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My Thoughts on Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.

Posted on June 17, 2016 at 8:00 PM

My Thoughts on Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.

I have been involved with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. (PHW) for over a year now. That being said, I felt it was time that I did a little write up about the program, share my thoughts and ideas about the program, how it has helped me, and why I recommend it for other veterans. This article should give you an understanding of what PHW is and what it is they do. You should also understand its importance, its need for support, as well as why all veterans of all eras should know about this program. Perhaps you may be a veteran that could benefit from PHW as I and thousands upon thousands of other veterans have, or maybe you know a veteran who could benefit from the program. Regardless, I hope if you have never heard of PHW before this article, that you will be fully aware of this amazing veteran focused program.

I first heard of PHW while attending a clinic at my local Veterans Medical Center. Each Wednesday night, a few men from the local PHW chapter come to the VA. They meet in the conference room, about 10-15 in all, set up fly tying vises and open the doors to the veteran population at the medical center. It was a free “learn how to tie flies” session. A fellow veteran and I decided to go check it out one evening and I have never been the same ever since.

Now, I have grown up fishing my entire life. My dad, who passed in 2008, was an avid angler and was always on the water. All I have ever known was spin cast fishing. I knew what fly fishing was, but had no interest in it. I did not know anybody who fly fished so it was simply never a part of my life. To be honest, I always thought fly fishing was some “old sophisticated man’s” style of fishing. Not something we common poor folk would do. Never had there ever been an inkling of interest in the sport for one moment. This would soon change.

On these Wednesday night meetings these “old sophisticated men” came with their vises, boxes of feathers of all sorts, tubs of every sort of animal tails, hooks, and boxes of colored thread. They would set up shop, and as veterans would walk in with the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces, would be greeted heartily, introduced to a volunteer and  would sit and learn to tie a fly. Usually the first time was a very simple fly. I had a particular volunteer that I struck it off pretty good with. For weeks I would come just to sit and watch him tie flies. I picked his brain, asked a million questions, and absorbed everything he told me. Then I got rambunctious and bought a ton of fly tying tools, a vise, and various supplies. It was off to the races. I was tying every night of the week.

These volunteers that taught us, as I found out early on, were all (there is the exceptional few) veterans of various generations themselves. Each of them religiously volunteered every Wednesday night to do what they were doing. So, me being me, had to inquire more about who they were.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. allows their name to illustrate their purpose and vision. Their purpose is to provide therapeutic healing to wounded veterans. Through the medium of Fly Fishing, being outside, being in nature, on the water, and with a fly rod in hand, they seek to provide a work or healing that no other therapy method can. You will see later, this works.

The vision of the program is to reach out to veterans regardless of their knowledge of fly fishing. They love nothing more than a veteran who never tied a fly, cast a line, or hooked up with a fish. These are not simply some slapped together group of men either. The experience, skill, know-how, and talent of these men is phenomenal. If you cannot learn something new in each and every session or come out a better tier, caster, or angler after each meeting and event, well, you may be untrainable. Their vision is to open the pathway for veterans to the amazing healing element of fly fishing. Many of the volunteers themselves were once participants in the program itself and have already reaped its benefits and are trying to fulfill the programs vision and pass the knowledge and healing down.

PHW is a nonprofit national organization. They fund their program by donations, raising money, and through its many fund raising tournaments and events. The great thing about the program is that practically all the money actually goes to the program, to the chapters, to the events, and more importantly to the veteran. Unlike many so called “charitable” organizations with checkered pasts (and presents) PHW is not top heavy or full of paid employees eating up contributor’s money. For all the hundreds of chapters, state regions, satellite programs, trips, events, and tournaments, PHW functions on only a 6 person paid staff. An incredible testimony in light of many other organizations. The full force of the operation is an army of volunteers that seek out every opportunity to fulfill the projects mission.

Soon after I began to learn how to whip up my own flies the group had its first outing. We went to a local pond and I, for the first time, got to cast a fly line. It was a great day of frustration. I knew there was a lot to learn about this craft. I did not let the frustration keep me down. I ended up instead buying my own fly rod, practicing on my own, and honing my skill.

Eventually I started attending the local chapters meeting. I met some more amazing people and began to get even more experience with both tying and fly fishing. I continued to soak up as much information as I could. Then all the fun really began to take place.

PHW not only has local chapters which reach out to the veterans within their locals, they also plan and establish, pay for, host, and cater region and national trips. One such trip I was quickly sent away on was to the famous Penn’s Creek of Pennsylvania. This was my first big venture into the fly fishing world. I could write chapters on the experience. It definitely “set the hook” in me for good. I have since participated in various other trips, none which have yet to surpass the unexpected invitation to attend and compete in the Mossy Creek Invitational which PHW hosts each year in Virginia. Now I got to experience fly fishing at the competitor’s angle of the sport. End state: I still want more.

Enough of the still growing excitement I am having with my fly fishing adventure. What has the program really done for me and thousands of other veterans? It heals. Just as its name states. Suffering from PTSD and various other injuries and complications from a brain injury, my life had been drastically altered in the last few years. Things have been falling out of place. My body has been failing. My mind has been failing. Stressors were mounting up, depression thickening, and isolation becoming even more of a problem. PHW has provided a cure for the most of it.

