TRAIL — During his U.S. Air Force career, Cave Junction native David Sorensen often felt his mind wander home to a favorite fishing haunt somewhere in Southern Oregon.
"When I was gone, I missed fishing here in Oregon," says Sorensen, 52, a retired staff sergeant. "In several of the countries I was in, I couldn't even go fishing."
Now Sorensen is about to get a makeup day for one of those fishless days he spent in service to his country.
Sorensen will join about three-dozen other vets trolling the depths of Lost Creek Lake on May 15 with the help of a group of anglers who want to extend the best hand of thanks that they know — one with a fishing rod in it.
A Grants Pass-based fishing group and a local American Legion chapter have joined forces to create a special fishing derby at Lost Creek Lake for local armed-forces veterans, including some Oregon National Guard soldiers who recently returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Current and former soldiers, as well as some members of their families, will be paired with members of the Middle Rogue Steelhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited for a day of reeling in rainbows.
"It's a welcome-home thing for everybody," says Sorensen, 52, who retired in 1993 and is now an automotive-claims adjuster. "It's good to get together, talk about old times and get the families together."
The event is the brainchild of Shane Macuk, a sewer inspector who happens to be the commander of the local Sons of the American Legion Post 15.
The SAL's parent group has declared May 15 as "National Veterans Assistance Day," and has urged its posts to reach out to service men and women.
"We knew we were going to do something to help out some veterans that day, but we didn't know what to do," says Macuk, 37, of Central Point.
A day of fishing seemed like a good idea, and the Lost Creek Lake Marina seemed like an easy place to do it.
"There was no rhyme or reason to it," Macuk says. "It was the first thing that popped into my head."
So Macuk approached Maynard Flohaug, a co-worker at Rogue Valley Sewer Services who also happened to be a member of the Middle Rogue Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The TU chapter already had been talking about doing something for veterans themselves. And what they do best, of course, is fish.
But this struck especially close to home for Flohaug, a U.S. Army specialist who returned home from the Vietnam War in 1969 to a completely different reception.
"I told the guys that we really need to get behind this," Flohaug says. "I could have used someone taking me fishing when I came home."
About two-dozen chapter members have donated their boats, time and equipment. Some members collected donations and prizes for the derby while others arranged a pre-fishing breakfast at the marina and a post-fishing barbecue at Stewart State Park.
The grand prize is a half day's use of a houseboat on Lost Creek.
All participants need to do is show up at the marina with a valid angling license.
"All they need to do is get here, jump into somebody's boat and put a pole in the water," Macuk says. "We'll take care of everything else."
The opportunity has resonated with local guardsmen who recently returned from their Middle East tour.
About 10 of those soldiers will be selected and invited to the derby in the upcoming week as they settle back into their lives at home.
"It's a proud thing for me and I think it's awesome," says Sgt. Phillip Disney from the guard's Grants Pass unit, who is helping line up anglers and plans to fish, as well.
"These are veterans themselves," Disney says. "They care enough not just to support us, but to take care of us, take us out on their own dime and show us a good time."
More than 30 veterans already have signed up, and Macuk is working through local vets and National Guard outlets to swell the ranks to as high as 40.
"I really want to get some of these guys who just came home, but it's going to be tough to do because they have other things going on," Macuk says.
That's because this day on the water won't be about whether trolling Triple Teasers work better than Wedding Rings or what color PowerBait to fish in Catfish Cove.
It's about letting these veterans know that the Middle Rogue Steelheaders want to thank them for their service, and the local Sons of the American Legion are there to help them with more than netting fish.
"You get them on a boat, you can talk as just a couple of guys fishing and not like you're in a group of 10 people who want to hear a war story," Macuk says. "I don't think all these guys want to tell war stories. But they might want to get something off their chests."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.