Story & photo submitted by Katie Puterbaugh, USAF, (Ret)

I was selected to participate in the PHWFF National Trip to the Florida Keys September 25 – 28. There were close to 25 participants on this trip, so it was a rather large group.  The trip was in conjunction with a program called Fish With a Hero supported in part by Bass Pro Shops.

From beginning to end, everyone I encountered was more than gracious to assist us with anything we needed. I can honestly say I have never been treated so respectfully and with such attention to detail. For instance, the entire Fire Department of Islamorada was on hand, standing in formation to greet us on our arrival for the first day of fishing.  We were provided the option to fish either back country or deep-sea fishing.  Although I do fish frequently in my home state of Alaska, this trip provided me the opportunity to catch my first ever salt water fish on the fly. It was a yellow tailed snapper. A day I will always remember! We caught several other fish during the day and were provided the opportunity to have our fish cooked as our evening meal. The coconut breaded Mahi Mahi was delicious.

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Our accommodations for this trip were Five Star. A local Real Estate company donated a corporate retreat house right on the water. There were kayaks available so we could fish on our own in the evenings.  The house was also equipped with two swimming pools.

The guides that volunteered to take us fishing had boats ranging from small skiffs to large deep sea fishing vessels equipped with indoor lounging. This came in handy for one of the participants as he became very sea sick shortly after leaving the dock. On this day I caught my largest saltwater fish, a beautiful Mahi Mahi.

I have been a participant for several years and this was my first opportunity to interact with other PHWFF program volunteers and participants. Meeting these people and spending a few days with them re-affirmed my commitment to the program. I firmly believe in the value of our program, the healing powers of the water and fishing. It is a real joy to witness the improvement in quality of life generated by participating in PHWFF.  Our program continues to impact the lives of veterans and I am forever grateful to be a part of it. My most heartfelt thank-you goes to everyone involved with the national trip program and the local volunteers who donated so much to make the trip to Islamorada such a memorable and healing trip for everyone fortunate enough to be a part of it. The logistics alone, involved in flying 25 people from all over the US, to the Keys is daunting. The lodging, the food, the fishing trips, the boat captains, and all others treated us with great respect.

Thank you to everyone who makes such trips possible.