Army Veteran Helps His Fellow Heroes One Fishing Trip at a Time


Tim Belizaire

The Veteran’s Pavilion during the Fish with a Hero event held on June 7, 2023

Tim Belizaire, Assistant Photo Editor

Veterans of all ages battled the Florida heat this week as they made their way to the Veteran’s Pavilion to chat with their brothers and become better anglers on June 7. 

Fish with a Hero had its third on-campus event at the Veteran’s Pavilion. The event is run by the Executive Director of Fish with a Hero, Larry Kendzior. Kendzior served in the United States Army from 1971 to 1975. 

Fish with a Hero has been organizing fishing outings to help veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries for over ten years. 

Kendzior began the non-profit corporation in 2012 out of Key West, Florida. Eventually it moved to Fort Myers in 2016. The volunteers at Fish with a Hero want to use this opportunity to make the world a better place for veterans. 

Kendzior is a lifelong fisherman. As a child, he fished with his father in northern Chicago. He had a boat he would go fishing on in Lake Michigan for over 25 years.

Kendzior particularly wants to mix his passions for fishing and helping veterans, and to find motivation from them. He recalls wise words a couple of his friends told him years ago.

Executive director of Fish with a Hero, Larry Kindzior speaking during the fly-fishing roundtable in the Veteran’s Pavilion at FGCU Wednesday June 7, 2023
(Tim Belizaire)

“If you can find something that you’re passionate about and use it to help other people, you have really achieved something in your life in terms of overall happiness and contributing to humanity,” Kendzior said.

Kendzior has been able to experience first-hand examples of veterans being helped due to the program. Sometimes it would be the satisfaction of seeing a happy veteran. Sometimes it would be the realization that Fish with a Hero saved a life. 

“I’ve had three vets come to myself or other volunteers to say that ‘your program saved my life,’” Kendzior said. 

He recalled conversations with veterans in which they said they were weeks or even days away from taking their life. Those veterans credited the camaraderie with their fellow veterans in finding the hope to continue living. 

Kendzior wants to serve veterans of all ages. This is one of the reasons Fish with a Hero chose to do events at FGCU and teamed up with the FGCU chapter of Kappa Alpha.

John Thomas is a senior at FGCU and the Vice President of Kappa Alpha. He chose to volunteer for Fish with a Hero. He met Kendzior through Troy Bolivar, who is the Director of Military and Veteran Success at FGCU. Not only does he appreciate what Kendzior stands for, but he is also an avid fisherman. 

The event this week was not their traditional outing on the water. This was a workshop in preparation for a fishing trip on June 10. The library lawn was lined with fly rods that were provided for veterans to practice their form.

Not only did veterans get hands-on experience but they also learned valuable lessons about fly-fishing during a roundtable discussion. The discussion featured Joe Mahler, a world-renowned fishing instructor.

Mahler has a Fly Casters Workshop in which his students range from beginners to professional anglers who’ve achieved world records. Mahler brought his over 12 years of teaching experience to the workshop for free.

Veteran, as part of the Fish with a Hero event speaking during a roundtable discussion at FGCU, Wednesday June 7, 2023.
(Tim Belizaire )

Angel Vasquez served in the United States Army for almost thirty years. Vasquez has wanted to learn how to fly fish since he was in the fourth grade and was excited to be able to learn under Mahler.

Fishing has been a part of Vasquez’s life since he was a child, and has been beneficial for his mental health.

“I suffer from PTSD and fishing helps me relax and focus. I need to feel comfortable and not defensive when I’m fishing,” Vasquez said. “When I’m here with other veterans, I feel like someone has my six, I’m not worried, and that carries over to general life.” 

Vasquez also wants veterans who aren’t comfortable coming to an outing like this to know that there is a place here for them. He believes they will get that same sense of belonging veterans had when they were active duty.

“I was listening to a military program and one of the individuals said when they went to war, they went as strangers, and they came back as brothers. An organization like that, [Fish with a Hero], you get that same sense of belonging,” Vasquez said.

If you want to volunteer or donate to Fish with a Hero, please visit their website at