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“There’s A Peace You Have Being Out Here.”

April 19, 2024

By Gary Rihn, PHW Pittsburgh

Fly fishing can be hard, especially when somebody is relatively new to the sport. Having a mentor can be a big help. Actually having a qualified guide can be a bigger help.

Two Veterans from the Pittsburgh program of Project Healing Waters recently enjoyed a day fishing together, each with their own individual guide. The Veterans had traveled an hour north to fish Neshannock Creek in Volant, PA.

Jim Leone had fished the Neshannock before. Jim mused during a break,

It’s beautiful here. Just being out here, man, just being here….

Dan, Jim, Tom, and Chris, alongside the Neshannock.
Dan, Jim, Tom, and Chris on the bank of the Neshannock.

Along with Leone was Tom Lunardi. Lunardi said that he had heard others talking about the Neshannock, and that it had a good reputation. “I was excited about coming here, being guided, I was really looking forward to the whole thing”, he commented. Neshannock Creek is a stream designated as Keystone Select by the PA Fish Commission, meaning that it is stocked with larger than normal trout. It is also a Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only project, with almost three miles of water that can be fished year-round with flies and artificial lures only.

The morning started cold, in the mid-20s, but with the stream in perfect conditions. Each angler took to their own section of the stream with their respective guide, and spent the morning and into the early afternoon fishing. Occasionally breaks were taken around the fire pit on the stone patio at the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, which sits streamside. During these breaks, the healing part of PHWFF’s mission started to happen. Leone noted during one of the fireside chats:

This isn’t just a sport, it’s an outlet. It’s a way to calm down when I need to. Even at home, sometimes I’ll go to my tying table and just focus on that for a while.

Helping the Veterans were two guides: Dan Heitzenrater, the fly shop’s lead guide, along with Chris Horn. Both mentioned that the low temps presented a challenge for the day, as they never rose much above freezing. However, even with the cold conditions, they managed to put both fishermen on multiple fish. When asked why he donated his services for the day, Heitzenrater said, “It’s a small thing actually when you think about the fact that I can do this (as he swept his arm out across the stream and the Veterans) in a wonderful country that they provided for me.” Horn backed him up with, “It’s something I’ve been wanting to get involved with for a while, helping those who served our country. Today I got to do that.” Along with the guides, Mark Collier, the owner of Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, decided to donate the day’s services to the Veterans at no cost. Collier’s father was an Air Force Veteran, and said his father raised him a certain way. “We have so much in this country that we don’t fully appreciate; we have that because of those that fought for it. We need to challenge ourselves to not take that for granted. It gives me a good feeling to see everybody enjoying each others’ company, especially these guys that were injured,” as he looked out the window of the shop at the two Veterans in the stream.

As the day progressed, the Veterans kept picking up more tips from the guides. Horn noted, “They both already had enough knowledge when they showed up, they had a good base, we just helped with some finer points”. That combination of knowledge and tips all came together for Lunardi when he landed his first unassisted trout, a beautiful 14″ rainbow. He said that it was the first trout where he had made the cast, hookset, fight, and brought the fish to net all without help from anybody else. Surprisingly, he said that might not have even been the highlight of his day (or at least maybe tied for it). “Just being out here, seeing the water, I’m learning, every time you do this you learn a little more.” When asked about his highlight of his day though, Horn immediately said, “Watching Tom land his first trout on a fly! The smile on his face!”

As the day wrapped up, the waders came off, and everybody gathered around the fire to chase off the chill of being in the stream for hours, Leone thought aloud, “If somebody had told me five years ago that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them.” Lunardi followed up with,

Project Healing Water is good for your mind; there’s a peace that you have being out here.

Project Healing Waters’ stated mission is its dedication to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of Veterans in need through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.

Pennsylvania Veterans Healing Through Fly Fishing

April 19, 2024

By Megan Stolensky, Erie News Now

One of our Pennsylvania programs, PHW Erie, have been highlighted by their local news, telling their stories of post-traumatic growth and renewed camaraderies through fly fishing, fly tying, and the outdoors!

