Fly Fishing: Guides with time and talent helping others

Don Oliver | Special to the Drum

When people think of a fly-fishing guide the thought is of someone working with a client for pay. And, 99.9% of the time that is true. However, there are times when fly fishing guides volunteer their time and talent to be a river helper for someone in need of something else. Two organizations that use fly fishing guides for something else are Casting for Recovery (CfR), and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. (PHWFF). It was my pleasure to use my time, and whatever talent I have as a fly fishing guide, to work with both of these organizations this year.

            Neither group is in the business of raising money for research. CfR and PHWFF are into treating the spirit, mind, and body through fly-fishing. It’s a great concept yielding wonderful results.

            CfR was founded in 1966 in Manchester,VT. Its founders were Gwenn Perkins Bogart and Dr. Benita Walton. At the time of its inception Mrs. Bogart was a fly-fishing instructor for the Orvis Company, and Dr. Walton was a breast reconstruction surgeon. It is easy to see how that friendship resulted in a non-medical way to help breast cancer survivors.

            Dr. Walton felt that the movement pattern of fly-casting could help heal the muscle and tissue damage done by surgery and radiation. Mrs. Bogart provided the expertise in teaching those movement patterns. Along the way they also found that learning how to fly fish proved helpful in healing the spirit and mind.

            Ed Nicholson first created PHWFF in 2005; while a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  After Mr. Nicholson retired from the navy he put his thoughts into action and began helping the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan heal in spirit and mind through fly-fishing. The program has since expanded to include any veteran with 156 programs at military and veterans hospitals. To help the veterans recover, the program uses not only fly-fishing outings, but also teaches classes in fly tying, rod building, and fly-casting. For the Durango outings Robin Marsett leads the program.

            So, where do the guides with talent and time on their hands fit in? For CfR and PHWFF to effectively help their clients a one-on-one teaching and helping partnership was developed. To be able to afford that many professionals; a volunteer program was designed. The program reached out to as many guides and other qualified helpers as they could, and a can’t refuse job description was created. The job description said, “If you want to do something that will make you feel really good about yourself, for weeks, then call us.” I admit I couldn’t find those exact words anywhere in the files of CfR or PHWW, but that’s what it boiled down to.

            The guides and helpers are the most professional and caring people you can ever be around. Truly, who couldn’t get high by helping a 92-year-old breast cancer survivor or a Vietnam veteran still having difficulties adjusting to his war experiences? How about a 24-year- old Iraq veteran telling you how he hasn’t been this at peace for over two years? Or the cancer survivor, they never refer to themselves as victims, telling you that if she can fly fish she has hopes of winning the battle.

            I know, and have been associated with, many men and women who get high on those very experiences. I have to say to CfR and PHWW thank you for giving me the chance to actually help somebody in need of my time and talent. Please keep dialing my phone; I’m still not real good with emails.

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