Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
A fly fishing story – not about the one that got away - but about the therapy that the river, fly-fishing and camaraderie offer…
Source: Michelle McConnaha / ravallirepublic.com
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., similar to the Wounded Warriors program, pairs fisherman (often veterans themselves) with disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans. They spend time together fishing and the results are physical and emotional rehabilitation.
Paul and Gayle Roege hosted eight veterans in their Corvallis home in early August and coordinated with local fishermen for the veterans to relax and learn a new skill.
“PHWFF recruits veterans through VA hospitals and recovery centers who have disabilities that could benefit from the calming, restorative, therapeutic exercise of going fishing,” said Gayle Roege.
Originally, the Roeges heard about the program from a West Point classmate of Paul’s. The concept sounded interesting so they contacted the project and then the Fly Fishermen of the Bitterroot.
“In June I went to their general meeting and I asked if anyone would be interested in being mentors – just to donate some time, a boat and some rods,” said Gayle. “It was just putting details together, contacting the leaders and really, it was a first experience for all of us. It was easy and so worth it.”
The event occurred the second weekend in August. Friday and Sunday, were travel days and Saturday was spent on the river.
“Some of the local fishermen were gracious about donating their time and taking these guys fishing,” said Roege. “The camaraderie and the relaxed time were so enjoyable. They said ‘we haven’t had this much calm in a long time’. It was a beautiful event, I want to keep it up and I want to do it again.”
“Some of these people are dealing with issues from the Vietnam War – that’s 50 years. A veteran who also served in the war said ‘I’ve been recovered for 49 years and to think that these guys are dealing with what I recovered from way long ago’.
“One of the fishermen told a vet ‘you’re a success story because you’re here’. Because sometimes they come home and they have depression and have other stuff and decide it’s easier to get out than to continue.”
Café Firenze of Florence donated lunches to take out on the water.
Dennis Westberg of the Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot Club helped coordinate the mentors and supplies needed for the veterans.
Local Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot Club members who donated their time to take the veterans out on the river are: Chad Williams, Phil Romans, Cliff Gibbons and Dan Kimzey.
Local guide, Chad Williams said he saw the value of the event.
“I felt honored to take these Veterans on a float trip,” said Williams. “It was obvious to me that after many years these courageous men still struggle with the memories of combat. Driving to the river I listened to their stories and observed their pain.
Once on the water I saw their demeanor soften and observed the peaceful and calming affect of the river on these warriors. I enjoyed teaching them to cast a fly to rising trout and sharing with them the wild places of Montana.
Friendships were made and I acquired a deeper respect and understanding of the sacrifices our soldiers make and continue to make so that the rest of us can enjoy the quality of life that we have. I will continue to volunteer my time to these heroes and share the beauty of our rivers and the healing that our waters give to these brave and selfless men and women of our armed forces.”
Fly-fishing mentor Dan Kimzey agreed.
“As a veteran myself, I was super excited when local guide and teacher Chad Williams asked if I’d be interested in being a fly-fishing mentor for the Project Healing Waters trip,” said Kimzey. “Each of the eight veterans was enthusiastic about the opportunity to float the Bitterroot and enjoy the beauty of this area. While the fishing was definitely difficult (I’m blaming the super moon that weekend), Marty and Charlie, the two veterans in my boat, fished their hearts out and managed to turn some fish. For many years, I’ve believed in the therapeutic value of cool Montana river currents pulling the stress of life right out of my skin. Project Healing Waters is aptly named and the guys enjoyed a beautiful day on the West Fork.”
Veterans who participated were from Great Falls: Paul Quinn – Air Force and Navy; Charlie Davis – Marines, Navy, Army National Guard; Abe Salcido – Army; Marty Erdman – Army; Bernie Dickman – Marine Corps and from Bozeman: Chadd Depner and Kris Meredith.
Terry Jenner, Program Lead for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., Great Falls Program, said the veterans reported back that they appreciated the kindness and willingness of the Roeges and fly-fishing mentors and that it was a wonderful, healing event.
“Each and every one enjoyed some time away from their homes, their lives, their very thoughts,” said Jenner. “You have done well to further our aim, which is to serve and give thanks to those who gave so much.”
Paul Quinn was in Vietnam for three and a half years and still suffers from PTSD. He said he appreciated the adventure.
“What’s interesting about fishing – it gets you in the outdoors where you are away from everything, you can experience total serenity and you’re able to think,” said Quinn. “With fly-fishing you have to focus on that and it takes your mind away from everything else.
“It teaches you a new skill and it is a blast. It brings a lot of joy to you. It takes your mind off of everything. You don’t feel depressed all the time.”
“The fishing trip was a whole lot of fun. I stopped fishing mid-day for about an hour and just sat back and relaxed and looked at the mountains and enjoyed it.
“The best part was the fact that the vets got together and they were able to talk among themselves about things that happened - mostly they didn’t want to talk about the past but enjoy the day - they laughed and had a good time. It was a really good experience for them.”
Gayle Roege said the fishing event was wonderful and recommends it highly.
“The whole combination of the calming, the exploratory activities (some had never fished before – so it was new) and vet on vet – the fishermen having been vets – and had experienced what they had experienced,” said Roege. “It allowed them to speak the same language and even without words understand one another. I think that was one of the main benefits.
“It was great to have those people there – in two days I made new friends that I never knew before, so that was a positive for me. It was a very nice experience to see them all have such a great time. There was no complaining – they are military men who have gone through a lot.
“It was a neat thing and it’s so emotional and I feel I’ve just got to do it again.
This is such a great program; I hope others will consider hosting an event. We loved it.”
All Funding for The Healing Waters Programs is through donations. Learn more online at www.projecthealingwaters.org
At the same time the above story went to press we were separately contacted by Julia Mitchell who told us:
"My family and I are passionate about fly fishing and have been hosting Project Healing Waters trips at our home in West Virginia for the past year and a half, free of charge. This is an amazing organization dedicated to therapeutic rehab for veterans through flyfishing, and I am trying to raise money for the organization . Could you share my campaign on your website with other people passionate about fly fishing? I would really appreciate it!"
Julia, we are happy to!
Click HERE for details of Julia's fundraising.