Meet the Category 3 Winners: Advanced Fly Rods

With your help this holiday season, we can continue to provide programs that help disabled veterans recover from their physical and emotional wounds.


We are pleased to announce the Category 3 (Advanced) winners of the 13th Annual Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing National Fly Rod Building Competition! Following an exciting Public Judging Round, six finalists proceeded to the Finals Round to be judged by an expert panel who determined 1st, 2nd & 3rd place. The expert panelists used the following criteria to score the flies and determine the winners: Neatness, Functionality, and Creativity.

The National Fly Rod Building Competition is focused on expanding the therapeutic experience for disabled veterans participating in PHWFF programs by giving them the experience of building their own fly rods to further their physical and mental rehabilitation through the sport of fly fishing.  The program also has a fun competition component which gives participants the chance to win prizes for their rod building abilities, skills and creativity in a fun contest.

Join us in celebrating all the Advanced Rod Builders who participated this year!

MEET THE CATEGORY 3 WINNERS

The focus of the Advanced category is to design, order, and build a functional fly rod while displaying advanced techniques. This category is for participants who are building their 4th fly rod or more.

3rd Place

Gary Herber | PHWFF Atlanta, GA

I’m a Veteran of Afghanistan (2009) US Army 10th Mountain Division and a Purple Heart recipient. I built a 9’ – 7 weight – 4 piece, IM12 blank with hand turned walnut full wells grip and exotic wood real seat.

What I enjoy most about rod building is that I have been able learn to focus, prioritize and plan ahead without frustration or anxiety. PHWFF has opened doors and given me opportunities to make friends and find Veteran’s in my community that have common interests.

Gary Herber, PHWFF Atlanta, GA

2nd Place

John Collins | PHWFF River City, TN

My name is John Collins and I have been with River City Project Healing Waters for more than 4 years. I served in three wars as a Navy combat photojournalist; Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Afghanistan where I deployed on more than 23 combat missions. My highest awards is the Defense Meritorious medal. I joined Project Healing Waters to distract my mind from the constant pain three wars brought me. Instead, I found peace and balance.
I built a 9 ft. 6wt. Rain shadow rod. The cork has my Navy rating badge for photographers’ mate in the middle with large green burl checkers on each side and was custom shaped to my hand. The custom wrap is a closed chevron on all four sides with three green stripes representing my rank as a first-class petty officer, in an aviation rating, and the yellow stripes are the color of my wife’s wedding rose. I framed yellow leafing on the guides with a single yellow band and did an under wrap in the same design.


I cut a custom cork handle out of cork rings and fit it to my hand. The four-sided chevron wrap is a tribute to my navy service and my loving marriage. My wife has been a major supporter of my rod building.


When I build rods, the emotional and physical pain take the back seat to the creative process. I escape my pain and when I finish a rod, there is no better feeling than catching a fish on a rod I made.


I built a 9 ft. 6wt. Rain shadow rod. The cork has my Navy rating badge for photographers’ mate in the middle with large green burl checkers on each side and was custom shaped to my hand. The custom wrap is a closed chevron on all four sides with three green stripes representing my rank as a first-class petty officer, in an aviation rating, and the yellow stripes are the color of my wife’s wedding rose. I framed yellow leafing on the guides with a single yellow band and did an under wrap in the same design.


Project Healing waters has brought relief from physical and emotional pain by distracting my mind and exercising my body. I am a healthier person today because of the friendships I have made here

John Collins, PHWFF River City, TN

1st Place

Steven Strable | PHWFF Portland/Vancouver, WA

I’m a Vietnam Navy veteran having served from 1966-70. I served on a fleet destroyer in the Western Pacific Fleet. I’ve had a long career in both the computer industry and the construction industry. I’m married and have three wonderful children and two wonderful grandchildren. I live in rural southwest Oregon on the famous North Umpqua River. My hobbies are fishing, outdoor activities, woodworking and travel. I’ve been fly fishing since the late 70’s. And I just began rod building about 4 years ago.


The fly rod I’ve chosen to build is a 9’0″ 5wt med-fast action, trout rod, color black. I used a matte black up-locking reel seat, a personally turned redwood burl handle, black guide set consisting of two stripping guides, eight snake guides and tip-top. I found myself becoming a part of the rod build and having a connection with each complex wrapping of the many-colored threads. I truly felt the spirit and courage of the so many heroes who gave their all for my/our liberty and freedom.


This is the “Hero’s Fly Rod” dedicated to all Americans who sacrificed their lives from 1775-2021, spanning 81 wars & 246 years. Each guide depicted a full size copy of the service ribbon in the following order from butt to tip. First stripping guide and so on; Civil War & Spanish War, WWI Victory & WWII Victory, Korean War & Vietnam War, Southwest Asia Service & Afghanistan Campaign, Iraq Campaign & GWOT, Metal of Honor & Silver Star, Bronze Star & Purple Heart. Note red/white/blue wrap under reel seat.


For me when I can’t be out fishing and enjoying the outdoors, for whatever reason, I can be there in spirit when I’m creating a beautiful new rod to fish with. It allows me to be creative and challenge myself with new ideas. There is always something new to learn or attempt. And there is a vast community of like-minded Veterans to learn with and share my passion with.


I’ve taken the first seven guides and showcased ten of the major American wars Americans fought and died in. And four valor metals earned. I only showcased 10 of the 81 wars Americans have been in. This is dedicated to ALL of the 2,852,901+ (and the 40,031 MIA’s) heroes in the last 246 years who gave the ultimate sacrifice for America’s freedom. This is a presentation rod to be shown and shared, it has an accompanying Shadow box showcasing all the ribbons seen on the rod with conflict years and deaths.


Washington Irving once said, “Fly fishing tends to produce a serenity of the mind”. For me PHWFF has provided me with a sense of healing for myself through fly fishing, fly tying and rod building. When I’m fishing, those qualities extend from the physical healing to the mental healing properties. It encompasses both physical and emotional rehabilitation for me. PHWFF has given me a second chance look at life.

Steven Strable, PHWFF Portland/Vancouver, WA

Join us in celebrating the tremendous fly rod building talents of all our PHWFF participants!

CONGRATS!

With your help this holiday season, we can continue to provide programs that help disabled veterans recover from their physical and emotional wounds

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