As seen in the The Mountain Mail, August 29, 2016, edition
by Bill Perrill
Special to The Mail
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting disabled veterans in their rehabilitation.
“The sport of fly fishing holds many therapeutic benefits that encompass the physical, mental and emotional,” said Daniel Morgan, communication director for PHWFF.
The beauty and peace of nature, the physical challenges of fly fishing and the fellowship of the PHWFF programs all contribute to positive and healing experiences for veterans. The Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited is privileged to partner in this effort.
PHWFF began in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and has expanded to over 200 programs in 50 states and Germany. There are also affiliate programs in Canada and Australia. In 2014 alone, more than 6,300 veterans participated in PHWFF programs, assisted by more than 2,800 volunteers.
PHWFF programs offer a variety of opportunities to veterans. Activities may include basic fly-fishing instruction, fly-tying classes, fly-casting workshops, rodbuilding and fly-fishing outings. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided to the participants at no cost.
Fishing trips, both 1-day and multi-day, are provided free of charge to participants.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is funded through donations and grants, and 79 percent of the funds collected go directly to the veterans for equipment, trips, meals and support.
Project Healing Waters relies on Trout Unlimited, the International Federation of Fly Fishers and independent fly-fishing clubs to conduct programs, using volunteers who are experienced fly fishers.
In Colorado, four veterans’ health care facilities sponsor Project Healing Waters programs and activities, and three of those are partnered with Trout Unlimited chapters. The local Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited provides guide and support services for any PHWFF program that comes to our area to fish the Arkansas River or area lakes.
Volunteers’ experiences with PHWFF programs are often extremely rewarding. Last year, I volunteered as a guide for a group of vets from Colorado Springs who fished the Arkansas River near Stone Bridge.
One veteran needed help tying on his flies, but once he was set, he had a great time on the river. He told me that Project Healing Waters has helped him with his recovery and rehabilitation. The camaraderie of the group activities was especially meaningful to him.
Recently, volunteer flyfishing guides from the Collegiate Peaks Chapter and three other Trout Unlimited chapters helped 13 veterans fish Crystal Lake. The Cutthroat Chapter from Denver was the host and provided the transportation, meals and fishing equipment and flies.
On this outing, I fished with Bruce, a Navy veteran with some significant health issues and physical challenges. Bruce had never fly fished before becoming involved with PHWFF and was surprised that he was actually able to catch fish.
He said, “When I am fishing, it’s just me and the water.” He feels the program has made a positive difference in his life, providing hope, peace of mind and friendship. He also appreciates what he has seen the program provide for other vets.
Bruce says, “It is nothing short of miraculous the healing growth and peace of mind this worthy project brings. Without the help of the volunteers, some of the activities would overwhelm me with the disabilities I have. These trips mean the world to me.”
For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter and our events, visit our website, collegiatepeaksTU.org.
Bill Perrill is membership chair and a current board director of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited.