Fly fishing may often be a fairly solo sport, but at Fly Fishing Outfitters, we know how important community is and we’re all about getting involved. That’s why we’re proud to volunteer with Project Healing Waters, an awesome nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans through fly fishing. The organization focuses on both the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled veterans and disabled active military personnel via fly fishing and related activities. Right up our alley…
About the Foundation
Project Healing Waters launched in 2005 to serve wounded military members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, all of whom had survived combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization has since expanded to help veterans around the country, including those in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and similar clinics.
Veterans in the Project Healing Waters program learn the basics of fly fishing, which includes how to cast, how to build rods, and how to tie flies. Some of the veterans who enter the program have never picked up a fly fishing rod, while others are interested in honing the skills they already have. Fishing and tying equipment is provided to each veteran for free, as are one-day and multi-day fishing excursions.
Project Healing Waters offers comprehensive programs throughout the U.S., including the Rocky Mountain South program in our beloved Colorado. This program covers Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, and Salt Lake City in Utah.
The Ongoing Mission
Project Healing Waters doesn’t simply interact once with each veteran. Volunteers, including we at Fly Fishing Outfitters, are dedicated to providing ongoing, long-term teaching and fly fishing guide services that give disabled veterans a chance to enjoy an often therapeutic activity, which combines nature and communal sport to help heal mind, body, and soul. Many of the foundation’s volunteer staff are people like us—anglers and fly fishing guides eager to share their knowledge and donate their time to help veterans move on from often-traumatizing military pasts.
Being that community is of utmost importance, programs through the foundation always consist of a fly fishing club or group willing to help (like us!), a DOD or VA medical facility acting as host, and of course disabled active military and veterans fishing alongside each other.
Documenting the Journey
Two short films centering on disabled veterans and fly fishing were produced in conjunction with the foundation. And what a positive impact these films have had on the effort.
“The Journey Home: Healing Waters” aired on the Mental Health Channel and was part of the channel’s series “The Journey Home,” which focuses on veterans coming together to work on societal reintegration. “Healing Waters” was the second episode and showcased three PHWFF participants as they attended the 8th Annual PHWFF 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm in Syria, VA. The three veterans talk about how they used to believe PTSD had them in its grips but, thanks to fly fishing and fly tying, they now have an outlet that helps them move on from the past, enjoy beautiful surroundings, and feel like they’re part of a community. They emphasize that everything else “goes away” when fly fishing, and that it has essentially allowed them to reclaim their lives.
“Teach a Man to Fish” is a short film by the University of Tennessee’s Medal of Honor Project. It was filmed in October 2014 at the inaugural Smoky Mountain Grand Slam Challenge in Norris, TN, and was screened at the Knoxville Film Festival. The story focuses on two veterans who participated in the Grand Slam Challenge, finding meaning and purpose in this new challenging endeavor. One veteran said he would be dead if not for Project Healing Waters, and the other remarked that fly fishing helped him forget his pain from the debilitating injury he suffered during his time in the Navy.
We at Fly Fishing Outfitters are continuously committed to bringing our love of fly fishing to important community initiatives, especially when it comes to healing veterans of our armed forces. Nature has an amazing ability to heal the mind, and the sport of fishing, especially when done with supportive others, offers immense therapeutic advantages. We’re dedicated to this cause and hope to inspire others to get involved as well.