Take a Vet Fishing returns to Mille Lacs
“What some may see as a small gesture can be a huge impact to someone else – life-changing.”
That’s the basic premise of Take a Vet Fishing (TAVF), as stated by Caitlin Decker. TAVF is a non-profit dedicated to those small but impactful gestures for those who gave up so much for our safety and freedom as a country.
Caitlin Decker, administrative director for Take a Vet Fishing, is excited to be back on Mille Lacs, the non-profit’s seventh year on this particular lake. “2015 was our first event on Mille Lacs, [and] we have been there every year since, the second weekend in August,” Decker said in an email interview.
Take a Vet Fishing began back in 2011, a mind-melding between Jay Garstecki, Rob and Sherry Blanchar, and their son, Justin. On Take a Vet Fishing’s website, Garstecki notes the “profound effects” being outdoors, and particularly fishing, has for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS), citing a 2003 study.
The premise in 2011 was pretty simple, Decker explained: “We first gathered a few veterans to go fishing, afterwards we enjoyed a lunch.” A small gesture having a big impact. The second go-round grew to a few more people. As more and more people have heard about these small gestures adding up in big ways, helping our veterans, donations from food to supplies have come in to the organization.
“Now we have grown to multiple states,” Decker said. What started in the upper Midwest has even grown to as far as Florida. Not only that, but a TV show has come about called Operation Healing Heroes. The show tells the vets’ stories, “Stories [that] are too good to go unheard.”
The event on Mille Lacs was previously held at Hunters Point, where Jon Knudsen was a guide for a launch boat. Knudsen is the son of the late Fred Knudsen, a veteran and community member who passed away December 2016. “He used to come to the event,” Decker said, and he “touched many lives.” As a result, the event on Mille Lacs is named after Fred Knudsen.
One year ago, the event started being held in Isle at McQuoid’s Inn, allowing the event to be more centralized, Decker said. Take a Vet Fishing provides veterans traveling greater than 60 minutes with a free hotel room. Plus, McQuoid’s has a “great layout” for the event; “McQuoid’s management is very generous and assists wherever they can to make this event unique for the vets.”
McQuoid’s general manager, Justin Lederer, is thrilled to have Take a Vet Fishing back. He said last year’s event was a “huge success,” and was only about “half the size of what it’s going to be this year.” Two different days, two different groups of veterans will participate over Aug. 13-14.
Plus, “this year has more community involvement,” Lederer said.
That’s part of the fun, Decker said. “The more community involvement we have, the more at home we all feel. It’s a special touch for a special event.” It’s part of those little things that add up to big effect. The event marks just a small way the community members try to give back to veterans who have given so much of themselves.
Heather Paulson, owner of Smokin’ Mortars BBQ & Meat Market, has perhaps a better understanding of the sacrifices vets make than others – her son recently finished serving with the Marine Corps. When Decker reached out to Smokin’ Mortars to see if they’d be interested in catering the Sunday lunch, the team decided to donate their time and food for the event. Heather was quick to point out that it’s not just Smokin’ Mortars donating; it’s local individuals and businesses and volunteer organizations contributing breakfast supplies, money for snacks, their time and energy. It truly is a community effort.
Volunteers make the event happen, and TAVF relies on word of mouth to help staff their events. On Saturday, Aug. 13, two launch boats will take veterans out on Mille Lacs, allowing a group session of fishing. Sunday, Aug. 14, volunteer guides will take vets on individual tours around the lake for fishing.
What does it take to be a fishing guide for the veterans? “The only qualification we ask as a volunteer guide at our events is that you are willing to donate your time, boat, and equipment to a veteran for four hours.” Decker added, “No special certification needed to bring a smile to someone’s day.”
Everyone involved with the day, or days in this case, sign up through their website, takeavetfishing.com. For the Fred Knudsen 2022 Mille Lacs Take a Vet Fishing event, enough volunteers and guides have signed up, Decker said. There’s a limit, so veterans, guides, and other volunteers do need to sign up early.
There are still ways to be involved, however. “We will continue to accept raffle prizes until Sunday morning at McQuoid’s, if anyone wants to drop anything off at the front desk,” Decker said. Prizes can be anything: camping equipment, kitchen and grill items, board games, décor, fishing equipment, gift cards, just to name a few ideas.
The fun begins at McQuoid’s on Saturday, Aug. 13 for the first day of events. The second day is Sunday, Aug. 14. It’s just two days of small gestures adding up; two days of hearing important, personal stories; two days to be part of a hopefully life-changing event.
Take a Vet Fishing can take more veterans out on the McQuoid’s launch boats (both on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14); there are available spots for local Veterans who do not need a hotel stay. Just sign up on our website under Events for Day 1 or Day 2 on Mille Lacs: www.takeavetfishing.org/
Local contributors to Take a Vet Fishing:
Drift Skippers: Money for supplies/breakfast costs;
J&B Group: Sausage patties;
Cargill: Scrambled Eggs;
Mr. Dees: Hash Browns;
Black Rifle Coffee: Hot coffee, shirts and hats;
Smokin’ Mortars BBQ & Meat Market: Sunday lunch;
Onamia Fire Department: Ladder truck and flag attraction at event;
Isle Fire Department: Pancake breakfast and fire truck;
McQuoid’s: Throwing in certain items at no charge/accommodating TAVF;
Nor-Son Inc.: Money for Mille Lacs event;
Northern Clearing/Lumberjack: Money for Mille Lacs event;
Spire Credit Union: Chapstick and napkins;
First National Bank of Milaca: Beverages and snacks for the launch/guide boats;
Dahlheimer Beverages, Brainerd: Cold coffee (Black Rifle) and signs to hang;
Steve Anderson: Buns for lunch;
Thorne Brothers: Raffle prizes;
In Memory Of Donation: Money for Mille Lacs event;
Isle VFW: Military Jeep attraction as event
Information provided by Caitlin Decker