Written by Bob Bramblet

The morning air was crisp as the anglers launched their kayaks into the chilly waters of Matlacha. They had come from all over Florida for this launch. They were Military Veterans and Volunteers and they were here for Heroes on the Water.

This was the first HOW event for the new Southwest Florida Chapter and it was, by all accounts, a success. Chapter President Esteban Gutierrez was busy setting up the event site. The staff had a cooker going and was putting together “goody” bags for all the participants.

There were over 40 people at the event from as far away as Jacksonville. “Everyone comes together to help Veterans find the piece of mind that comes with being on the water and fishing” said Gutierrez. Heroes on The Water are a non-profit organization that helps injured service members with their physical and mental recovery using the therapeutic qualities of fishing from kayaks. Every HOW event across the country brings together wounded military personnel for guided kayak fishing excursions. Founded in 2007, HOW has served more than 3,000 veterans. The service is provided to the veterans for free.

Somewhere around noon, the anglers found their way back to the launch. There was much camaraderie as everyone was talking about how the fishing went while helping each other stow their kayaks. Just before lunch, Esteban Gutierrez spoke to the crowd and thanked everyone for coming. That was followed by a check presentation from Florida Sportsman of the proceeds from last fall’s Kayak Challenge, which was donated to the HOW Florida Chapters. After a group prayer, a lunch of pulled pork with all the accoutrements was served.

The Florida Sportsman Kayak Challenge ran during the months of October and November as an online kayak fishing tournament. Over 140 anglers competed for almost $7000 in prizes. After tournament expenses, the group raised more than $1200 for HOW.

Many of the Veterans caught fish, but one in particular had bragging rights. Up until now, he had never caught a fish. Ever. On this day, he was guided to a nearby line of mangroves where he landed over 10 snook. To go from first time angler to a snook ace is a pretty big deal.

There is no doubt that Heroes on the Water helps Veterans in a unique way and this event is a great example. It’s also easy to get involved as a volunteer or through donations. Florida Sportsman is a proud supporter and encourages everyone to check out www.heroesonthewater.org for more information.

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