I wanted so badly to land a great-big beautiful lake-run steelhead, brown or salmon on the rod. It was Day 2 of our weekend on the Salmon River with the veterans from the Ft. Drum Chapter of Project Healing Waters. Rob Burke, the head of the Chapter had fished most of the day before with the rod – but with no luck. So now, after a morning of countless roll-casts, drifts, swings, fly changes, weight changes, heavy hits and no fish to-hand, the clock was winding down on my last 15-minutes or so on the water.
Then the hammer fell. I thought I had tied into the entire Salmon River itself. Ho-lee crap.
Larry Snyder is a Vietnam veteran (’67) and a long-standing member of the Denver Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. But, like anyone who volunteers for a cause they’re passionate about, the tough realization that there is only so much time and money he could afford to give just didn’t sit right.
So, with the help of his friend – fellow Army veteran and custom rod builder Terry Johnson – they came up with an idea to build 100% American-made, custom fly rods specifically for Project Healing Waters. The rods would be a matte finish with wraps that signified the distinct colors of each branch of service: black/gold for Army, red/gold for Marines, navy blue/white for Navy, blue/silver for Air Force and blue/red for Coast Guard.
The national PHWFF organization gave Larry permission to offer these exclusive rods on his site – Flyfishing Crazy – and both of the men make a generous donation of 20% plus $20 to the organization with the sale of each rod.
Knowing that I’m prior service (Army) and now involved with the Canandaigua Chapter of PHW, Kyle Perkins, of Compleat Thought fame, had connected the dots between Larry and I. Kyle had just tried out Larry’s 4wt. Army rod on Boulder Creek outside of Denver and was duly impressed. I mentioned the Salmon River trip and Larry generously offered to have a prototype rod sent to me to try out– a 9′ 6wt. 4-piece (691-4) all-purpose, wrapped in BDU colors (Olive w/NCP Olive accent) with a black anodized reel seat, fighting butt and full wells grip. I was impressed by it’s look right out of the rod tube. Big fan of the matte finish.
For the Salmon River event, I paired it with my Ross Evolution #2, SA Mastery Textured Series Magnum Taper line and Airflo 5′ Fast Sinking PolyLeader. I was originally going to fish the new Razorstrike line from Flytooth that I’ve been casting all summer, until I realized at the river that it’s a 5wt. line and just not heavy enough to cheat it on the medium-fast rod.
With my opportunity to fish the rod coming on Day 2, and fresh off a successful Day 1, I was pretty confident that I was going to be reporting Mission Accomplished by morning’s end. Well, I cast black/pink egg-sucking leeches, cone-head streamers in orange/yellow and blue/black, cheese and orange yarn eggs, and goo bugs in powder blue, orange and pink. Essentially, I exhausted the bullpen.
That said, even with the occasional additional weight of split-shot, the rod had the backbone for a solid 30 – 40 foot two-handed roll cast and mend. Plus, when there was room and I could work out a nice lingering, poetic, weight-laden backcast, I did. The rod felt 8wt-esque, with just a bit more attention to my hauls and a bit slower casting stroke. I’d be interested in trying it out with some big hair poppers for bass. Very, very nice.
Another thing that’s very nice is the price-point. These American-made, T.L. Johnson custom built fly rods are only $335 – and $87 of that goes to support Project Healing Waters. Think about it the next time you’re in the local fly shop looking at an $800 rod made overseas.
A great fly rod at a great price for a great cause. Our combat veterans need your support. Check out the full line of PHW rods at Flyfishing Crazy.
As for the fish I hooked up with at the beginning of the post. He was a big steelhead. 18lbs if he wasn’t half that. After three jumps and a 10 minute stand-off, the rod held it’s ground like a champ, but the fish came unbuttoned. There’s always next year…