NORTON SHORES, Mich. — There was an organization started two years ago in Norton Shores whose members call themselves the Flyin’ Heroes. Their purpose is to offer fly fishing day trips to anyone who was or is a veteran as a way to say “thank you” for serving our country.
The group operates solely on donations and is always looking for businesses or people to get involved. The non-profit was started by teacher and Norton Shores volunteer firefighter Eric Wentzloff, who is not a veteran himself.
“We’re much more than a fishing program, says Wentzloff. “Fishing is the connection that we make with our veterans.”
Many of these veterans need a little help adjusting back to civilian life. Some have suffered or perhaps are currently suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A few hours away with little or no cares affords them the chance to unwind, chat, establish some camaraderie, and get acclimated to civilian life again.
The day trips typically last from four to six hours, and all the equipment is provided. The Flyin’ Heroes usually utilize the Pere Marquette, Muskegon, and White Rivers from about April through November for salmon and trout fishing. It should also be noted that it is a catch and release program. They believe that putting the fish back for the next vets to help them on their way is the right thing to do.
Perhaps one of the most unique stories is that of Adam Shumaker. He was the first veteran participant when the Flyin’ Heroes began two years ago, and he loved it so much that he felt compelled to return on a regular basis as a guides. He eventually became their vice president.
The two veterans we met the day West Michigan Stories visited were both Iraqi war vets who had also served in Afghanistan. “I was kind of reluctant to do it, but it changed my perspective, and I encourage any veteran to come out” says Sgt. James Tanis of the Army National Guard.
The group has also garnered national attention from the band Five For Fighting and their lead singer John Ondrasik, who donated to the program.