Why We Catfish with Leslie Vanderau, Heroes Outdoor Therapy

From the concrete jungle to outdoor happiness.

Nice catfish like this one help Leslie overcome anxieties and bad habits.

Nice catfish like this one help Leslie overcome anxieties and bad habits.

In her search for a lifelong hobby, Leslie Vanderau found catfishing. She was looking for something that she could do solo or with other people. As the years past this ex-marine is proving that catfishing is the perfect fit.

“Back in 2014, I set out to introduce a hobby into my life,” explained Vanderau. “I was looking for a pastime that I would be able to do with my family or alone. I wanted it to be outdoors, able to be done at flexible hours, and allow me to say I started as a rookie.”

The 34-year-old Mechanicsburg, PA angler claims the Susquehanna River as her home waters. Since she doesn’t have a boat, much of her fishing time is from the shoreline. Regardless of where she fishes, she does it with enthusiasm, a desire to learn more about the sport, and a willingness to pass it on to others.

Leslie found some stress relief with this nice flatty.

Leslie found some stress relief with this nice flatty.

“Some of my most memorable catfish moments have come when I am able to get first time anglers out fishing,” offered Vanderau. “Having grown up in the urban concrete jungle, my younger brother had never been fishing before. So, on one of his visits, I gave him a quick Barney style class on fishing 101. I broke him in by catching bluegill for bait and then waited for nightfall to come so we could go catfishing.”

The sister/brother team’s preparation paid off. They set up on the shoreline and baited with the bluegill they had caught earlier in the day. That success, in introducing her brother to the sport, is one of the reasons she catfishes.

“It was one of those nights” reminisced Vanderau. “It wasn’t before long he was hooked up and wrestling a barrel rolling monster catfish. I remember him nervously chuckling as he reeled the big fish in. I also remember him saying that it had to be a beast! Ten minutes later I congratulated him for his first catch. It was a 3-pound catty. I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically, thinking he was doomed if a decent 20-pound plus came along. He would be going in for a swim for sure!”

Much of Leslie’s passion for the outdoors relates to sharing it with others.

Much of Leslie’s passion for the outdoors relates to sharing it with others.

Vanderau has taken her passion for catfishing and applied it to a cause that is near and dear to her heart. Based on her personal experiences and a desire to help fellow veterans, she founded H.O.T. as a veteran nonprofit organization.

H.O.T. provides travel expense relief for military veterans looking to attend outdoor recreational functions. The aim is to boost veteran attendance and camaraderie in a therapeutic outdoor environment.

“When I came out of the military I had years of anxiety, bad habits and vices,” offered Vanderau. “They included a dependence on alcohol. Being outdoors, and fishing specifically, helped me overcome my PTSD and beat my addiction.”

“H.O.T. allows me to pass along the passion that saved me, to others in a similar situation,” continued Vanderau. “I want H.O.T. to be the vessel that transports my fellow veterans outside, both figuratively and literally. And much like myself, help them find therapy in the outdoors. I am also dedicated to supporting similar organizations who help lift military veteran morale by using the great outdoors as a method of healing.”

Aside from the vets she is able to help through her nonprofit, female angers are next on her list of heroes. They strengthen her resolve to do what she does with H.O.T.

Leslie has used her passion for the outdoors as a stepping stone to helping others through Heroes Outdoor Therapy.

Leslie has used her passion for the outdoors as a stepping stone to helping others through Heroes Outdoor Therapy.

Don’t laugh,” said Vanderau. “Any time a female steps into a male dominated sport, I get a sense of pride and empowerment. I have met amazing females in the catfish community. They are confident skilled anglers. Many of them are mothers, who have dealt with dirty diapers and snot filled noses, so when it comes to muddy, slimy catfish, they are ready to get their hands dirty just as much as the men are. These are women I look up to.”

When it comes to fishing it is her own passionate approach that keeps her going. She feeds off of the intensity of doing her best in a chosen activity.

“Fishing with passion keeps the drive and the hunger needed to keep learning,” offered Vanderau. “Whether its testing out new techniques or fishing new waters, when you get skunked, passion is what brings you back out another day to do it all over again.”

Leslie Vanderau is Founder and President of Heroes Outdoor Therapy (H.O.T.). The organization follows a Mission Statement that says: To maximize the opportunity for HEROES to participate in OUTDOOR recreational functions through the provision of financial and logistical support; to enhance the discovery of camaraderie in the outdoors as THERAPY for those who have served our country.


“But what I love most about catfishing is that no matter how much you plan what you are actually going to catch, (the weight and size of your catfish) is always unknown. It’s that unknown that keeps my catfishing addiction alive. Knowing the next time, I might break my personal best—or maybe even a state record.”

“If you have never been catfishing, then it could be difficult to understand why I love to catfish,” concluded Vanderau. “To begin, there is the camaraderie that I have found in the catfish community. I can honestly say some of most real, kindest, and humblest people, have accepted me and shared the love of this sport with me.”

“Along with the passion, the fever, the drive, and the memories, I catfish because it saved and changed my life for the better.”


Why We Catfish Guest Editorial
This column is provided for reader submitted editorials on Why We Catfish. If you have a short story related to why you catfish, you may submit it for consideration and publication in a future issue of CatfishNow. Send submissions of 500 words or less and one or two photos to Ron Presley at presleyr@bellsouth.net.
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