Reel therapy: A veteran helps others stay afloat

Published 12:10 am Sunday, May 7, 2023

SALISBURY – Most people can’t fathom what many veterans internally deal with once they get home from serving overseas. Finding the right person to open up to is crucial in getting help and Anthony Brown has been making it his mission to be that person for anyone in need.

Brown, a Salisbury native and Navy veteran, has started “Catch Em Up Fishing,” a group that takes military veterans and first responders out fishing on Brown’s boat to unwind and be with someone they can emotionally relate to.

“Everybody I feel like in some shape, way or form has a mental concern or a condition,” Brown said. “The fact that I’m still here, I believe God was put in my heart to give back.”

In July 2020, Brown thought about taking his own life after a difficult deployment. Having PTSD, severe anxiety, depression and a bad back almost became too much for him. However, it was at that moment that he realized he had to get better and do the work that it required.

“I decided it was time to get help. I knew my career would be over, but I had to make that decision to live or have a career. So I chose to live,” Brown said.

Brown began “Catch Em Up Fishing” in January 2021 by taking veterans on local trips, but this year they have been going around the country taking part in the King Kat Tournament, a fishing competition that lasts from January to October, covering multiple states.

Brown calls what he does “reel therapy” because he focuses on “reality and connection” while out on his boat.

“We can go out there and we can just sit and watch the rods…The blessings that have come from some of those trips, the messages, and the thank yous,” Brown said.

Jerry Ellis met Brown one day when Brown stopped at Ellis’ brother’s store for some gas in Dayton, Tennessee. When Brown asked if he knew any veterans, Ellis’ brother mentioned Jerry. Ellis retired from the Air Force in 1993 and has been fishing for years. After meeting each other, they both went out on Chickamauga Lake the next morning and bonded over having identical backgrounds in the military. It appears that connection went a long way. Now, Ellis loves to get the word out about “Catch Em Up Fishing.”

“There’s a brotherhood that exists there that no matter where you are, where you go, when you meet someone that’s been places you’ve been and served and done similar things to what you’ve done, it’s an opportunity to share that experience and be a part of that brotherhood,” Ellis said.

Sharon Haymond first met Brown when they were in the Navy together. Haymond grew up bass fishing with her dad and when she and Brown went on the Ohio River, she got a firsthand account of the kind of work Brown does.

“I think he’s on to something. He’s really doing good things with what he’s doing because it’s therapy. I think it’s therapy for everybody on the boat,” Haymond said.

Both Haymond and Brown knew someone in the Navy who committed suicide recently, so being able to talk through that while enjoying a day of fishing was comforting for them. Haymond says the kind of environment Brown fosters is exactly what veterans need to be exposed to in order to get real treatment.

“There’s no judgment and there’s no expectations. You don’t have to be a certain kind of veteran. I’ve seen that before where they only take out combat veterans. Just being a veteran is good enough and I think that’s a really special thing,” Haymond said.

Brown’s long-term goal is to open a veteran center one day with a relaxed atmosphere where people won’t feel intimidated asking for assistance. Brown stresses it takes a lot of community support to have “Catch Em Up Fishing” continue for the rest of the year and beyond. They have received sponsors to help them compete in the King Kat Tournament and their social media presence gets their message out to many people, but even so, it’s not always enough.

Going on a fishing trip may not sound like much, but Brown is going out of his way to prove that it can be a lifesaving tool for veterans who need a person to guide them to a healthier, happier future.

“The struggles that we’ve had, the heartaches, the victories… but it’s getting those vets and having those vets out there on the water just made it totally worth everything. I would sell everything I got to make a trip happen, to get a vet on the water,” Brown said.