By Gene Milus, August 2023

In partnership with the Colorado Springs Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), eight veterans with a service-connected disability (participants) enjoyed a perfect day of fly fishing and camaraderie on The Numbers white water section above Buena Vista. Chapter member and fishing guide, Don Harville, provided private access to the river, on-river encouragement to every veteran, and a beautiful, shaded lunch spot. This section has great pocket water along the east shore that is avoided by rafters and most kayakers. Fish were easily spooked. Participants liked wet-wading and needed to move to around to have a chance of catching a fish. Right-handed casters used a lot of cross-body casts to keep flies out of trees and bushes.

Participants in the PHWFF program range from experienced fly fishers to novices who never caught a fish. PHWFF provides instruction on all aspects of fly fishing, loaner gear if needed, and transportation to fishing outings. Those who stick with the program get their own 5-weight rod, reel and line. Our chapter gave each participant a box of 2 dozen flies in addition to providing the venue, mentors and lunch.
Because of the uneven terrain and tricky footing, we asked for eight participants who were not mobility impaired. We got seven of these and one who was mobility impaired but determined to go. To accommodate Alain, the mobility-impaired veteran, we decided to give him two mentors. When the veterans arrived, we discovered that participant Ken was a former fishing guide on the South Platte and a current mentor with PHWFF. Ken and Gene Milus got Alain rigged up and to the river. After a few minutes we decided Alain was getting around well enough that Gene could mentor him, and this allowed Ken to fish on his own. When it was time to move to a new fishing spot, Gene would take his rod and hand him his wading staff. He was slow but sure the entire day. At times he had to use his arms to lift his weak leg on or over a rock. For bigger rocks he pulled himself up using his arms. Once in a stable casting position, he was 100% focused on catching a fish. He was receptive to advice, and his presentations got better. He and his wife, Kim, had a fabulous day. Check out the photos!

The outing resulted from a group effort. Tom Arnot, Rick Helmick, Bryan Ward, Dan Liwicki, Chris Lamson, Cody Caudill and Gene Milus were mentors. Don Harville was the head mentor who helped all the veterans. Rae Pedersen and Patricia Helmick were the Lunch Ladies. Tom Arnot and Rick Helmick did most of the heavy lifting to support the Lunch Ladies. Don and his neighbors allowed us to access the river through their property. Dave Belmont procured and organized the flies for each vet. Dozens of volunteers with PHWFF did their parts.

The venue was wonderful. Participants were very appreciative for everything. Mentors felt good about helping their participant be a better fly fisher. Lunch Ladies were so organized that they got to enjoy the day. All considered, this may have been the best veteran fishing outing so far.