Mike Trok — a veteran from Wabasha and member of the Win-Cres Chapter of Trout Unlimited — got the idea and helped organize the fly-fishing event in Lanesboro at Sylvan Park. Here he talks to veterans at the second annual event held Aug. 11.
Mike Trok — a veteran from Wabasha and member of the Win-Cres Chapter of Trout Unlimited — got the idea and helped organize the fly-fishing event in Lanesboro at Sylvan Park. Here he talks to veterans at the second annual event held Aug. 11.
Around 100 armed services veterans, their families and volunteers gathered at Sylvan Park in Lanesboro Saturday, Aug. 11, for the second annual veterans' family picnic and fly-fishing extravaganza.

Volunteers from the Win-Cres and Hiawatha Chapters of Trout Unlimited welcomed the veterans. They said, "This day of R & R - in this case respect and recovery - for our area veterans is presented as a thank-you gift for military service to our country."

They added, "It is also a worthy endeavor to introduce our returning veterans to an activity that has been shown to reduce stress and soothe souls."

One man's story

Sy Schuster of Northfield - who attended the event with his granddaughter, Tessa, of St. Paul - agreed. He's a member of Hiawatha Trout Unlimited and had brought Tessa, 12, so she could learn to tie flies that are used as the bait in fly-fishing.

"I was surprised how much she's learned on her own. She may fish today," he noted, but her focus was on fly-tying, as well as some quality time together.

Schuster served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. As for fly-fishing he stated, "The tragedy is I didn't find it until I was 50."

He said fly-fishing is kind of a "spiritual experience," whether a person is religious or not.

"You remember that famous line in 'A River Runs Through It' (by Norman MacLean), 'In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.' It seems to be the spirit people have being out on a stream or outdoors in nature."

Shuster continued, "There are also the aspects of it. There are the aesthetics, the rhythm, the grace of the fly line and the creative aspect of dealing with the flies themselves."

An organizer's story

Mike Trok of Wabasha - the Hiawatha Trout Unlimited member who lined up the first event, also held in Lanesboro, in April of 2011 - certainly believes in fly-fishing.

"There's a lot of research saying there's a direct relationship between fly-casting and healing," said Trok.

He came back from Vietnam and found fly-fishing to be his escape.

"You get lost in the rhythm of fly-casting, kind of a Zen... occasionally interrupted with catching a fish."

Trok got the idea to start the program when he saw similar events held in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and Brainerd area - "always north."

He thought southeastern Minnesota was the most beautiful part of the state, but there was no such event here. With the help of Win-Cres Trout Unlimited, that was changed.

"I picked Lanesboro because it's in the heart of tour country. And I knew Steve Klotz."

Local efforts

Klotz is the director of the DNR's Fisheries office at Lanesboro. He helped take care of logistics that included stocking trout in the ponds at Sylvan Park.

Local businesses getting on board to help were Smokey River BBQ, Parkway Pub for soft drinks, and "all the trimmings" prepared by the American Legion Auxiliary. All this was funded by the Lanesboro Fire Department volunteers, the Lanesboro American Legion Post and Women's Auxiliary and the Disabled American Veterans Foundation. Other partners were Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop of Lake Elmo and the city of Lanesboro.

In addition to the free lunch, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. the Minnesota DNR allowed participants to fish without a license in the park ponds and also in a designated stretch of the South Branch Root River from the dam on downstream to the Highway 250 bridge.

Other activities included a live bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in Wabasha and a presentation about the bugs that trout eat, by the National Trout Center in Preston.

Another organizer speaks

Mark Reisetter of Lewiston, also a TU member, was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969, in the 101st Airborne Infantry and served the full year of 1970. He used the G.I. Bill to attend graduate school, eventually becoming a teacher.

Reisetter noted he went to school at Luther College in Decorah, where he "chased the hatchery trucks with worms and Velveeta." Then, as a teacher, he welcomed the three months off to "hit the streams."

He said when he returned from Vietnam, there was no one to welcome him back. "The streams were my psychiatrist."

Also, Reisetter said he's read research noting humans are most rested when they get REM sleep, when calming alpha wavelengths are emitted. However, the alpha wavelengths also may be emitted when on a stream or out getting away in nature.

"You get rested," he said.

He got into fly-fishing after receiving a fly rod built by a friend and then taking fly-tying classes. "Then," laughed Reisetter, "It was all over."

He was hooked on fly-fishing.

Credits Trok and others

Reisetter credited Mike Trok with getting the program going. "It's his idea. He does the groundwork. It's his baby."

As part of the preliminary work, he said Trok contacts all the veteran services officers for counties in southeastern Minnesota, as well as stopping by all the American Legion and VFW groups.

Time to talk

The event also provided an opportunity for veterans from different areas to talk and share experiences, if they desired. Duane Benson of Lanesboro, a member of the Army National Guard in California, spoke with his college roommate who was in attendance, Jim Concidine of Wabasha.

Chuck DeMann of Dundas shared that he was a "kamikaze survivior." His ship was sunk May 30, 1945, and he also saw both raisings of the flag at Iwo Jima.

He had driven down Arnold Ness of Northfield, who said, "Lanesboro is my old stomping grounds." Ness had worked as a farmhand in Lanesboro. A member of the U.S. Navy in World War II, he said DeMann would be driving him to a nearby church (Highland Prairie Lutheran) to check family gravestones.

From the rhythm of fly-casting to a great meal to sharing stories, the event was a success and organizers plan another for next year. Organizers also especially thanked Steve Klotz and Vince Jeanette and Rose Hoffman of the Parkway Pub for all their help.