The sun was just coming up over the ridge, high in the Uinta Mountains on Saturday, Aug 4. The first light cast a golden hue on the still blue waters of Soldier Creek Reservoir. As the fog lifted from the tributaries, I could see a few early anglers casting in the still water. When reaching the marina parking, it was bustling with boats, trailers and hustling volunteers preparing for the imminent arrival of honored guests, a Disabled American Veterans (DAV)group from Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas.
The fourth annual DAV event, started in 2008 with about 13 vets and a handful of volunteers and water craft.
This year, 61 boats of all sizes, almost a hundred volunteers and 89 vets came to fish the day away.
The veterans arrived in donated transportation from friends, from the Veteran's Affairs Office and from the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
A Catholic Church diocese and a Knights of Columbus volunteer, Ray Folks, helped with tables, chairs, coffee, donuts and other items. Reservists from Hill's 419th Fighter Wing helped with event setup, sign-in and fished alongside the disabled veterans, and some even brought their own boats.
Private sponsors such as Wal-Mart Riverdale, Redman Industries, Sportsman Warehouse, Discount Tire, Chief Petty Officers Association, and the Utah Department of Natural Resources, donated fishing poles, bait and tackle, food, drinks, prizes, and the one day fishing passes, allowing the vets to fish the day for free. Great care was taken to assure the comfort of the veterans.
The day's events started out with veterans lined up. They were signed in, assigned a boat, and then provided a bag containing fishing tackle, snacks, and general fishing information. New rod and reel sets were donated from Smith & Edwards with help from IM FLASH and the Chief Petty Officers Association of Salt Lake City.
Once the veterans were assigned a boat number, off to the dock they went. Some just hopped on to the deck with little to no assistance. Other veterans took it in stride. One Vietnam vet, Flip Hollihan, needed a little extra help. Hollihan, a double amputee, was not daunted by the boarding task. A few caring hands and a small board for a slide, and in the craft the veteran went. Event planners did a superb job handling so many different needs. Wheelchairs, walkers and blind veterans with dogs enjoyed the freedom of being away from the city and surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature. When all the boaters were in the water, the national anthem was played, the flag posted, and then the race was on.
Some of the volunteer boat owners did their homework -- scoping out the best locations a few days in advance looking for certain sizes and types of fish. Bragging rights for whose guest caught the biggest and best fish were at stake.
As the morning played out, some anglers were hot, some were not. An expert, Glenn Harwood, told a group of anglers, about full moons, water temperatures, depth and the angle of the dangle -- whatever that was, I'm still not exactly certain. One thing was sure, everyone was having a great time, no matter what the fishing situation.
Lunch was served by the Army National Guard, with helpers from Hill Air Force Base, at the upper pavilion at 1 p.m. During the break the fish were measured and counted. The awards presented were for biggest fish - Kelly Dikes, smallest fish - William Siegel, and most fish - Vaughn Jeffs. Several sponsors provided gift cards, hats, tire discounts, travel cups, T-shirts and trophies. The guest speakers included organizer of the event, Todd Hall; Col. Keith Knudson, 419th Fighter Wing commander; John Wester, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, and Col. (Ret.) Bart Davis of the Veterans Transition Assistance for Veterans Affairs. Emotions ran high as each expressed a deep appreciation for the sacrifices each veteran endured for the freedoms we have.
Plans are in the works for two events next year; one for the Northern Utah vets at the Willard Bay area and the other, possibly back at Soldier Creek Recreation area. The goal is to give more veterans a chance to have a wonderful experience, to get away from the everyday.
The organizers generally take a back seat approach to the veterans as the veterans are the center of the experience. The angler's web site BFT.com, (Big Fish Tackle.Com) organization is one of the main driving forces behind the DAV event. One board member posted an idea, another chimed in, and one thing led to another. Now Utah Disabled Veterans Fishing Foundation is a true nonprofit organization that aspires to bring as many disabled veterans to the sport of fishing as it can. Simple idea yes, but the logistics of such an event, is a huge undertaking. If you know a veteran who likes to fish, but needs some help, go to www.bigfishtackle.com. And keep watch via web searches for the Disabled Veterans Fishing event. If you want to help in any way visit the web site to donate such things as food, transportation, helping hands, gifts, sponsorships, or just putting rods and reels together. They can always use some help.
The event was an inspiration to everyone there. The smiles and "see ya next year," was the ending rally call.
After all, who doesn't enjoy a day fishing?