A special fly fishing program across the United States helps wounded veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat injuries. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing started small in 2005, but as of 2015, the success of the organization reaches 180 separate programs among all 50 states.
The fine motor skills used in fly fishing can help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, while current and retired troops share camaraderie in a relaxed atmosphere far from the battlefield.
The results from the program have been absolutely astonishing, and some of the stories these soldiers tell are incredible.
“Something Just Clicked”
Several soldiers explained how Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing helped them during an interview with Fox News. Retired Army Capt. David Folkerts injured his hand during his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2005 when an IED tore through his arm. After several surgeries, his wounds never completely healed.
When a friend encouraged Folkerts to try the fly fishing program, he hesitated due to his physical limitations.
With the help of the organization, Folkerts created a special fly rod so he could cast the line one-handed. Folkerts told the media outlet he caught his first trout at a hatchery on Long Island. After he pulled the trout out of the water, he said, “something just clicked inside me.” Now the former captain attends every event he can. In 2007, Folkerts even volunteered to help other wounded veterans on a five-day float trip in Montana.
Another war veteran shared a similar experience. Doctors diagnosed retired Marine Capt. Kimberly Smith with six concussions due to her military service, most of which she received while on duty in Afghanistan with her infantry battalion. When she returned home, the VA hospital only offered painting therapy as a way to alleviate her symptoms. Her family suggested Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing after researching different ways to recover from PTSD. Smith gave it a try. After her first fly-tying class, Smith told Fox News:
“It was just amazing. It felt like home.”
The former Marine called her family and said she was smiling and happy, and she wishes she could attend class every night. Fly fishing helps Smith gain strength for the rest of the week, and it helped her to realize she could overcome anything.
The success of fly-fishing classes comes in many facets. Members of the military often feel as if they have a family they can relate to thanks to similar experiences on the battlefield and in the military. The camaraderie helps just as much as the hands-on activity. Veterans can share stories with people who understand their situation, while physical activities give the nervous system something to focus on other than a traumatic injury.
Dedicated volunteers get a lot out of the program, too. George Batcha, an angler with Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, calls teaching veterans how to fly fish a privilege that enriches his life, notes the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. A program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee happens every Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. Civilians can come to learn and hang out with the veterans to give them a sense of belonging. After a class learns to tie their own lures, fly fishing trips put those tying lessons to good use. Some trips go to local rivers, while others span the nation.
The highlight of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing occurs every spring with the 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia. The tournament has a family reunion atmosphere with plenty of food, festivities, and fun. Keynote speakers and a silent auction fill out the weekend while professional anglers fish alongside military veterans during the tournament on Sunday. The tournament started in 2007, only two years after the group began. The entire tournament, much like local and national programs, depends completely on the giving spirit of volunteers.