Fly Tying and Fishing: Wounded Warriors 'Fish' Tails
September 20, 2010
- Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing brings recreation fun to Fort Hood Wounded Warriors
- Soldiers forget about everyday Army life when fly tying
- WTB Soldiers 'Gone Fishing'
- Student Soldiers call fly tying an arts and craft project with an attitude.
Before Bill Adams can finish unloading his hodge podge of ingredients, Fort Hood Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) Soldiers are already foraging through the recipe books and magazines strewn across the tables.
"Oh, look at this one," says one of the Warriors in Transition (WT).
"This one is nice," pipes another WT.
"Well, you'll need this," the tall, lanky Texan barks out as he methodically pairs requests with ingredients.
You know these aren't your grandmother's recipes when you hear him compliment one of his student's finished products:
"That's a neat looking bug," Adams says. "Looks like a caterpillar with a big tail."
There isn't a "Gone Fishing" sign anywhere in sight, but there might as well be because for the next four hours, F-I-S-H and anything to do with fishing is all that's on the mind of the Soldiers meticulously involved in the delicate art of fly tying, which some of the students call an arts and craft project with an attitude. The free fly tying class is just one of the components brought to the Fort Hood Soldiers by <a href="http://www.projecthealingwaters.org" target="_blank">Project Healing Waters (PHWFF)</a>, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that sponsors fly fishing and fly tying education and outings to disabled active-duty military and veterans.
Twice a month, Bill and his group of volunteers from area fly fishing clubs journey to the Central Texas military installation to set up shop at WTB's 2nd Battalion Conference Room where amidst the array of colorful rooster and pheasant feathers, deer tails, vises, bobbins, chenille, scissors and thread, enthusiastic wounded Warriors are making grasshoppers, minnows, dragonflies, ants and larva.
"It doesn't really matter if you like to fish," Adams says. "It's just a lot of fun tying flies." Adams, who estimates he's made thousands of flies in the 20 years or so he's been fly fishing, introduced the PHWFF program to the WTB in January to provide wounded Soldiers with a recreational outlet to distract them from their medical issues.
And that it does, says the Soldiers involved in the program.
"At the end of the day, what you want is distraction," says Pfc. Cassandra Verrett, an activated National Guardsman from Houston who tied her first fly when she was seven or eight. "When I'm stringing these flies, the only thing I'm thinking of is how I can use it."
Now assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, Verrett says the fly tying classes trigger sentimental memories of her childhood family fishing days. She also enjoys the creative aspect of fly-tying.
"I love anything art-related," she says.
Confessing that he's not much of a fisherman, Staff Sgt. Martin Santillan, C Company, 2nd Battalion, said he was surprised how much concentration tying flies requires.
"You have to be willing to learn how to do this," the Phoenix native says, anxious to try out his "woolly bugger" to see if he can snag a fish or two during one of the PHWFF-sponsored fishing trips. "It requires lots of concentration, effort and patience."
"Yes, and if you don't concentrate, you'll stick yourself," says Verrett.
"Well no one has yet had to go to the hospital with a hook in their finger," says Lt. Col. James Finn, a 2nd Battalion Warrior in Transition who says the last time he went fishing was in 1969.
Finn, an Army chaplain, says when he transitions to a WTU in New England, he plans on continuing in PHWFF programs. "It's very restful," the 35-year career Soldier tells Adams, "plus it gets your head out of the therapeutic issues and into another zone."
Pvt. 2 Jennifer Knott, B Company, 1st Battalion, agrees, saying tying flies has helped her relax.
"It's especially helpful in relieving the stress, plus it's a nice little break from the everyday grind of military life," says the native New Yorker who was on Ground Zero the day after the Twin Towers fell, tending to the rescue dogs and the personal pets of some of the victims.
Knott says finding out about the fly tying class and numerous fishing trips offered to WTB Soldiers was a pleasant surprise:
"I had no idea these things existed. I love it, and I can't wait to go fishing," she says.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was founded in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the help of local Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers volunteers. Participants are provided with basic equipment and materials, including equipment that accommodates their special needs. The program is free to the Soldier or disabled veteran.
Adams, who lives on 1,400 acres in Hamilton, a rural town about 65 miles north of Killeen, says bringing the program to Fort Hood is one way he can give back to America's Soldiers.
"I get a kick out of working with the Soldiers because they deserve recognition for what they've done for me," he says. "Fly fishing is something they can learn and take with them," adding that once Soldiers are involved with Project Healing Waters, they can participate in any of the 90 plus PHWFF programs located at military installations and VA hospitals across the country.
Adams also fesses up to another perk of volunteering his time with the Soldiers:
"I get to shoot the bull and talk fly fishing with them, he says, adding that he also wants them to eat the treats--deer sausage and his wife's homemade cookies-that he brings to every class.
But the program doesn't rest its laurels just on the sport of fly fishing; it's also about the camaraderie that develops among the participants, an element echoed by first timer Sgt. 1st Class Greg Wood, B company, 2nd Battalion, who was hesitant about trying out something new, but after tying his first fly, quickly changes his mind.
"It's really neat that you can make them, and then go fishing with the same group, the 49-year old from Arlington, Texas, says. "You're also free to make mistakes because no one is judging you if you screw up," a remark immediately rebuked by volunteer Rod Viator, a member of the San Gabriel Fly Fishers group out of Georgetown, Texas.
"There's no way you can screw it up," Viator reminds Wood. "A hook is a hook, and the fish don't know any different. The fish don't care."
"Especially a catfish," Adams says adding his two cents to the conversation. "They try darn hard to eat nearly everything in their way."
While Adams says he enjoys witnessing the excitement and seeing the gleam and twinkle in a Soldier's eyes after he or she finishes the handmade jewel, which would retail around $3, he thoroughly enjoys the next part of the evolution: seeing the Fort Hood PHWFF students test their flies on such popular catches as trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and stripers during the numerous fishing trips to Lake Texoma, an 89,000 acre lake bordering Texas and Oklahoma.
"I get a bigger kick out of watching them fish rather than me fishing," Adams says. "It's great to see them smile."
The efforts and time Adams and his volunteers spend with the wounded Warriors are much appreciated by the Soldiers involved with the WTB activity and one of the reasons why Wood says he will continue filling the orange fly tying tackle box the group gives to each of the participants:
"These guys take the time out of a normal work day, and I want to continue to support them," he says. "Besides, it's fun, and it's different."
Verrett says she enjoys her time with the "civilians" and finds their willingness to spend time with her and her fellow classmates "comforting." "It shows people care, which changes your perspective on people," the 20-year old Soldier says. "It's very uplifting."