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Salmon for Soldiers Strikes Again

by Kevin Klein

“The mission of Salmon for Soldiers is to offer a sense of normalcy and relaxation to our nation’s veterans through fishing. Salmon for Soldiers’ fishing opportunities are designed to help reduce stress while creating new relationships with others who love fishing. Our events are designed to accommodate veterans with paralysis, PTSD, TBI and other
debilitating challenges.”

These are not just feel-good words on paper, rather they were spawned by a deep sense of compassion and patriotism. Back in 2013, my two good friends Randy Shelton and Rob Endsley were talking about how they could give back and help our active and returning veterans find peace. Randy, whose son Chris had recently returned home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Rob, owner of Prince of Wales Sportfishing and co-host of ESPN’s the Outdoor Line on KIRO 710 radio, thought what a great idea it would be to just take them out fishing. What started as just a couple guys thinking about doing something good, morphed into something great. Taking it one step further, they envisioned fishermen and boat owners assembling en masse, taking multiple veterans out on the water for the day.

“This could be something special” they thought. They were right. What started as a one-day event, with plans for up to 50 participants, turned in to a phenomenon, with 125 veterans fishing on 77 volunteer boats. It has since become something greater, something more, for all involved. From those who captain boats, to the volunteers who help with logistics, to the good folks who might cook and serve a meal at one of the events, Salmon for Soldiers has been as rewarding to those helping as to
those healing.

Day of Honor 2019

The Salmon for Soldiers annual Day of Honor will take place this year on September 14th at the Port of Everett. Hundreds of volunteers and participants will start the day early as veterans, captains, and crew pick up lunches and head to their assigned boats. I’ve captained one of the volunteer boats in the past and it was a special day. We caught some fish, had some fun, and just relaxed and chatted about fishing, boating, and life in general. After a good, long day on the water, it’s back to port.

Hungry anglers are not disappointed with the spread of mostly BBQ and sides that waits upon their return. Lots of prizes are given out and there are tons of very cool items donated for a fundraising raffle. Because of the high level of support in the community for the program, the organization gives away a boat to one lucky participant with motor every year that’s donated by Kitsap Marine. It’s always special to see. Hearing the backstory of those who have given all is very moving. Lots of camaraderie and pride fills the venue. Tales of the day’s fishing brighten the room.

Salmon for Soldiers President Nelson Goodsell is usually on the mic as master of ceremonies for much of the afternoon. He never fails to keep the mood light but still reverent, while paying tribute to all those who are honored and those who contribute.

“We expect over 200 volunteers and 400 veterans fishing on 130 boats this year,” said Goodsell. “We also just want to express how much the boat owners, captains, and crews that make this event possible are appreciated. They do this from the goodness of their hearts and a desire to give back.

They ask for nothing in return except just to see the smile on a veteran’s face while they reel in a fish.” He went on to add that “this is really a labor of love for all of us to give thanks and support to those who keep us safe and free.”

While the annual Day of Honor is the main event, Salmon for Soldiers does more during the year. Through donations, around 100 veterans are taken on one-day individual chartered trips locally. Additionally, they sent 10 active military and/or veterans to Alaska this year for the trip of a lifetime with Prince of Wales Sportfishing. Many a nice fish was caught and many a great memory made. Air transportation and hotel rooms were all donated as well.

Every year the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic donates a couple free entries and skippered boats to take veterans out during their derby. The Friday Harbor Salmon Classic is also a major sponsor, donating $15,000 to make sure veterans get a day or two on the water in friendly competition.

And on-the-water events are not all they do. Every July, Salmon for Soldiers holds their annual charity golf tournament fundraiser at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht club in Union, Washington. This has been a very fun event for all involved and has been instrumental with support from the course and club to keep the ball rolling for our service people.

Recruits Wanted

Salmon for Soldiers is always looking for active military members and veterans in good standing to join their volunteers on a fishing trip. If you are an active service member or veteran, or would like to volunteer your services to help, you can find out how to get involved on the organization’s website at salmonforsoldiers.com.

All the great support for the veterans has mostly come through word of mouth and grassroots involvement. It’s the least we can do to deliver a message through a day of fishing that says: “We thank you for your service and welcome you home.”

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