What a Catch! Salmon for Soldiers Reels in Community Support

Alderbrook Salmon For Soldiers Biggest Fish 2014
Many boat volunteers are also veterans themselves. The time spent together on the boats fishing is the biggest reward. And the salmon is great too. Photo courtesy: Salmon for Soldiers

It started as a conversation, as most things do.  Just two guys rolling around an idea to see what would take shape. That idea became Salmon for Soldiers, a volunteer driven charity with a simple mission—to take active and veteran military members out fishing.

Alderbrook Salmon for Soldiers View of Veterans
The first event, held in 2013, brought together dozens of volunteers and 125 veterans and military members. Photo courtesy: Salmon for Soldiers

“We’re going to take some veterans fishing, ” Randy Shelton said to his wife Penny. When she asked how many, thinking a few would fit comfortably on the couple’s boat. “Oh about 30 to 50,” he replied.

It was an ambitious idea. Randy along with Rob Endsley, owner of Prince of Wales Sportfishing, a charter fishing business, thought if they could bring together boat owners with veterans something special would happen. They were right. Though the plan was for 30 to 50 participants, the first event, held on August 10, 2013 hosted 125 veterans on 77 volunteer boats.

“It was so well supported, at the end of that day we thought, let’s just do it again,” said Penny.

Unlike many other fishing for military and veterans organizations, which only do smaller events with six to eight people, the Salmon for Soldiers huge annual fishing event, with hundreds of volunteers and participants, is unique. The day begins early and starts with coffee. The boats meet at the Port of Everett. After picking up lunches for the day on the water, everyone heads out to their assigned boats to begin fishing. Following that event, they all get together for a barbeque. “It’s just a day of incredible camaraderie,” Penny said.

Alderbrook Salmon for Soldiers Weight In Tents
Participants weigh their catch to compete for the biggest fish caught. Photo courtesy: Salmon for Soldiers

Because of the high level of community support for this program, Salmon for Soldiers is able to give away a boat with a motor and trailer to one lucky participant during the barbecue. This prize is donated by Kitsap Marina.

The success of Salmon for Soldiers has been built almost entirely on word of mouth connections. “Finding people that want to give is not a difficult thing, if they just know about the opportunity,” said Penny. The day starts at 4:30 a.m. Penny thought it might be difficult to get people out that early in the day, but that hasn’t been the case.

From Fishing to Putting

Every July Salmon for Soldiers holds their annual charity golf tournament at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club in Union. With views of the Olympic Mountains and Hood Canal, the course includes 18 holes that wind their way through the forest—a living postcard. This year, the tournament on July 21 is completely full, which is just another example of the tremendous support that Salmon for Soldiers receives from the community. Penny says the assistance from the course has been unwavering and instrumental in the continued success of their mission.

Year-Round Opportunities

Alderbrook Salmon for Soldiers Ladies in Alaska
These lucky participants participated in a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. Photo courtesy: Salmon for Soldiers

Salmon for Soldiers also hosts smaller fishing trips. Every year they sent about 100 veterans on individual chartered events. Additionally, they send eight military members or veterans to Alaska for a trip of a lifetime. Air transportation on a private jet is provided by a generous anonymous donor and hotel rooms are donated as well. The participants spend three days fishing in the wild waters of Alaska and Salmon for Soldiers ships their catch home for them.

Another unique opportunity through Salmon for Soldiers happens each fall in conjunction with four salmon hatcheries around Washington State. After the hatcheries remove the eggs from the salmon, they are left with thousands of pounds of food-quality salmon. Once salmon spawn, or release their eggs, they die. So the hatcheries contact Salmon for Soldiers. The organization is able to mobilize enough volunteers in the short window of time to process and distribute the salmon to service members, veterans, and their families so the fish does not go to waste. “We have crews that go out, get the fish, clean them and distribute them to veterans, not a lot of organizations have the support to do that,” Penny explained.

Salmon for Soldiers would love to broaden the base of participants they serve, reaching out to new active military and veterans in good standing that have never joined them on a fishing trip before.

Alderbrook Salmon for Soldiers Bagging the Catch
Salmon for Soldiers also distributes food-grade hatchery salmon to service members, veterans and their families. Photo courtesy: Salmon for Soldiers

Penny has a special message for any veterans or active military members out there. “Thank you for your service and welcome home,” she said.

If you are an active service member or military veteran, visit the Salmon for Soldiers website to register for a fishing trip. If you would like to help support the Salmon for Soldiers mission, you can get in contact with them through their website as well.


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