The month of June is one of much anticipation, like the start of summertime! The kids are out of school, and I typically have a lot of coastal water activities planned for our family. The beach is always both our first and last destination. Fortunately for our family, our location affords us many luxuries people pay top dollar for daily. Whether it be boating activities, days on the sandbar, clamming, or fishing, these are typical daily happenings for our family, and for that, I feel so blessed. With the June tides rolling in and all the fun activities, June 18th brings us “National Go Fishing Day.” With a fishing rod in hand, you have no room for your phone. No room for outside disturbances, no need to complain, nothing to argue about, only time to clear your brain, unintentionally meditate on the water and the things that surround you, and really focus on things that maybe you haven’t been able to for some time.
There are many ways to fish. Surf fishing, pier fishing, charter fishing, spearfishing, dock fishing, bottom fishing, inland fishing, the list is extensive and many veterans across the country greatly benefit from the therapeutic effects. When prompted with the opportunity to write for Hope For The Warriors for June, knowing that it was “National Go Fishing Day,” I was so excited to ask a few of my favorite veterans about their fishing experiences and how they found fishing to be helpful in their recovery and everyday life. In our area, many veterans have started their own ventures in the fishing industry to fulfill their passions and to assist other veterans and their families through fishing.
I typically wouldn’t interview my husband, but when presented with this topic, I could think of no one better to ask about fishing and its positive impacts on the veteran Community. My husband Osee, also known as “Trey,” is a 17-year Marine Corps Veteran who has been fishing with his family in Cedar Key, FL, since he was a small child. He incorporated that love of fishing with his work experience as a Combatant Dive Instructor and his passion for helping veterans to create the “SpearIt Veterans Spearfishing Project” in Sneads Ferry, NC. He partnered with an Army Veteran and seasoned diver, Mr. Randy Batts. Trey was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, and various other combat-related injuries in 2013.
He knows the mental and physical struggles of finding your “new normal,” and while that is sometimes pretty difficult, the positive impact that fishing has had on him and his brothers has been life-changing. The bonds created through fishing and the existing bonds that have grown increasingly strong are a result of fishing that cannot be denied or go unnoticed, even by an outsider. I asked Trey to tell me how he felt fishing helps others, especially fellow veterans. “I believe getting veterans on the water, giving them an outdoor activity, something that takes a lot of focus,provides some fear, the beauty of nature, the hunt, [and the] adrenaline rush. All of these combined gives you an experience that is truly amazing. For someone stuck in a rut or struggling with life issues, this takes them away from that and shows the beauty in something else. Along with the fellowship, something we had in the military, and something these guys may be missing, we provide that.”
Trey attributes fishing to having a great positive impact on his mental health. He has witnessed firsthand how going fishing does the same for his fellow veterans with any and all disabilities. It is one of the best forms of outdoor therapy. “SpearIt” can accommodate veterans and their caregivers for free, once-in-a-lifetime dive opportunities off the coast of North Carolina. Seeing veterans give back to their brothers, sisters, and their families in such a beautiful way is what it is all about.
Sneads Ferry is near Camp Lejeune, so you can imagine that there are a lot of different fishing opportunities that are hosted by veterans in the area. Kyle Kirkpatrick, a 10-year Marine Corps Veteran originally from Indiana, decided to plant roots with his family in Sneads Ferry following retirement. This year started his fourth season as a full-time Captain. He owns “Drifter Sportfishing & Charters,” which runs offshore, inshore, and beach shark charters locally. Kyle, also known as “Captain KK,” retired with Traumatic Brain Injuries in 2015 and started a blue-collar job as a contractor on base. He just wasn’t happy with what he was doing and decided to start doing things a bit differently. Since then, he got started on helping himself and helping others by starting his own charter business. Kyle focuses on targeting big fish, trolling for big Pelagic, and dropping for grouper. The other Captains that Kyle employs are also combat veterans who do other types of fishing. “Fishing is a way of life for us at Drifter,” Kyle says. We are all combat vets, and it helps us immensely. We need a purpose or mission. That’s what we do. We go fishing. And we love to get other veterans into it.”
The Drifter team shares a passion and purpose, and together, they truly enjoy helping other veterans get some lines in the water. Kyle encourages all veterans and their families to get started fishing. “It’s for anyone with any skill set. Just go out and enjoy it. You won’t be the best at it overnight. Get a little better each time, and don’t forget to enjoy and appreciate the water. We have all had bad days. Slow down and appreciate the good ones,” he says. I am quite certain that most veterans and their caregivers could agree wholeheartedly with that statement.
While June 18th is designated each year as the “National Go Fishing Day,” any day is a great day to go fishing! If you aren’t sure where to start, there are many ways that fellow veterans can guide you on where to get started by offering charter opportunities to get you in the water and “get you on some fish.” As a caregiver, I see the positive impact that fishing has had on my husband and many others in the local fishing community. Most of the Charter Captains and Guides in the Sneads Ferry area are veterans, and that says a lot about fishing and how it positively impacts them. As someone who grew up in a commercial fishing family, I learned to enjoy rod and reel fishing as an adult. I look forward to the times I can spend with my husband and our four kids on the boat or the dock. Fishing is such an enjoyable way to spend the day, whether you are solo or have your family in tow. It is a fantastic way to have some downtime, relax, and bond with your family. Sometimes, post-retirement, relaxing, and finding activities that can accommodate the whole family can be a bit difficult to do. Life just slows down, and the quiet and uncertainty can be a bit uncomfortable at times. You know what “they” say about preparation. Be prepared with your fishing gear on the days that you need to get up and get out, and you won’t be disappointed! Chances are, you will have some great stories to share and some wonderful memories made.
About the Author
Lauren Fagan is a veteran spouse and caregiver. Her husband, Osee, was an active-duty Reconnaissance Marine for 17 years and has multiple combat-related injuries. They have been together for nearly fifteen years and have four amazing children. Lauren is a schoolteacher by trade and loves to read, write, create, live the mermaid life, and be anywhere with her family. She is an active member of her church, and you can usually find her working in the Children’s Ministry there.
Lauren has a strong passion for helping Veterans and has advocated not just for her husband but for others as well through the non-profit that she and her husband founded in 2017 in NE Florida called “Operation Barnabas, Inc.” The Fagan’s relocated back to North Carolina in 2021 and continue to assist veterans and their families through the “SpearIt Veteran Spearfishing Project.”
Lauren has written several blogs for Hope For The Warriors and hopes that in sharing her experiences as a caregiver and veteran spouse, the positive impact on other caregivers will be helpful and encouraging in some of their most trying times.
Lauren’s outlook has drastically changed with the seasons and transitions in her life. Seeing the beauty in each one has been pivotal in her mental health and the happiness of their family.