In 2009, I came home from Iraq.
It would be a year before I could deploy again so, for the first time in my adult life, I was left to my devices in the "Big PX" of America.
I loved the freedom. It was great catching up with friends and family, which is what I usually did when I came home.
When that was over, I could usually be found downtown, bar-hopping and chasing women. I was just doing what 23-year-old Marines do.
But it didn't take long for the novelty of it all to wear off. I grew weary of staying up late, drinking and hanging out with folks who really weren't my friends.
I learned I didn't fit in. But how could I? I already had two combat deployments under my belt, and after something like that you just kinda become a different person.
Something was missing. I needed to discover what that was — and how to get it back.
Enter inshore fishing
Back then an old flatboat sat in my garage. You know the kind: A dented aluminum hull with thick welds and a smokey — but dependable — two-stroke hanging off the back.
My dad sold it to me for a hundred bucks, but what made her special was that she was the boat me and my brother grew up fishing on.
A little TLC was all it took to get her purring again, and a trip down Bayou Bonfouca quickly revealed to me what had been missing — and how I could get it back.
Turns out, I was missing a challenge.
Not a small, insignificant challenge like a Rubik's cube, but a larger one that totally captured my attention; re-awakening a passion I had not felt since before I joined the Marines.
That led to one fishing trip after another and, well, here I am today.
When I was on the water, I had seemingly limitless energy, a desire to pursue and catch fish and was genuinely happy.
Inshore fishing really did it for me in a way nothing else could. And it still does today.
I think you can relate to this, and maybe you wonder what you'd do if there was no such thing as Louisiana's inshore fishing.
Anyway, with time I discovered this important truth: Fishing is more than "just fishing.”
And, in this case, it’s inshore fishing.
More than a fishing trip
Inshore fishing is a powerful tool, a means to accomplish an end.
That end can be many things, like being happy, giving purpose or simply blowing off some steam. Inshore fishing can do this because it's a sensory overload, totally immersing yourself in a foreign environment.
Because the consequences are real -- and fishing is largely absent of artificial, man-made schemes -- the reward of catching has more meaning.
There are no cheat codes. No way to hack the system. If — scratch that — when a fish spits the hook, there is no referee to put the fish back on.
It really does make a difference
Anyone who has been in actual combat - the real stuff you read about in books - has dealt with some pretty intense stuff. I've learned different folks are affected in different ways and those differences have surfaced since Fallujah in 2004. Some are doing just fine, others have fallen off the grid and some have, very sadly, taken their lives.
I understand what was going through their heads, and I wonder if things would be different if they discovered inshore fishing the way I had.
We'll never know, but I don't feel we need to find out with others. So use this tool right now
We are fortunate to have a lot of patriotic folks in our great state who look for ways to give back. One tool we have to do that is inshore fishing. So next time you launch the boat, take along that veteran you know.
It doesn't have to be a combat veteran. It could be anyone dealing with a hard time. Let them see the sun rise, take in the vastness of the prairie marsh and feel the pleasure of a bent rod.
I promise you it will be an experience they won't forget — and it really will make a difference.
Tight lines, y'all.
Editor’s Note: Devin Denman is an avid inshore fisherman who writes the Louisiana Fishing Blog. To read more of his articles, visit lafishblog.com