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Project Healing Waters Holds 2-Fly Contest For Veterans

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About Project Healing Waters

Several months ago I heard about an organization called Project Healing Waters.  As I was scanning a well-known news site on the internet, a photo banner with that name caught my eye. The name to be sure, evoked the symbolic imagery of the physical and spiritual properties of the river, but it was the pictures in the banner that really captured my attention. There, in front of me was a photo of a young man with a prosthetic arm, fly fishing on a little stream – another man by his side, instructing and mentoring him with his presentation. I think I was drawn to it first because it was about fly fishing, but when I saw that young man, obviously wounded, but still with the strength and courage to cast that rod with only one good arm, I had to look further.

So, I clicked on that banner, thinking it would bring me to an advertisement for a worthy organization teaching the disabled to fly fish. I was surprised though, when it opened to a video presentation, set with emotional music in the background, of that man and several others – wounded warriors recently returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The video showed them with mentors from an organization called Project Healing Waters teaching them to fly fish for trout. Because I am a retired Army veteran myself, I was immediately touched and at the same time excited that perhaps this was something I could help with in some way.  I felt at that moment that it was something that I had to do, so I dug a little deeper.

Project Healing Waters describes itself as an organization“… dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings”.   It began modestly, helping wounded Veterans in the Washington, D.C. area, but rapidly expanded across the country, I think because it filled a void with fly fisherman who are altruistic by nature, but largely without a cause as worthy as this. Project Healing Waters now has chapters representing every part of the country and even one in Canada.  I was consumed by thoughts for the next few days about whether I could help in any way? I talked with my wife and friends about it and they encouraged me to see if there was anything I could do.

Chuck Tye briefing at the Northwest Chapter Two-Fly ContestSo my plan was to get in touch with the person listed on the website as the regional contact for the Northwest, Mr. Chuck Tye. I wanted to find out if he needed a local area coordinator. My thinking, at the time, was that maybe I could get something organized for my area – solicit donations and volunteers, that sort of thing. After all, I thought, I’m a Veteran myself.  I work in an Army hospital, I love fly fishing, and I want to help.  Well, little did I know.  Chuck Tye, as it turns out, was the regional and the local coordinator and had been doing it for quite some time.  Chuck wrote back to me and informed me of that fact, told me a little about the local history, and discussed with me ways  that I could help.  As it turns out, my ability to do the job it takes as a coordinator would have been woeful compared to Chuck’s. A former Marine officer, he is a dynamic and energetic leader and organizer, just the man for the job - a large one, as it turns out.  I know now that  I could never do what he does and so I will be happy if I can help in other small ways. But having said that, I am sure Chuck would tell me that this article should not be about him, nor should it be about me. My intention is to tell you about one of the local events Chuck organized for Project Healing Waters.

The Northwest Chapter works with wounded and disabled active duty soldiers and veterans from the VA and Joint Base Lewis and McChord. I first met Chuck Tye in person at one of the weekly fly-tying sessions he organized for the soldiers at the Ft. Lewis WTU. I remember the thrill I had of seeing those young men so involved and  focused on the tying and could see how just doing that by itself would be therapeutic. Chuck and a couple volunteers were helping, but those young men were pretty good at what they were doing without the help. I should also mention that there are a slew of individuals and organizations that donate equipment and resources and volunteer their time to this worthy cause. In the Olympia area, Olympia Chapter of TU, in Seattle, the Washington Fly Fishing Club, and the Puget Sound Fly Fishers for Joint Base Lewis McChord are all big supporters. But this brings me to the story I wanted to write in the first place.

Northwest Chapter Project Healing Waters 2 Fly Contest

The 2-Fly Event Banner
Project Healing Waters Welcome Banner

It was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation to attend the 1st Annual Project Healing Waters 2 Fly Contest held on Central Washington's beautiful Yakima River. My mission was simply to act as photographer, with the intent of putting together a slideshow similar to the one shown at the end of this article. The staging area for the event was at the Ellensburg, WA KOA in the group camping area. All I had to bring was a tent and a camera. Everything else was paid for by Project Healing Waters donations. The 2 Fly Contest was supported by 13 volunteer fishing partners, 13 rower/judges, 10 Project Healing Waters volunteers, and 3 local fly fishing shops - all to take 13 veterans fly-fishing for trout.

The idea was that there would be 13 teams consisting of 1 fishing partner, 1 rower/judge, and 1A box of donated flies Veteran . Each team was allowed to choose four flies and would be limited to just two patterns, then set loose on the river in their drift boats to fish for 5 hours. Winners would be selected for the largest fish and the  most fish caught for the Choosing the flies for the day.day.  The flies were all donated and were made available for the teams to select. It was pretty inspiring to see the experienced team fishing partners collaborating with the Veterans as they selected the flies for the next day. Somehow I believe it was therapeutic for both. There is a cathartic quality in the teaching as well as the learning, especially when it comes to anything to do with fly fishing. I truly saw in those volunteers, men who were inspired and honored to do what they were doing. It may sound cliché to say, but I think it was there way of giving back in the only way they knew to the young men have have sacrificed so much for all of us. Fly fishing is something they love and always have a desire to share with others, but especially with the young Veterans sponsored by Project Healing Waters.

