Purple Heart Anglers cast line of hope toward veterans | SierraSun.com

Purple Heart Anglers cast line of hope toward veterans

Early Saturday morning the still waters of Stampede Reservoir were disturbed by roughly 20 fishermen.

This wasn't a normal outing though. Those working to pull bass and trout from the reservoir were among the country's bravest warriors, and had traveled from all over to come together to help heal wounds and support each other.

The fourth annual Purple Heart Anglers fishing trip in the Truckee-Tahoe area was its biggest yet, according to the organization's Marc Christophel, with about 18 volunteer boats on the water, and 21 veterans casting lines while sharing tales of their time in the military and life afterward.

"As you get to know these veterans a little more, you hear their stories," said Christophel on his experience with Purple Heart Anglers. "At times you're sharing laughs with them and at others, you're sharing tears with them. It's a very emotional thing."

The organization's goal, according to its website, is to produce a program that aids the healing of wounded warriors of the U.S. military. Purple Heart Anglers puts on hunting and fishing events throughout the year, bringing together veterans in an effort to help overcome mental and physical difficulties.

"For a lot of volunteers, we say, 'It's the least we can do,' and in (the veteran's) eyes, it's the best thing that could've happened to them," said Christophel.

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"There's some of theses guys that battle depression and PTSD and they're in pretty dark places. You hear these stories about where they're at in life and how challenging things can be, and then you take them out for a day of fishing and it just kind of totally changes their lives, and makes them all of a sudden have a brighter outlook on what's going on."

Christophel said he organized the Truckee-Tahoe area's Purple Heart Anglers event after volunteering his time at another Purple Heart Angler's trip five years ago.

"I was like, 'I'll go down there and take a veteran fishing,'" he said. "That's kind of how it all started."

Since then the program has grown steadily each year, moving from Donner Lake to Stampede, where last Saturday, the reservoir's fish proved no match for the country's former servicemen.

"Everyone came close to their limits for the most part," said Christophel. "The fishing was incredible, absolutely incredible."

Once the veterans are on the water, usually two to five per boat, Christophel said the atmosphere is unlike anything he's seen. Talk of battle stories, life after service, joking around, and also sharing of painful memories are all part of a day on the water.

"There's been a lot of people who have talked about being close to taking their lives. They are that down and out," said Christophel. "And then they come across this organization and it sheds a whole new outlook for them that people do care, they're not forgotten, and they do matter. When you start dealing with that, it's pretty powerful."

For more information on Purple Heart Anglers or the organization's upcoming events, visit PurpleHeartAnglers.com.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com.