A few years ago, Navy veteran Matt Ferry was having a hard time. After the divorce and getting sober from dealing with PTSD symptoms with alcohol, he started fishing.
“I didn’t go out with the intention of neither drinking nor fishing,” Ferry said. “If it happened to fish, great. But of course, drinking was out of the question. So it was just about … opening my eyes and opening my ears and experiencing fishing like I had never done before catching.
On a whim, he decided to create a Fishing veterans web page to create an Instagram community of veterans who liked to fish. He grew slowly but caught on when he started selling hats, T-shirts and other clothing. Now Ferry puts the veterans on the boats.
“There’s not much we’re not going to do to try to help these trips happen for people who need them who may not even know they still need them,” he said. “The degree of separation between me and 100,000 other veterans really isn’t that far off with the amount of connections and networking I’ve made since starting this one.”
The goal, according to Ferry, founder of Veterans Fishing, is to provide a fun, stress-free fishing excursion that can also act as a type of therapy for veterans diagnosed with mental health.
“The veterans are having a great time on the veterans’ travels together,” Ferry said.
While Veterans Fishing may not appeal to fishing participants, it can hook them up with a day on the water without the expense. And most importantly, it can be a useful suicide intervention tool, which Ferry says is one of Veterans Fishing’s primary goals.
“That’s the only way to put it … the second goal is, every day in collaboration with a lot of other guys I work with, is to keep people from committing suicide every single day,” Ferry said. “We were lucky enough to hear about this from the very people who have thought of taking their own lives … there have been over a dozen stories in the last few years where we have been contacted at the right time.”
And calling it an organization is a stretch. It is a personal show. Ferry has dedicated himself to providing “treatment” for veterans in need.
“I have become almost like a part-time consultant for many people,” he said. “I mean, we have 12,000 people following the Instagram page.”
Ferry said he has spoken to more than 10,000 veterans since starting Veterans Fishing in 2017.
“I wake up every day and my goal is to do two things,” he said. “It has to be available to anyone who needs to get in touch. And secondly, it is to help finance travel by any means necessary ”.
As veterans draw near, Ferry is committed to facilitating a trip.
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“If I can’t take you on a boat, if I can’t take you with some sort of outdoor veteran guide or charter of any kind … at least, what I’ll try to do is team up with that person with someone local for them.” , he said. “They can just go out and fish with or someone who might be able to show them the ropes.”
Ferry’s extensive database, networking, and daily work as a fishing gear expert help put veterans on the water.
“I literally have a spreadsheet of veterans that I have tracked over the years, where they come from,” he said. “They volunteered to fish with other people, strangers, whatever happens.”
Ferry connects stakeholders through social media and says the system has been successful.
“And you’d be surprised how many of those actually follow and meet,” he said.
He doesn’t operate a boat on his own yet, but he said he hopes to build a 12-unit fleet across the country. However, the goal now is to bring the veterans’ families into the fold. North Carolina-based Ferry came up with the idea of a family along with a West Coast counterpart and confidant.
“One thing a lot of these kids want to do is share that experience of a day on the water with their families,” Ferry said. “So we are aware of that. We are transforming some of these journeys more and more to be veterans, significant others and children, if applicable. And so, it’s basically letting the family see what this day is doing for that veteran live and in person. “