Being very physically active in my prior life, my body has not been able to enjoy many of the activities I used to do. PHW offered me an alternative and even an alternative where I could be competitive like I love to be. There was also something highly therapeutic about tying flies. I suffer from ruined sleep. I have many sleepless nights due to nightmares and night terrors. Some nights I am awake within an hour of bed time to not be able to sleep the rest of the night. Tying flies has given me something to occupy my mind in nights like those. Instead of lying awake dwelling on the past or on the dream, I simply get up and tie flies. My mind wanders, it’s soothed, and a few hours later, I am fine. The amount of stress that I, and many of the other PHW veteran participants I meet can melt away with fly tying is phenomenal. And that is just the tying part of the deal.

There is then the outdoors part. Being on the water is a magnificent therapy. There is something purely natural, God given and God ordained about being on the water fishing. The world does not exist when you are concentrating about your cast, your drift, your fly selection, the play of a fish, or the landing. In that moment I am not a disabled veteran, I am not a man with sleep and stress issues, I am not a man whose body prevents him from maintaining a job. I am whole, I am complete, I am a fly fisherman. The feeling can’t be beat.

Lastly, there is the comradery. Isolation is a common bad trait with many veterans regardless of year or conflict served. To be with other veterans is soothing. In the civilian world we do not have this feature. However, with PHW, we are together. We are a family, we are comrades, we are our support, and we are our therapy. PHW does live up to its name. It does heal us on the water.

I am proud of this organization and all it provides for veterans. Even those with major disabilities PHW finds a way to cater to them. In PHW’s chapters it is not uncommon to find casters who do not have both arms, or casters in the water with specialized wheelchairs, casters stripping line with their teeth, and a most joyful sight of anglers fishing as their service dogs enjoy the cool water. They will uphold their mission of providing the healing power of fly fishing to every wounded warrior however they possibly can.

I see myself in the next few decades of my life being one of those “old sophisticated men” showing up on a Wednesday night to teach some veteran from some new conflict how to tie flies. I will then show them how to cast, how to play that trophy trout, and how to land that trophy fish. As my promise to PHW, in my thanks to them, I will do this with no less diligence, joy, and willingness as those who have helped me. PHW has now become not only a major part of my healing and therapy, but a major part of the rest of my life. I would not be who I am today if I have not shown up one Wednesday night a year ago.

I decided to share this article with you for two reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, if you are a veteran, if you are struggling, seek out a PHW chapter near you. I have included the link to PHW in this article and the link is on my home page. Please, seek them out. Seek the healing they can offer. You might just find your new passion in life as well. If you are a family member, friend, or loved one of a veteran who could benefit from this program, please, get them involved. The benefits are lifelong. It could be the greatest but of information you could have passed on. Also, if you are an experienced fly fisherman, fly tier, or fly fishing guide, perhaps you would like to get involved. Even if you are not a veteran, you can still help out and volunteer. Volunteers are needed, guides are needed, and people that can help teach are needed. You too can find a chapter near you and offer to help in any way. They would accept it.

Lastly, I also shared this article to ask you to consider supporting PHW. As a nonprofit organization, they rely on donations from supporters to continue to be able to equip, teach, and train veterans as well as to pay for the many amazing trips they send veterans on both nationally and internationally. As a veteran on the receiving end of the program, I can attest that your donations go a long way. On their web page they offer many ways to donate to help PHW fulfill their mission and reach their goals. Please consider contributing to PHW. You could be saving a veteran with the monetary support you provide.

In conclusion, I want to thank you first for reading this article and learning about PHW. I would also like to publically thank PHW for all they have done for me and thousands of other veterans. Your project has been a blessing to my life. I am a better man now that I am one of those “old sophisticated men”. I owe you greatly for what you have provided for me, and I will repay that debt of gratitude with my own service to your organization.

Thank You


Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.


Categories: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.

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Reply RonaldSic
7:03 PM on May 1, 2017 viagrasansordonnancefr sance ordonance
Reply Matt Seymour
9:16 AM on June 22, 2016 

Would like to use this as a testimonial to be shared with the benefactors of VAMC coatesville. Very well said, my friend.

Matt Seymour
Program lead
Project Healing Waters
Coatesville VAMC
Reply Dave Riggio
1:37 PM on June 21, 2016 
Sarge, Your post is both articulate and humbling. We are happy to have you as part of our team. You've put into words the value of the program for you and our volunteers.
Reply Jana Brown
10:23 AM on June 19, 2016 
Hi Sarge, I am a member of PHW Board of Trustees and I want you to know how wonderful your blog post is and how much it is appreciated. What you also need to know, as does everyone that reads your blog, is that the true honor for me and countless other volunteers is being able to serve you and all the wounded vets and active duty personnel. The sacrifice that you all have made for us is unimaginable. We are truly honored and humbled to be able to give back to you in any small way we can. Thank you for your service and thank you for your wonderful post.