Kraig Gellner spent a few days fishing with two veterans from Rochester, Minn., as part of a 'Fishing with Vets' event held at Devils Lake August 20-22. Gellner was contacted by Scott Van Overbeke from Marshall, Minn., a friend he met many years ago at a fishing tournament. Van Overbeke had been helping 'Fishing with Vets' for a number of years. They were looking for another guide and wondered if he would like to help out with the event at Devils Lake.
Gellner agreed, and so on Thursday, August 20, he brought his boat, tackle, rods and reels and met the group at the lake. They fished Friday and Saturday. There were 15 veterans in all, plus guests and guides. Veterans can bring a “plus one” as their guest. With COVID, they are asked that it be an adult member of their household. Every guide takes at least 2 veterans out fishing. Every guide that brings their boat and gear is all volunteer.
“Some of the veterans have service dogs,” shared Gellner. “Accommodations are made if they have disabilities."
'Fishing with Vets' is a non-profit organization that provides active and retired veterans with the opportunity to fish some of the best Midwest fishing destinations. Besides Devils Lake, they did events at Lake of the Woods, Red Lake, Cass Lake, and Mille Lacs. The veterans are paired up with some of the best guides in the Midwest. Their motto is 'To those who served | To those still serving.' The goal is to create lifelong memories and friendships for our veterans. One of the veterans Gellner fished with asked for his phone number because he wanted to come back and asked if Gellner would be able to take him fishing in the spring at Devils Lake.
'Fishing with Vets' evolved out of a discussion on Facebook. In 2014 a veteran was having trouble with his ice fishing gear. It was worn out from the harsh Minnesota winters. Within a few days, a group of people rounded up some ice fishing gear and sent it to him so that he could get back on the ice to fish. This helpful group of people realized that they wanted to continue to do something for our veteran community. By the end of the year 'Fishing with Vets' was created, incorporated, had a Facebook page, and applied for non-profit status.
At first 'Fishing with Vets' started by connecting a veteran with anyone out fishing that would provide the opportunity. Soon professional guides noticed what was happening and volunteered to take a veteran plus one on a guided fishing trip. Then one day by chance, two Vietnam veterans who hadn’t seen each other in over 40 years signed up to go on the same guided trip. This wonderful event became a turning point and provided 'Fishing with Vets' the focus and direction they have today.
Veterans can apply for the scheduled trips online at https://www.fishingwithvets.com/projects. Preference is given to older veterans if there are more applications than space available. The number of veterans selected is according to the accommodations for that trip.
“Some have been on many trips,” said Gellner. “If the trip isn’t full, they will ask vets if they have others that want to go.” Their largest group had 60 veterans fishing on Lake of the Woods.
'Fishing with Vets' provides the lodging, food, bait, and guides for all veterans attending an event. This is funded by donors, volunteers, and guides who give their time, money, and/or equipment. Veterans are responsible for getting to and from the destination fishing location.
For the event at Devils Lake, Woodland Resort provided accommodations, Leevers Foods provided lunches on the lake, and Proz Lakeside at the Cove provided dinners. Tuned Up Custom Rods, Lake Osakis Fishing Guide Service, Lund Boats, and Wraptor Tackle Roll donated prizes and gifts.
“The Woodland Resort was very accommodating. The staff was phenomenal,” said 'Fishing with Vets' President Jeremy Colsen. “We would like to see veterans in the local area and in North Dakota, in general, come next year when we are back in Devils Lake, August 19-22, 2021.”
Gellner would like to continue to volunteer as a guide with the 'Fishing with Vets' organization.
“I’d like to help as much as I can when it works out with my schedule,” he said. “I really enjoyed the experience. It was great to be able to give back to someone who has given so much.”