Tag Archives: Project Healing Waters

THE COURAGE OF HOPE

 


Camaraderie, balance, and hope.
I have two handwritten quotes on two small pieces of yellow legal paper taped to the wall next to my desk. Each given to me by friends at points in my life when I really needed them. The friends and the quotes.

The first is by John Buchan, a Scottish author:
“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive, but attainable. A perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

And the second, by John Wayne:
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

As a freelance writer, fly fisherman, father, and veteran, both quotes have offered some much needed perspective at various times since they were gifted to me. Especially when it comes to my time spent outdoors and it’s value in my life. While it’s true for me of pretty much any wild place, I’ve come to see that rivers have a special way about them. They take what we give them and return our selves to us. They press and push and keep us off balance until we learn how to stand in seemingly equal measure.

The river is spiritual. Healing. Holistic, and wholly powerful. But what we give the river is only what we’re willing to let go of. And sometimes the river is not enough to loosen the grip we keep on that weight. Or loosen the weight’s grip on us. Rivers can never be too full of our sins and pain. Our fears. Doubt, guilt, anger, sadness. But sometimes simply finding our balance, whether figurative or literal, takes more than finding our small station in the constant rush to larger and larger water.

Through it all we need to lean on the ebb and flow of hope. If we didn’t have hope, there would be no reason to try, for anything, in the first place. And that, for me, is the draw of fly fishing, and the reason Project Healing Waters exists and serves our veterans. The hope of reaching out and having our efforts connect with another living thing—be it fish, or human being—and the healing that happens as a result.

There is an inherent danger in hope, however. Hope disappoints. Hope ends up far below expectation more often than not, if at all. It sets you up for failure. But our combat veterans are cut from different cloth than most. Even in the darkest hours, they manage to find the slightest, dusty ray of light. They hold on in spite of disappointment because that’s what keeps them in forward motion. Without hope, without some thread of belief, they would lose their edge, their passion, their empathy. Their fight would leave them and fear would take its place. It takes courage to be hopeful.

Our veterans live with the hope of finding some normalcy again. Hope of finding a respite from their pain—be it physical or mental. They hope to return home in every sense of the word. Imagine feeling as though you’re caught between two realities that are as different as oil and water. Imagine living with a constant reminder of the worst in this world, even in the best, most beautiful situations, and not knowing how to let go of that weight.

To see our combat veterans at the vise in the evening, intent on tying a fly that could catch them their first steelhead or brown or salmon at first light. To see them opening up, letting their guard down, and talking and laughing with mentors, guides, and volunteers—many of whom are veterans themselves. To see them wade with growing confidence into the river with those mentors and guides, the morning coming to life right in front of their eyes, the river alive with the possibility of huge fish willing to eat. To see them find their balance, holding onto the hope that any and every cast could be the one that will connect. Their mentor or guide standing close with the same hope. This is why we serve those who have served so selflessly for us.

Ultimately, one hope brings the other to fruition. The hope that comes with their focus on something as small and deliberate as a tying a fly. The hope that comes with finding their own strength in the power of the river, and finally reaching out, connecting, and holding their glorious, finned hallelujah with both hands. Each of these answer our veterans’ larger hope for normalcy and returning home. The camaraderie and glorious unquiet-quiet and life of the river loosens their grip on the weight they’re carrying, and loosens the grip of combat and all the shit that it has imposed on them. Ultimately, it’s a gift of presence, and greater courage. On the water and in life. Elusive, yes. But attainable. And absolutely worth saddling up for.

(fp note: this post was written to commemorate the Project Healing Waters event held on the Salmon River (NY) earlier this past November, hosted by the Ft. Drum and Syracuse Chapters of Project Healing Waters. I am honored to have again been a part of this event, and the fantastic work that PHWFF does for our veterans. Thank you to Dan Morgan, Ira Strouse, Fran Verdoliva from the NYSDEC, and all the guides and volunteers who made the weekend a success.)

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FLY RODS FOR A GREAT CAUSE

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.

http://www.flickr.com/slideShow/index.gne?group_id=&user_id=68121956@N06&set_id=72157628075274619&tags=ProjectHealingWatersFlyFishing,T.L.Johnsoncustomflyrods
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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…

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