UNION HALL, Va. (WFXR) — Army veteran John Mathena has been retired from active duty for decades, yet he still serves, offering a new fishing service to his community.

Mathena has served eight years for the military both stateside and abroad. As the owner of Patriot Fishing Charters, he exchanged his army greens for a fishing captain and guide uniform. He is known as one of the top guides on Smith Mountain Lake.

A few years ago, Mathena identified a need for veterans to spend time together in a setting that was fun and serene at the same time, and decided a free fishing experience on his boat was the answer.

“When I got out of the service and I started seeing more and more vets that just didn’t, you know, they don’t have anything to do and they get in their mind that they’re no good,” said Mathena as he guided his boat during a recent trip with two other military veterans. “They had nobody to talk to, [which was] sad. So, I said well, let’s go fishing. Let me take some guys out.”

Since then Mathena has taken more than 100 veterans out fishing on his boat. For Mathena, service is a lifetime commitment. He says veterans are in a good position to help other veterans.

“You can listen to each other’s stories,” said Mathena. “If you’ve never served, you just don’t understand it; it’s a brotherhood. It doesn’t matter if you were in the army, navy, it’s a brotherhood.”

One of the two vets who fished with Mathena echoed the same feeling of companionship that the fishing provides.

“We’ve shared a lot of experiences, our language is the same. we understand each other,” added army veteran Brian Keaton. “To be on the lake, just to hang out like this after serving like that and not being around it refuels your tanks.”

Mathena says it is the knowledge that these trips are making a difference in the lives of veterans that makes his continued service to the community all worth it.

Fishing guide John Mathena with army veteran Brian Keaton and marine veteran Dallas Neel on a trip on Smith Mountain Lake (Photo: George Noleff)

“You know you get phone calls weeks later, ‘thanks so much, man. I really needed that. you don’t know how much you opened my eyes’, it’s just therapy is all it is,” Mathena said. “It’s therapy for them and therapy for me.”

Mathena also organizes free trips for active duty military members, first responders and children with special needs, furthering his commitment to bring a safe and relaxing space for those in need.