By King Montgomery
The Eastern Blue Ridge Fly Fishers (EBRFF) is a Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) affiliate fishing and conservation organization in north-central Virginia. In late May, EBRFF held a Project Healing Waters (PHW) fundraising 2-Fly Tournament for wounded soldiers from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars at the Rose River Farm near Syria, Va.
Fifteen veterans who are current or former patients of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda participated, including a female non-commissioned officer injured in Afghanistan. Many of the vets lost one or more limbs or otherwise were badly injured in combat and supporting roles.
Staff sergeant Joshua Williams (left), US Army-retired, wounded in Iraq, with Leigh Oliva of the Orvis Company before hitting the water for the Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament. (Courtesy of King Montgomery)
PHW is a volunteer, non-profit group started by retired military personnel in the Washington Capital Area of the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland and the National Capital Chapter of Trout Unlimited. It teaches disabled vets to tie flies, cast and fly fish. Angling clubs and other concerned groups sponsor various events during the year.
PHW provides a needed diversion from the rigors of rehabilitation, both physical and mental, and lends a forum for vets to relate to one another and to concerned members of the community.
The vets were guided on the Rose by professional fly anglers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and a team from Michigan. Some well-known guides took part, including Charlie Meck, Eric Stoup, Phil and John Gay, Harold Harsh, William Heresniak, Kiki Galvin, Rhea Topping and many more. Mel Krieger and Leigh Oliva from Orvis were also on hand to lend support and encouragement.
Each guide could fish two flies, and once those were lost, could not continue to fish. The veterans were not limited in the number of flies. One pro and one vet constituted a team. Scoring was based on a formula of which team member caught the rainbow trout and the number and length of the fish. All trout were released. The numerous suckers caught didn’t help the scores.
At the end of the day, just before the big barbeque feast with bluegrass entertainment, the winners were announced: William Heresniak and Staff Sergeant Russell Martin, USA-Ret, captured first place; John Gay teamed with Sergeant First Class Jake Kessler, USA, for second; and Paul Ricciuti and Captain Eivind Forseth, USA, took third. The winner of the Non-Pro/Non-Vet team was Bill Nuckles, guide, and John Bass, a superb paraplegic fly angler from North Carollina.
Bass has been supporting PHW since its inception and is a role model, inspiration and counselor for young soldiers who use wheelchairs; Bass has been in his own wheelchair for more than 20 years. On this day, all the participants were winners.
PHW is moving from a regional phenomenon to a national level and now has chapters in six states. Retired Navy Captain Ed Nichols is founder and president of PHW, Chief Warrant Officer-Ret John Colburn is vice president, and the board chairman is Douglas Dear, who opened his Rose River Farm with its stretch of the fertile Rose River for the event.
Support for the PHW 2-Fly was from members of the fly fishing industry such as FFF, TU, Orvis, Temple Fork Outfitters and many others. Local businesses, numerous individuals, American Legion chapters, and others also gave time and money for the event. More than 240 attendees supported the effort and more than $100,000 was raised.
The next EBRFF 2-Fly Tournament is scheduled for May 11, 2008 at the Rose River Farm. Events are also scheduled on the Rapid and Kennebec Rivers in Maine; Alaska saltwater trip out of Ketchikan; the Spring Ridge Club waters in Spruce Creek, Pa.; The FFF Conclave in Livingston, Mont.; and saltwater fishing at Virginia Beach.
For more information, contact the EBRFF at www.ebrff.org or call Tim Shultz, president, at 540-829-5311. For more info on PHW, and to make a donation, visit www.projecthealingwaters.org or write to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., P. O. Box 6231, Washington, D.C. 20015.
When I came home on a stretcher from the Vietnam War more than 37 years ago, no one was there to take me fly fishing. Now there is.
(Note: PHW should not be confused with Project Wounded Warrior, an organization that helps wounded vets and their families, but fishing is a very small part of its fine efforts.)
Our fishing editor, King Montgomery, is a retired Army officer who served as an Infantry rifle platoon leader and company commander in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. Contact him at email@example.com.
Issue 2.28: July 12, 2007