By Katy Fassler

Directly on the Gulf of Mexico is the beautiful city of Naples. Known for its beautiful landscape, high-end shopping and dining, and golf, Naples is also making a difference in the lives of our troops. Naples Take a Soldier Fishing is a 501c3 non-profit organization that gives the brave men and women of the United States Armed Services a luxury weekend of fun and fishing.

Steve and Jamie Loyd, local fishing enthusiast, started a program to give back and say ‘Thank you’ to our troops.

“It was just an idea,” says Steve Loyd, “Me and a couple of fishing buddies were just having a conversation, drinking a couple of beers, and one of the guys said some of his buddies had taken some military guys up in Tampa fishing. They had 3 or 4 boats and had a great couple of days fishing. I said, ‘Why aren’t we doing something like that?’ I thought we should do it and got excited about it and started putting the wheels in motion. Of course, Jamie did all the legwork on it. In, I don’t know, a month to two months, we were able to bring 35 troops down from MacDill Airforce Base, put them on about 15 boats, and just took them fishing. Everyone had such a great time we just figured, man, we should do this all the time. It took off from there.”

The first fishing trip was in 2007. Over the years, the program grew and grew. “It has exceeded any expectations I ever had,” says Steve. “ It’s at a whole ‘nother level. It’s way over my head. It’s crazy big now. Everyone loves it and everyone works really hard for it. We have something that’s really cool.”

“It’s not just Jamie and I. Yes, we kind of started it, but we have a group of people: friends, family, and neighbors that really jumped in and helped take this thing to the next level. Jamie and I are just one spoke in a big wheel. I have tremendous people that have jumped on board and love this like we do.”

“We fundraise year round for this one weekend. We bring 150 troops in for a 3 day weekend. We put them up in a 5-star beach resort, usually the Grand Naples Beach Resort. We bring them in on a Thursday night for a dinner called “The Captain’s Dinner”. There we introduce them to their captains that they will be fishing with on Saturday. Friday is a free day. We set up golf, we take a bunch to Bass Pro Shops where we do a little fishing on their private lake and there’s a bunch who want to go to the beach so we shuttle them out to the beach just to relax.”

This year’s event was September 16-18. “We had 150 troops, all highly skilled, highly trained special operations troops. These are combat pilots, Green Berets, Navy Seals, troops that have been overseas the last decade kicking in doors and beating back the big, bad wolf. These are guys that have seen more than any human should have to see protecting freedom, not only for us, but all the other countries that are fighting. This year was a special year. They deserved to be here and it was probably very therapeutic for a lot of them.”

“There was a story told by one of the troops in front of our audience many years ago that made me know I had to keep doing this,” says Steve. “We had found out prior to that event that there was a troop of Army Rangers that were serving in the Afghanistan mountains. At the end of the fishing event, the lieutenant took the microphone and addressed the crowd. He said, ‘We found out three months ago we were offered a trip to Naples and we decided we wanted to come together to go fishing. As the lieutenant, it is my job to protect everyone as well as I can and keep the morale high. Understand that in the Afghan mountains, this is a very dangerous area, we do a mission, sometimes two every day. When I briefed my troops, after we found out we were coming to the fishing program, I always ended the briefing with ‘Take care of each other and be safe because in a couple months we are going to Naples to go fishing’.”

Steve reflected on that moment and realized, “If this is what it means to these guys, we have to keep doing it.”

The mission is simple: “To provide 150 active duty military troops a free all expense paid weekend of fishing, golfing & various entertainment. With an emphasis on the fishing, our troops are given the opportunity to escape their everyday stresses and dangers that come with such a hazardous job defending America’s freedom.”

“To show them our sincere gratitude for their bravery, honor, dedication and willingness to give their all, we take our soldiers fishing.”

“Through donations from local businesses, personal donations, and our various fundraising events, we raise the necessary funds to put on the largest charity fishing tournament in Southwest Florida. Our board is 100% volunteer, comprised of local individuals who care deeply about our country and the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to defend the freedoms we cherish in America. All monies raised or donated directly fund the weekend events, which include luxury lodging, meals, entertainment, transportation, and awards for our troops. All captains who participate donate their time, expertise, fuel, and equipment.”

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