September 25, 2009
Wounded Soldiers Find Solace in the Salmon River
SSG Shaun Outwater holds a 17-lb. king salmon he caught during the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing weekend on the Salmon River. Guide Norm Normandin stands behind him. Outwater released the salmon. (Photo by Spider Rybaak.)
Dave Bollman, a disabled Marine Corps veteran, holds a brown trout he caught on a bead-headed nymph during the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing weekend on the Salmon River. (Photo by Spider Rybaak.)
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY -- History is loaded with references to water’s curative power. Every culture has its own version of the Biblical Pool of Bethesda or Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth. On the weekend of Sept. 18 - 20, 2009, Oswego County’s Salmon River was put to the test. And it passed with flying colors…literally.
That’s when Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing brought 15 wounded soldiers and veterans to the Salmon River for the most exciting water treatment of all: fly fishing -- the art of casting colorful, all but weightless flies tied of yarns, feathers and threads to trophy salmon and trout.
Famed as the country’s most productive hot spot for these species, the Salmon River met the challenge, surrendering Chinook salmon averaging 17 pounds, and brown trout running three to five pounds.
For the second time in as many years, Fred Kuepper, PHWFF regional director and Coordinator for the Oswego County Chapter, and Fran Verdoliva, Salmon River Program Coordinator for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, were the main movers and shakers of the event.
According to Kuepper, “this year two-thirds of the participants are active duty soldiers stationed at Fort Drum, and the rest are disabled veterans from the Veterans Administration Medical Centers at Syracuse and Batavia, and the VAMC’s Oswego County outpatient clinic.”
Verdoliva arranged access for the group on the closed waters behind the state hatchery, a sanctuary for fish lucky enough to make it through the 11-something-mile gauntlet of anglers fishing downstream. Fishing this uncrowded stretch insured the recovering warriors had all the room they needed to cast flies, an angling technique requiring a lot of space to execute effectively.
“Besides being fun, this program is a win-win situation for everyone involved; first and foremost for the vets, but also their families, the volunteers, and sponsors,” said Kuepper.
“The whole community pitches in and benefits,” Kuepper continued.
Co-sponsors NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Training Academy provided lodging and Brookfield Power provided dinner on Friday night. Local churches, businesses and veterans organizations furnished additional food and supplies. Area guides and PHWFF members offered fly fishing lessons and expert advice on the water, Kuepper added.
Retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson started PHWFF in 2004. His original plans called for simply teaching the guys fly fishing as part of their treatment regimens. But he knew about the remarkable results Bill Blades, a prominent fly-tier, had with disabled veterans at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital during World War II and added fly-tying lessons to his program.
Proving highly popular during our country’s current state of war, PHWFF has grown to 45 programs in 35 states.
Incidentally, PHWFF doesn’t target trout exclusively. In fact, in other parts of the country, the organization stages outings for ocean species like red fish and flat-water critters like bass. It’s only a matter of time before fly-fishing for warmwater fish (black bass, northern pike and panfish) in places like Sandy Pond, Lake Neahtahwanta and Oneida Lake makes it into the Central New York program.
For more information or to donate time or money, contact Kuepper at 315-963-4095 or by .
For information on the national organization visit their website: www.projecthealingwaters.org.
(Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of “Fishing Eastern New York” and “Fishing Western New York” guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him by . Check out his blog.
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