Tuesday, June 4, 2013


    Wounded veterans, fly fishing guides, and observers from across the country gathered on the banks of the Rose River last weekend, Sunday, April 28th, to participate in ProjectHealing Waters’ 7th annual 2-fly tournament, the organization’s flagship fundraising event.  This year proved most successful, with over $200,000 raised.

    Project Healing Waters (PHW) is a non-profit organization providing physical and spiritual rejuvenation to veterans wounded in battle through fly fishing, fly tying, casting, and rod building.  Established in 2005 at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. servicing wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, PHW has grown to include 150 programs in 46 states, Canada, and Australia.

    The 2-fly, a national-level event, kicked off on Rose River Farm in Syria, Virginia on Saturday, with bass and bluegill tournaments in the farm ponds.  A pre-tournament banquet gathered participants, friends, and sponsors for dinner on the banks of the river, complete with silent auction, live music, and inspired speaking from MC, Tara Wheeler; PHW President, Ed Nicholson; former US Navy Commander, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson; and program alumni.

SGT (retired) Michael Davis, US Army, guides a hefty trout
to pro guide Gavin Robinson's awaiting net.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The following morning, the banks buzzed again with anticipation and friendly competition.  Guides and volunteers met veterans, were assigned fishing locations, and the “pro-vet” teams got into position for the morning’s fishing.  All rods, reels, tackle, and gear were provided at no cost to the veterans.

    Following the morning’s fishing, participants returned for a tented buffet lunch, during which, PHW founder Ed Nicholson presented fly fishing legend, PHW supporter, and WWII veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, Lefty Kreh, with an award from PHW, thanking him for his service as a soldier, PHW contributor, and as an outspoken recruiter for the sport of fly fishing.

    After lunch, clouds rolled in as “pro-vet” teams dispersed to fish the afternoon.  Rain was hardly a deterrent.

    Throughout the day, special guests Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski gave casting, knot tying, and fly tying clinics to participants, despite the weather.

    At the conclusion of the afternoon fishing session, anglers and guides returned to the tent, anxiously calculating final scores.

    Douglas Dear, Rose River Farm owner and PHW Chairman of the Board, announced the winners, and presented awards to first, second, and third place teams, as well as anglers with the biggest and smallest fish.

    SPC Andrew Pike and SGT Michael Davis of Idaho, guided by Rose River guide Brian Wilson and Pennsylvania guide Gavin Robinson took first place.  Pike also earned big fish for a 19-inch rainbow trout!  Smiles were in no shortage at the awards ceremony.
LCpl Ryan Wightman and pro guide Harold Harsh pose
with the 2nd place trophy.  Photo by Matt Reilly.

    Many participants were alumni of the 2-fly.  However, many had never participated—or even fly fished.  First place finishers Pike and Davis had never previously cast a fly rod, yet landed the most and biggest fish throughout the course of the event, with help from professional guides.

    Program alumni speakers at Saturday’s dinner highlighted the appeal that draws both anglers and non-anglers to the program.

    US Army (retired) Captain, Eivind Forseth grew up fishing with his father.  Upon returning from deployment, he remembers being on edge, his instincts sharpened.  “People always said, ‘you just need to turn it off.’  But we can’t turn it off right away.  I was angry.”

    His commander urged him to go fishing with Captain (Ed) Nicholson, for peace; but Eivind was adamant not to go.  “I didn’t want to fail at fishing.  And I knew I would.  It was the only thing I had left.”  But when his superior commanded him to fish with Nicholson, he submitted.  From his first outing post-war, Eivind recalls, “the first trout to hit my fly was the hardest thing to hit me since I was blown up.  It hit my soul; and I knew in that moment:  I’m gonna be ok.”

    US Army Captain, Andy Roberts told a slightly different story, and struck listeners with details from his first year back from war.

    “My first year back was the worst year,” he remembers.  He explained how, coming back from war, the primal fight or flight instinct is at its most primal.  “I remember jumping at the sound of my wife popping bubble wrap…it was the only time she said she has ever been afraid of me, truly.”

    But above all, Roberts remembers suffering from a “lost sense of mission and purpose,” which abounds in the Army.   “Project Healing Waters gave me a mission, a passion,” Roberts concluded reverently, “fly fishing has helped me unlock my core self, and find myself again.”

    If Project Healing Waters achieved their goal on Sunday, a few dozen veterans left Rose River Farm with stories similar to Eivind’s and Andy’s, inspired and reassured by healing waters.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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