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Fly-fishing Helps Heal Veterans

by Countable | 10.17.17

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of military veterans returned to the field to hunt for an elusive foe: the freshwater fish.

"I don't pull trout out of a hole," Ed Tansue, a Gulf War vet, told the New Jersey Herald, "it was trout that pulled me out of a hole."

Tansue is one of thousands of veterans participating in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. PFHWFF was started in 2005 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Ed Nicholson, a retired Navy captain and avid fly fisherman. While recovering from prostate cancer in the D.C. medical center, Nicholson was struck by all the wounded and distraught soldiers doing nothing but lying in their beds.

"I thought, ‘I’d really like to take some of them fly fishing,'" Nicholson told People. “I didn’t have big plans—just an outing or two. But pretty soon, I saw the potential and realized it would be much bigger than that.”

Nicholson’s guppy dreams have grown to trophy-worthy trout: Project Healing Waters now has over 200 local chapters in all 50 states and Germany; in 2015, PHWFF helped nearly 7,5000 emotionally injured or disabled veterans. Participants learn how to cast, tie their own flies, and detangle lines.

A Purple Heart sits in a tackle box beside a heart-shaped fly.

In late September, the National Park Service teamed up with PHWFF for the first time. It was this outing on the Delaware River were Tansue was casting flies from a drift boat.

While serving as a scout during the first Gulf War, Tansue suffered a back injury. Shortly afterwards, the 12-year army vet was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, and presently relies on 100 disability.

"I hurt my back," Tansue said. "Now, I spend all my time fly fishing,"

Nicholson told People it doesn’t matter if a vet is suffering from PTSD, the loss of hearing or sight, or the loss of limbs — Project Healing Waters volunteers will get them fishing.

"I had a dear friend named Bill who…lost both of his legs to a land mine," Nicholson said. “When we got to the water, he asked, ‘How are we going to do this Ed? I’m in a wheelchair.’ Just like that, one of our strong guides waded out from the boat, put Bill on his back and waded back to the boat with him.”

Nicholson continued:

"We don’t let disabilities get in the way of what we want to provide. Regardless of the situation, we’ll get them on the water to catch fish."

Veterans interested in joining Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing can find a local chapter here:

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: @PHWFF via Twitter)

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