2012, the Columbia River Chapter’s biggest and most anticipated event of the year has been the Annual Veteran’s Fishing Event, hosted in partnership with The Fallen Outdoors (TFO). TFO is a nonprofit dedicated to connecting veterans to each other and the outdoors. The Columbia River Chapter strives to get veterans on the water to fish and foster new friendships, and in spite of the curveball(s) 2020 threw our way, we were determined to continue that work this year. After everything veterans have done for us, it’s the least we could do for them.

In years past, we went all out with food, fishing awards, event swag, and more. We quickly realized that the usual shebang wouldn’t be possible this year, so we pared it down to achieve the essential goal: get veterans out fishing—however we could and whatever it took. After several planning meetings about altering the event to comply with Covid restrictions and guidelines, we adapted and overcame every hurdle.

We voted to nix the BBQ, T-shirts, and awards and decided not to hold the event at one central location in order to minimize the number of people gathered. We let the volunteer boat captains determine where they wanted to fish anywhere along the Columbia River and its tributaries, and then we matched each veteran with a boat captain. Our 22 captains took 70 veterans fishing from Longview, WA all the way up to Kilckitat, WA, covering over 130 miles of river. Some of the captains were Columbia River Chapter members, some were members of other chapters, and a few others had no affiliation whatsoever. All of them just wanted to give a little something back to the veterans who gave it all up to protect our country.

“When outdoor communities want something done, there's only a handful of organizations that lead a patriotic charge and one of them is called the [Northwest] Steelheaders, because they know we will get the job done,” Steelheader Brian Cummins said about volunteering at veteran’s events. “It brings fond memories, new friendships, and most importantly, I’ve seen it bring old and new warriors from out of their funk into an invaluable network of compassion and empathy. They can see nobody has to stand alone in this fight, and it gives you hope to know that there is a tomorrow to look forward to.”

The event went off without a hitch! Veterans kept 17 fall Chinook and coho and released plenty of other fish. We also had several first-time anglers who caught their first salmon. For some veterans, it was their first time ever stepping foot into a boat.

“I was selected to go on the Washougal trip and it was my first time ever fishing on a boat, on the Columbia, and fishing for steelhead. Our boat Captain, Dan Pond, was so encouraging in affirming success despite the weather on the Columbia. His deckhands, one a Veteran himself, were very helpful and knowledgeable,” said Michael Padgett, an Army Veteran. “They filleted the fish and I got my first fish to take home. My experience was truly a lifetime event for me, and I would HIGHLY recommend these events for any Vet looking to have fun, meet good people, and catch fish.”

I’m thrilled that we were able to demonstrate our gratitude by sharing the thing that brings us the most joy: fishing. Just one day on the water can turn someone’s life around. It can give them a new perspective, bring them peace, fuel a sense of purpose, or simply bring a smile to their face. Our priority will always be to share this incredible sport, especially with those who need it most.

Thank you to all who have served our country. Happy Veteran’s Day!