Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Pay it Forward event brings veterans to Minnesota walleye-fishing mecca

It is hard to comprehend the many sacrifices made by members of the military in serving our country. But yet, we must realize the battle within their bodies and minds continues even when they return home.

In late August, about 70 military guests participated in the fourth annual Pay It Forward veterans event hosted by Lake of the Woods Tourism, numerous resorts, and sponsors. The program is a three-night, two-day fishing trip with all meals, fishing, speakers, and entertainment provided at no cost to the participants.

The mission behind Pay It Forward is to honor, recognize, and celebrate veterans. The intent is to bring veterans from outside the Lake of the Woods area for a special experience.

Fishing For Life and The Wounded Warrior Project, whose missions are to help veterans, worked closely with Pay It Forward organizers again for this year’s event.

In addition to great meals, guest speakers George Selcke, Ryan Schmidt, and Terry Branham shared experiences – their messages meant to help other veterans heal.

Veterans enjoyed two days of fishing on a fleet of charter boats, and the Walleye Capital of the World did not disappoint. Everyone caught good numbers of walleyes, with coolers full of eaters and photos taken of the big walleyes caught.

The big-fish trophy this year went to Col. Terry Branham, who landed a 30-inch walleye.

Male and female veterans, of various ages and military branches, took part. Included was a World War II veteran – Jack Zagaros, a 91-year-old vet from the Twin Cities. Jack shared stories of being a gunner and shooting down kamikaze planes that narrowly missed his ship before crashing into the ocean.

I had the honor of fishing with Jack. He entertained everyone on our boat while he hauled in walleyes. At one point, as he sat on the engine hatch while holding a rod bent in half by a big walleye, Jack said, “Probably one of those nuisance big walleyes again that we can’t throw in the cooler.”

Jack asked why the anglers were throwing those big walleyes back.

“Jack, we have our limit already,” I told him.

His reply: “Well hell, what are we doing out here? Let’s go back to the resort and have a drink!”

The real magic in Pay It Forward is veterans spending time with other veterans. The weekend was about healing, laughter, tears, new friendships, hope, and love.

To find out more about Pay It Forward, become a sponsor, or if you know of a veteran from outside the Lake of the Woods area who may benefit from the event, contact Joe Henry at or check out

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