Fly Fishing Therapy
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Veterans Join Students in Leadville
In early June, when the snowmelt comes down from the mountains filling the rivers and reservoirs, the fish are ready for a spring feeding. Professional fly fishing guide students, eager to get out and practice their newly acquired skills, jump at the opportunity to share their love of fly fishing with a captive audience.
Project Healing Waters is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of veterans. The non-profit recognizes the therapeutic benefits of nature, and more specifically, the profound art of fly fishing. They apply this philosophy to their work with active duty service personnel and disabled veterans.
Earlier this month, veterans with Project Healing Waters joined fly fishing guide students for hands-on learning. Mark Cole, Colorado Mountain College adjunct instructor, provided a fly tying demonstration and everyone had the opportunity to tie their own fly, and successfully use it to catch fish.
“It was exciting to see the different levels of angling, and how each guide was able to accommodate them,” says Kaitlin Boyer, a Professional Fly Fishing Guide student at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, “I really bonded with Rita, the only female in the group. She was new to fly fishing, but had a great cast. I gave her my lucky purple fly, and told her to keep it.”
The impact of this connection left both Rita and Kaitlin feeling inspired and emotional.
“Her eyes got teary. She told me that purple is her favorite color, and you could tell it really meant a lot to her,” reflects Kaitlin, “It was an honor to guide a group of people who, despite having experienced challenging obstacles while serving our country, are now finding comfort and solace in fly fishing.”
The students and the group of veterans met at Hayden Reservoir, a popular local fly fishing spot. Each student was paired up with a veteran to guide, tasked with helping them catch fish in a therapeutic way, and not pry about disabilities or experiences. In the 2.5 hour session at the reservoir, all veterans and guides successfully caught fish.
Greg Rendon, a United States Marine Corps veteran, has participated in the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Leadville visit for two consecutive years. Though his application to join this year’s Leadville trip was initially denied, he was grateful to have experienced the event in 2016.
“I actually thought to myself that it would be a great opportunity for someone else to experience what I did last year.” says Greg, who accepted his fate and continued to apply for other Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trips, “I was exciting when PHWFF called to let me know there had been cancellations, and asked me if I wanted to go on the Leadville trip as an alternate. I may be biased, but I believe that the Leadville trip is becoming one of the premiere experiences for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Colorado Springs.”
In addition to fly fishing activities, the group also got a dose of local military history. While visiting the 10th Mountain Division memorial at Ski Cooper, they learned about the legendary 10th Mountain Division soldiers, who trained near Leadville at Camp Hale during WWII.
“As a military veteran and a fly fisherman I enjoy the camaraderie and seeing the veterans catch fish in our beautiful mountain environment,” says Skip Lee, Dean of Student Affairs at Colorado Mountain College Leadville who has coordinated the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trip to Leadville for the past seven years, “It’s also a way for Colorado Mountain College to give back and continue to support those men and women who sacrifice so much by enlisting in the armed forces and serving our country.”
“It is often said that fishing is a metaphor for life,” says Kaitlin, “From the beauty of the river and sheer happiness of catching a fish, to the frustration of untangling knots and figuring out why the fish aren’t biting; we find ways to get through these obstacles, and enjoy the experience for what it is.”
About Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) began in 2005 serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, PHWFF has expanded nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.
Project Healing Waters brings a high-quality, full-spectrum fly fishing program to an ever-expanding number of disabled active military service personnel across the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, in Military Hospitals and the Warrior Transition Command. We focus our resources wherever the need is greatest and expand our partner base in the process. PHWFF has become recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of therapeutic outdoor recreation for the disabled, through its successful application of the sport of fly fishing as a rehabilitation tool.
About the Professional Fly Fish Guide Program
The professional fly fishing guide certification program at Colorado Mountain College is a six-week in-residence summer program at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville and Steamboat Springs. Successful participants receive a certificate of completion – fly fish guide upon completing the program. Fly fish guide businesses having grown significantly in recent years. Many guiding businesses have established themselves with year-round clientele, creating a continual need for qualified outdoor guiding staff.
The fly fishing guide certification program is designed to provide the training and education that will lead to success as a fly fishing guide. Students completing this program will receive a Fly Fishing Guide Certificate of Completion from Colorado Mountain College.
CMC faculty and staff have worked with an industry-related board in the development of this program to ensure that it meets the needs of the industry.