 Arrival Day

Teams Register
Registration For the Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Contest
Registrations into the Night
Went into the Night

The day and evening before the start of the event was filled with sometimes quiet, sometimes hectic activity as teams arrived, registered, and set-up their camps. Many came early and some came late. Some of those that came are well-known in Northwest fly fishing circles and it was encouraging to see their support for Project Healing Waters.

Teaching Fly CastingTeaching Fly CastingThe Veterans who were the recipients of the event arrived and were introduced to the participants that did not already know them.  Others were paired up with mentors who took the time to discuss strategy, talk about fishing, or give some extra fly casting instruction. These mentors were not just there for the contest. They were there because they had something that was more than just a self-serving skill.   Project Healing Waters gives these fly fishermen an opportunity that they might never have realized had the organization never been founded.

Some were not there to do the fishing, though they too were fishermen. Slicing the Prime RibThey offered services with secondary skills that were a great benefit to the event in other ways. Without them the it would not have been successful. Joan,  Lonnie, Bob, Connie, and Jesse were amazing assets as I know Chuck would agree. Jerry Daschofsky had his incredible camp kitchen set-up and cooked some meals on his assemblage of Dutch Ovens and Camp Chef stoves that were out of this world. It was on my part, something that was totally unexpected and a really nice surprise. Who would have thought that there would be such hearty (and tasty!) meals at a camp-out. On the day of the event for example, we woke to a meal of poached eggs over hash cooked in the Dutch Ovens. The evening after the event had concluded, Jerry served a delicious meal fit for royalty -  prime rib, salmon, salad, 3-bean camp beans, and Dutch Oven apple cobbler. Wow!

Jerry in his Camp Kitchen
Jerry in his Camp Kitchen

And so that evening, after the first meal and when everything settled down, all relaxed around the campfire, told stories, and settled in for the night, anxious to get out on the water and start fishing.

The Day of the Event

Making a few casts.The morning of the event, everyone awakened to Jerry's breakfast and discussed strategy with their Veteran partners while devouring the meal.  Some teams had yet to arrive and register so the start time was not scheduled until 11 AM. You could feel the excitement though, and some could not restrain themselves from getting into their waders right away Planning the Dayand making a few casts. I left early to start getting photos on the river and did not see all the teams take off. I hear though that it was quite a scene. As Chuck described it, "with thirteen trucks and boat trailers departing it looked like a modern day land rush." The plan was to stagger them over three different launches - Ringer’s to mile maker 20, mile marker 20 to Red’s, and Red’s to the slab.  My plan was to get some photos at Ringer's, then move up and down the river for more.  I left early and regret that I missed the take-off but  I was satisfied that at least I was able to get some of the great "fixxins" prepared by Jerry.

One  of the Teams SurroundedI caught the first launch at Ringer's and was able to snap a couple photos there, but was distracted by the large number of people launching every size and shape of tube and raft that you can imagine. I never realized how popular river tubing is on the Yakima, but I suppose that is because the river is as nice a float for them as it is for the fly-fisherman. I have heard that this annual summer deluge is affectionately known by fly-fisherman as the "tube hatch". Whatever it is called, it was was almost hilarious to see the drift boat teams surrounded by all those tubers before they could make it to less crowded waters. ...hardly worth it at that point to put a fly in the water!

Playing a FishThe rest of my day was spent driving up and down the river to snap photos. The Yakima is a big river and a little high for the time of year. Plenty of fish were caught  though, even with high water conditions. I would like to say that I got lots of action photos of fish being caught, but I just didn't get to the right place at the right time.  I did manage to catch a shot from across the river of one "big" fish on a line. I can't name the fisherman and the fish got away, so I'm thinking he might not want me to mention his name anyway. All in all, it was a great day of fishing and I saw lots of contented Veterans on those healing waters.  I wish I could show all the photos here, but  they would take up too much space. Look in the near future for a slideshow similar to the one at the bottom of this article.

Back at the Camp

Event AwardsAt the end of the day and after everyone returned to the camp, they enjoyed the great meal prepared by Jerry and told their stories of success and defeat. Then Chuck gathered everyone to announce the winners. Carol, fishing with her veteran husband Les, caught the biggest rainbow at 17 ½ inches. Jesse, from the Ft Lewis WTU, Jason, a Ft Around the CampfireLewis volunteer, and Ed, the rower/judge, caught the most fish with 6 trout.  Donated prizes were awarded, a raffle was held for additional prizes, laughter was shared, and all was well.    That night, those that remained sat around the campfire and  told "lies: and colorful stories. I think that I have seen a lot in my time and I have heard some great storytellers, but those guys beat them all. It was the most entertaining part of the day and a fitting end to a great event.

The Whole Gang
The Whole Gang

Yes, the 1st Annual Project Healing Waters 2 Fly Contest was a great  and a memorable event - but most importantly, the Northwest Chapter of Project Healing Waters working in community with the fly fishers of the Northwest helped 13 young Veterans, wounded in service to their country take another leap forward in their struggle to return to a normal life.

*Note: I think I would be remiss if I did  not say thank you for Chuck to the following for their support for the Project Healing Waters 2 Fly Contest:

Red’s Fly Shop, the Trout Waters Fly Shop, the Whooly Bugger Fly Shop, and the Ellensburg KOA. Without their support this great event would not have been possible.

Please take the time to look at the video below to see more about what Project Healing Waters is about.


Project Healing Waters Video - The River Just Knows

Salmonfly.Net Proudly Supports
Project Healing Waters

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