A few years ago, Marine veteran Matt Ferry was going through a rough patch. Following a divorce and being newly sober from addressing PTSD-related symptoms with alcohol, he began fishing.
“I was not going out with the intention of either drinking or catching fish,” Ferry said. “If catching fish happened, great. But obviously, drinking was off the table. So it was just more about the … opening of my eyes and opening up my ears and experiencing fishing like I never had before I caught.”
On a whim, he decided to create a Veterans Fishing webpage to forge a community via Instagram of veterans who liked to fish. It grew slowly but gained traction when he started selling hats, T-shirts and other apparel. Now Ferry puts veterans in boats.
“There’s not a lot we won’t do to try and help these trips happen for people that need them that may not even know they need them yet,” he said. “The degrees of separation between myself and another 100,000 veterans is really not that far with the amount of connections and networking that I’ve done since I began this.”
The aim, according to Ferry, founder of Veterans Fishing, is to provide an enjoyable, stress-free fishing excursion that can also serve as a type of therapy for veterans who have mental health diagnoses.
“The veterans are having a great time on veterans’ trips with each other,” Ferry said.
While Veterans Fishing might not get participants hooked on fishing, it can hook them up with an expense-free day on the water. And more importantly, can be a useful intervention tool for suicide, which Ferry said is one of Veterans Fishing’s primary goals.
“This is the only way to put it … the second goal is, every day in collaboration with many other guys I work with, is to stop people from killing themselves every single day,” Ferry said. “We’ve been blessed enough to be told about this by the people themselves that have thought about taking their own life … there’s been a dozen-plus stories over the past few years of being reached out to at the right time.”
And to call it an organization is a stretch. It’s a one-man show. Ferry has devoted himself to providing a “treatment” to veterans in need.
“I’ve kind of morphed into almost like a part-time counselor for a lot of the people,” he said. “I mean, we have 12,000 people that follow the Instagram page.”
Ferry said he has talked 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’s to be available for anybody that does need to reach out. And secondly, is to help fund trips by any means necessary.”
When veterans reach out, Ferry is all-in on facilitating a trip.
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“If I can’t get you on a boat, if I can’t get you with some sort of guide or outdoor veteran-related charter of any kind … at the very least, what I’ll try to do is partner that person up with somebody local to them,” he said. “They can either just go out and fish with or somebody that might be able to show them the ropes.”
Ferry’s extensive database, networking and day job as a fishing gear expert helps put veterans on the water.
“I literally have a spreadsheet of veterans that I’ve kept track of over the years, where they’re from,” he said. “They’ve volunteered to fish with other people, strangers, no matter what.”
Ferry connects interested parties through social media and says the system has been successful.
“And you’d be surprised how many of those actually follow through and meet up,” he said.
He doesn’t run a boat himself yet, but he said he hopes to build a fleet of 12 located throughout the country. However, the focus now is on bringing veterans’ families into the fold. Ferry, located in North Carolina, thought up the family idea along with a West Coast counterpart and confidant.
“One thing that a lot of these guys are wanting to do is share that day-out-on-the-water-experience with their families,” Ferry said. “So we are aware of that. We’re transitioning some of these trips more and more to be veteran, significant other and children, if applicable. And so, it’s basically allowing the family to see what this day is doing for that veteran live and in-person.”