When I first started at Appomattox River Company, a group of folks came in the shop wearing these American flag emblazoned shirts with rods, reels and paddles on them. I had no idea who they were or why they were getting the hook up on kayaks. After they left I asked, "What's the deal with those guys?"
Tom, our GM, told me, "They are the Chapter Coordinators for this group we work with, Heroes On The Water. Check them out, they do cool stuff with kayak fishing and veterans, as therapy and healing."
I started researching, and immediately donated money and set it in my head to donate my time. My father was killed in active duty. I grew up a military brat, and so, I have a strong affection for groups who endeavor to assist our nation's warriors. One of those groups had even helped put me through college after my father was killed. I decided that I had to get into this kayak fishing thing. If the way to volunteer for HOW was to bring some kayaking and fishing knowledge to the table, then I knew which direction I was going.
In the 2 years that have followed that initial goal, I've participated in some HOW fundraisers, but never had the right opportunity to get on the water. that changed last month.
On the weekend of June 21st, the Heroes On The Water Tidewater Chapter, ventured out to Central Virginia for an overnight event. Bob and Katie, of PowerTeam Lures, opened their doors to the Tidewater crew. HOW Tidewater planned to come into town Friday night, fish Briery Creek Lake on Saturday, and then fish a local pond on Sunday. My wife worked in the ER on Friday, so I didn't meet up with the crew until Saturday morning at Bob and Katie's house. Everyone seemed pretty psyched and I was glad to meet Andrew, John, Dave, Thomas, and Tom V's wife, Debbie. It was great to see old friends Wayne and Tom V, plus Bob and Katie. This was How Tidewater's inaugural overnight trip and it already seemed to be going extremely well. After a great breakfast, we all started gearing up. Powerteam Lures were a popular choice.
After rigging up, we headed for the boat ramp at Briery. The day started out a little overcast, but spirits were high!
We gathered around the honey hole, but nothing was hitting. It was nice just hanging out and bantering with everyone though.
Things started to heat up as we spread out and hunted among the timber.
As the heat rose, I headed in to work for a spell and everyone else loaded up and headed back to the PTL compound. By the time I showed up out there, the food was flowing.
I brought my eldest daughter to the Saturday evening hang session and she's such a ham that she insisted I take a photo of her.
After gorging on food and fellowship, I headed home, eager to get back in the morning for the pond fishing mission.
We spent the day wandering around the banks of the pond hunting for fish. It didn't take long for the rods to start bowing up.
It was such a relaxing time that some folks took to just laying down and casting. ;)
It was great to walk the rim of the pond talking and hanging out.
At one point I stopped to talk to one of the guys, Andrew, as he stood casting into the pond. We started on fishing and then the conversation drifted into life. Both Andrew and I shared our stories. I talked about losing my dad while he was on Active Duty in the Army and Andrew shared the story of his injury while out to sea with the Navy. Both of us had probably shared our stories a thousand times, but as we bonded over those tales of adversity and pain, I realized something I'm sure I knew, but never put to words. Each time you tell that painful story, it loses some of it's sting. Each time you share that with someone, you put further distance between it and who you are now. With each telling, the storyteller becomes more in tune with the inner strength that has been born of that memory.
Everybody has a story, and it's in the telling and the listening of those stories that we find strength, both in ourselves and in each other. Friendships are born that way.
Yea, you can fish solo, but most of us know, that the true therapy of fishing lies within the camaraderie of those days on the water with good friends. Those days when the fish are biting, the bantering is high and smiles come often. The mission of HOW is best seen in those relaxed smiles that come during a day on the water. That is what Heroes On The Water does, "Paddle. Fish. Heal."
Big Props to all the guys! Tom Vanderheiden, of HOW Tidewater, organized the overnight trip and Bob and Katie Bernotsky hosted it and everyone else sat back, relaxed and got our fish on. I'm glad I finally got to participate in a HOW event and I look forward to attending more. If you've never heard of HOW or are interested in their efforts, check them out at https://heroesonthewater.org/.