BELGRADE — Linwood Brayall has fished throughout Maine and off its coast, but the West Gardiner U.S. Army veteran experienced a first Tuesday morning while out on Great Pond.

“I hear there are pike out here,” Brayall said before boarding a party boat for a day on the water. “That’s what I’m going for.”

He set out on the lake as part of the fifth Fishing Extravaganza sponsored by the Pine Grove Program, which offers free outdoor adventures for veterans. Andrea Howe, who organizes the events with her husband, Bob Howe, said the light fog that blanketed the area Tuesday turned some people away, but nearly 50 veterans figured a day spent fishing — even a cold, wet day — was a day well spent.

The appeal is more than a fish story, though. The men and a handful of women spent a lot of time catching up and having good-natured fun at others’ expense before heading out on the water.

“It’s getting to bug other people and getting to know the other vets,” said Army veteran Herb Macomber, of Waterville. Macomber, like Brayall, is a man of relatively generous proportions, and he pondered aloud whether the duo might sink their boat.

“We’re the ones who sunk the Titanic,” Macomber said. “They say it was an iceberg, but really it was a Linwood.”

Brayall said he goes fishing up to six times a month with various fishing programs geared toward veterans, including the Veterans Appreciation Fishing Tournament.

Many who took part in the event, including Brayall and Macomber, served in the military without going into battle.

A number of organizations cater to combat veterans, particularly those who were wounded, but the Pine Grove Program organizes its free adventures for any man or woman who served and was discharged honorably.

“Other vets who were not harmed deserve our thanks,” Andrea Howe said. “We don’t make restrictions. We don’t give ourselves borders.”

HONORING VETS

Don Cushman, of Smithfield, has participated in the fishing extravaganza for three years and has been on Pine Grove’s all-terrain vehicle ride. Like the other veterans who know them, Cushman, an Army veteran of the Vietnam war, has a warm regard for the Howes.

“Bob says, ‘We’ve got something going on every week,'” Cushman said.

Bob Howe has looked for ways to marry his love of the outdoors with his passion for honoring veterans since graduating from high school in 1974. He would visit the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and other places frequented by veterans and offer elder members free fishing adventures in his boat.

“He wasn’t in the military, and he thought that was what he had to offer,” Andrea Howe said. “That kind of grew, and people that didn’t have any other way to go fishing or do anything fun started gathering, and he’d take them out.”

Howe worked for Scott Paper for 23 years. In 1998, after he retired, Bob and Andrea Howe purchased Pine Grove Lodge and Cabins in Pleasant Ridge Plantation near Bingham. The couple recently finalized the paperwork to make The Pine Grove Programs a certified nonprofit.

“We’ve been giving our lodge, whatever we had available, and organizing bigger events because we had a place for people to gather and spend the night,” Andrea Howe said. “All we had was a lodge with some empty beds and an ability to take people hunting and fishing.”

The list of events and the list of veterans they attracted began to grow. The Pine Grove Program now hosts a number of smaller fishing events at the lodge and a handful of other larger events, including an ATV ride, a veterans’ skeet shoot and a rabbit and bird hunt. The fishing extravaganza is the largest single-day event, Andrea Howe said.

News of the Howes’ programs has grown by word of mouth, and they now attract about 500 veterans every year.

“We feel we’ve done a really good job of getting a good database of names and emails,” Andrea Howe said. “We just used what we had. It’s just grown.”

So has the roster of volunteers ready to offer their time and talents to help. There were 30 volunteers for Tuesday’s event, including nearly two dozen who came equipped with boats and fishing gear. The volunteers covered expenses associated with fuel and gear.

“Everybody comes for free,” Andrea Howe said. “It’s so amazing to see so many people come out and help with all of our events.”

ON THE WATER

Tim Dutton, of Hamlin’s Marine in Waterville, took two veterans aboard his bass boat on Tuesday. Dutton, an Air Force veteran, said Hamlin jumped at the idea of working with the Howes. Dutton shares Howe’s desire to honor veterans.

“It’s sort of a thank-you for their service,” Dutton said. “It shows them they’re not forgotten.”

One of Dutton’s passengers, Jordan Richards, of Mercer, is an Army veteran who fought in Iraq. He remains active with the Maine Army National Guard.

“It’s different from last year,” Richards said, assessing Dutton’s sleek bass boat powered by a 225-horsepower motor. “I was in a pontoon boat.”

This was the second year in which Richards attended the fishing extravaganza. Between work and raising two young children, squeezing in time to go fishing is a challenge, he said.

“I try to,” Richards said. “I have a busy life.”

Lori Geib, of Carrabassett Valley, and her father, Frank Evangelista, of Solon, go fishing every year around Father’s Day. They used Fishing Extravaganza to carry on the tradition this year.

“I’d like to get some nice bass,” Evangelista said.

“I’ll be lucky if we don’t catch a rock,” Geib said. “It’s just great to spend the day with my dad.”

Geib said she is grateful for the programs the Howes run for veterans, who include Evangelista, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War.

“It’s a great program Andrea and Bob run,” Geib said. “There are not a lot of opportunities offered vets.”

For Brayall, the day ended with a catch. In a boat with volunteer Paul Stevens, of Belgrade, and veteran Carl Pettengill, of Farmingdale, Brayall was ecstatic when he snagged a brook trout. It was the only fish he caught all morning, and he planned to eat it later.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Twitter: @CraigCrosby4