My World After the Military
by Bradley Lail
Finding passion after the army.
Nestled in the hills of Northern Alabama, Gurley, AL sits about twenty minutes from one of the finest fisheries in the country, the Tennessee River. This is where we decided to settle when retirement came knocking at the door. This is not where we thought we would end up, but we are happy we did. However, I was not sure we made the right choice at first. It had nothing to do with the area, or the people, but rather an internal struggle that so many veterans have when the big transition comes.
No crap, there I was (pardon the veteran pun), with my retirement papers in my hand, going from station to station, when I realized this was my last day in uniform. It then hit me; I was leaving a life behind that I would never have again. I was no longer Captain Lail. I would never be told what to wear, where to be, or how to act. I was going to have to decide my new path and I felt alone for the first time in decades.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have support from family or friends. My wife and family have always provided support and strength, I was just alone. No amount of therapy can prepare you for leaving the military. There is no training, no seminar, no one holding your hand. It is just something you must work through. For me, I knew I had to find a new passion, but I didn’t know where to begin. So, I dug and dug my foxhole deeper and deeper, until I was buried in doubt and depression. It was a feeling that I would not wish upon my worst enemy.
One thing that has always defined me, is that I am never down for long. I began to come up with ideas on what to do next with my time. I couldn’t train the way I used to—too many surgeries. I didn’t want to shoot—the Army took the fun out of that. I began to look around me and realized this place looks like where I grew up.
I was raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I remembered going to my grandfather’s farm as a boy and catching monstrous catfish (for a ten-year-old) out of my grandfather’s pond. I also remembered my father’s trips to Buggs Island (Kerr Lake). My father was a tournament bass fisherman and we always went to Buggs when we went to my grandfather’s to visit.
When we went on fishing trips, we always stopped at Bobcats Bait and Tackle. Inside Bobcat’s I would see photos of these massive blue catfish and ask my father and grandfather about them. They would tell me that those big fish are in the James River, Roanoke River, and Buggs Island.
After remembering this from my childhood, I realized that the Tennessee River probably has big cats too. I began to research and it turned out that I was not only right, but they were all over the place!
We started slow, working the banks of the creeks near us. The fish kept getting bigger and bigger. We then moved to the banks of the Tennessee River and really started to get some big fish. This was right about the time that the COVID 19 pandemic hit, so we were also happy to get out of the house. The boys loved it, it transported my wife back to her childhood, and we were hooked!
The next step was to get further into learning the water. So I booked a trip with Josh Brown at Backwoods Catfishing Guide Service. One trip with Josh and it was over. He taught me the dragging technique, conservation, tournament fishing, equipment, and conditions. We bought a boat a month later and began to venture out a little further on our own.
My goal has always been to teach my children a useful skill that they can pass on to their kids. This is what my father and grandfather did for me, and I never forgot it. My children now go out on the boat to tube, fish, drive, and swim. The look on their faces when they hook one is priceless and no amount of money can ever replace it. Today, we are the happiest we have been in years.
The hobby that my wife and I had as children has now become a staple to our family dynamic. Our next step will be to support as many charities as we can through fishing. Soon I would enjoy taking part in seminars, presentations, trips, or any means to show transitioning veterans that there is another world beyond the military that wants you. Mental health is an invisible wound that can do more harm than you know. I encourage you to support one another and if you see someone struggling, take them fishing!
This journey has allowed us to connect with some of the finest people I have ever met. I would be remiss if I did not mention all the great people that I have become very close to in the fishing community.
The following people are some of the kindest people you will ever meet: Brent and Carolyn Jones, Tyra and Craig Williams, Bryon and Kim Striker, PJ Kirker, Brandon Masters, J.R. Hall, Josh Brown, and Chris Souders.
Why do we catfish? Catfishing gave me back the camaraderie and passion that I left in the Army. The emptiness I once felt has now been filled by something just as sweet!