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Stories of Those Who Served

PARK FALLS, WI – Andy Hendrickson grew up amidst the outdoor paradise surrounding La Crosse, Wisconsin. Lured by the vast backwaters of the Mississippi River and the region’s numerous other lakes and streams, Hendrickson developed a special passion for fishing at a young age.

“I just loved being out on the water or the ice, catching fish, enjoying the fresh air, and being out in Mother Nature,” he says. “Ever since I could walk I’ve been on the water, no matter the season. As far back as I can recall, I can remember studying and remembering what kinds of structure and depths that individual fish species would use and relate to during specific times of the year. I would get a distinctive butterfly feeling in my stomach every time I would get the chance to go fishing.  It’s a feeling I still get today.”

The very definition of a patriot, Hendrickson grew up in a military family. His father and grandfather both served, so after graduating from college with an associate’s degree in machining in June of 2000, he decided to join the U.S. Army on active duty. Hendrickson completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, followed by 14 weeks of additional job training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

Hendrickson’s first duty station was at Camp Casey in Korea, just a few miles outside the DMZ between North and South Korea. He’d remain stationed at Camp Casey for a 12-month period, which included the Sept 11th attacks. After a brief stay at Fort Lewis, Washington, Hendrickson was promoted to Sergeant in February of 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in April of 2003.

“Our logistical base was located just outside of the BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) boundaries. I was a squad leader and shop foreman in charge of eight soldiers,” Hendrickson recalls. “Our base would receive direct and indirect fire two or three times a day from enemy forces. Most times their rounds would land inside our walls but wouldn’t hit areas with personnel.”

On January 6, 2004, however, a handful of Iraqi mortars finally connected with the roof of Hendrickson’s squad’s sleeping warehouse.  The attack left him with severe shrapnel wounds to his neck and back. Hendrickson recovered and went back to full duty, finishing out his five-year enlistment and earning a Purple Heart for his great personal sacrifice in support of our American freedoms.

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Like so many of our nation’s Wounded Warriors, Hendrickson returned home from service with both visible and invisible scars. Thankfully, his passion for fishing was still burning. He remembered his childhood playground around La Crosse, as well as traveling north with his father and the memories they had made fishing together in the Northwoods. The return to fishing eased Hendrickson’s mind and helped return his spirit to a place of peace.

“Fishing equals healing!” Hendrickson says, “and I jumped back into my dream of living and guiding anglers in the Northwoods. I moved to Rhinelander, Wisconsin and started the first leg of that dream in late 2007.”

Hendrickson spent almost all of his free time fishing and exploring the hundreds of new lakes at his disposal. “I became friends with a couple seasoned fishing guides in the area who took me under their wings,” he says. “I learned so much from these guides and did a lot of watching and listening. Before long, I knew I had more than enough knowledge to start guiding on my own.”

For the past 13 years now, Hendrickson has been living his dream. A member of the St. Croix Rods pro staff, he owns and operates Hendo’s Angling Expeditions, guiding anglers on the numerous lakes in Wisconsin’s storied Oneida and Vilas counties. He also regularly donates his time and volunteers his services and expertise in support of numerous Veteran organizations and events.

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“Fishing really is a great way to help bring healing to our Veterans, and that’s why there are so many events that highlight taking veterans fishing,” Hendrickson says. “I love giving back to our Veterans through these events.  A couple of the regular events I guide for are both hosted in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The Wounded Warriors in Action Eagle River Musky Chal-Lunge held every September in Eagle River brings in 10 Purple Heart recipients from around the country for a few days of musky fishing and relaxation. The other event is in October and is hosted by Take a Vet Fishing, where any veterans are welcome to sign up for a day of fishing the species of their choice.”

Hendrickson says he learned many things while on active duty, including leadership skills in the toughest environments, patience, and being thankful for each and every day after having a near-death experience. These life lessons are with him each and every day, and he’s grateful to be able to apply what he’s learned to help his clients – and other Veterans he shares his boat with – to catch more fish or just have a more enjoyable experience on the water.

Hendrickson wishes to remind others that not all wounds are visible. “There are Veterans all over who have invisible effects from war that could be physical or mental,” he says. “Every day of my life, my own body hurts but I don’t show it. Most Veterans like to blend in with the crowd and we don’t flaunt what we have been through. Getting together in a boat or spending relaxing and fun time with others who have lived through similar experiences at events like Take a Vet Fishing can be very helpful.”

Hendrickson, now 42, says he’s grateful that he’s always had fishing to lean on. “I fished a lot growing up and have always loved it,” he recaps. “Now I get to do it for a living. I love guiding for all species of fish that swim in our northern Wisconsin lakes and rivers and helping clients of all ages and from all walks of life to experience what I get to do and see almost every day. My goals as a guide and an angler are to always learn and to always have fun while doing it. I try to learn something new every day I am on the water.”

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About St. Croix Rod

Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for nearly 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Victory Avid®, Premier®, RIFT, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.

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