Two fly anglers making the most of a rainy day.
Two fly anglers making the most of a rainy day.

You can read the full story here. PHW Erie Program Lead Craig Brandick and Veteran participant Benjamin Dolby do an excellent job of sharing how critical our mission remains, and how effective fly fishing, its associated activities, and the outdoors can be! Way to go, PHW Erie!

The Project Healing Waters Spotlight: Marilyn Rogan – Volunteer

February 23, 2024

The Project Healing Waters Spotlight is our way of shining a bright light on those members of our PHW family whose accomplishments and contributions inspire us all. 

These individuals, and their stories, are an essential part of the healing journey happening for Veterans across the country. Project Healing Waters transcends fly fishing and these Spotlights are a glimpse into what is happening throughout our programs. We are honored to return to sharing these with you each week.

Marilyn Rogan – Field Advisory Committee Member

Project Healing Waters Program:

PHW Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Why Did You Join Project Healing Waters?

Project Healing Waters has been an intricate part of my life for 15 years. Why do I volunteer is a question I get asked frequently, and I must say, I don’t think about the why, but more about the who. Who am I helping today and how will it help them have a better life. I have chosen Project Healing Waters because Veteran have committed to protecting our country under all circumstances, even giving their life for me and you.

What Is Your Favorite Activity With Project Healing Waters? Why?

The fly fishing outings. What Project Healing Waters provides is an avenue of therapy that allows a Veteran to find that inner peace. There is nothing more calming to the soul than to be standing in the middle of a stream, early in the morning mist, listening to nature sounds and the gentle flow of a bubbling stream. Peace flows over the body and the Veteran begins to cope with what is troubling their mind. A volunteer is at their side to make sure they don’t fall in the water, due to balance issues. They are there to help trembling hands, or poor eyesight tie a fly on the line. But more importantly, they are there to listen to their story. Because once they trust you enough to share their story, they begin the healing journey. Many will never be completely healed of the tragedies of war, but at least now they have an avenue of hope, a helping hand of encouragement and a heart that cares.

A Bit More About Marilyn:

Marilyn was the Program Lead for PHW Murfreesboro for many years and has now joined the Field Advisory Committee so that her organizational knowledge and experience can continue to benefit Project Healing Waters. While in her role as Program Lead, she was nominated for and recently received the 2024 Tennessee Governor’s Volunteer Star Award. For context: “The Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards (GVSA) is an initiative from Volunteer Tennessee that seeks to recognize outstanding volunteers from each of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Now in its 16th year, participating counties conduct a call for nominations and recognize one outstanding youth and one outstanding adult volunteer. The Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards also recognizes one business and one non-profit from each of Tennessee’s three Grand Regions for their outstanding community involvement and service.”

Congratulations, Marilyn, thank you for everything you do for our Tennessee Veteran participants and volunteers, and for committing to future service through the Field Advisory Committee!

The PHW Spotlight will publish each Friday morning on www.projecthealingwaters.org.

The Project Healing Waters Spotlight: Paul Bohorquez – U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

September 15, 2023

The PHW Spotlight is our way of shining a bright light on those members of our PHW family whose accomplishments and contributions inspire us all. 

These individuals, and their stories, are an essential part of the healing journey happening for Veterans across the country. Project Healing Waters transcends fly fishing and these Spotlights are a glimpse into what is happening throughout our programs. We are honored to share these with you each week.

Paul Bohorquez – U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

When Did You Serve?

Enlisted January 11, 2010.

Project Healing Waters Program:

PHW Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Why Did You Join Project Healing Waters?

I was looking to clear my mind of the things that were happening around me. My best friend asked me four years ago to check out Project Healing Waters as they teach veterans the art of fly fishing. Years later, I finally decided to give it a chance. I wanted to learn a new craft as well. I now find peace in the streams and pleasure in doing something I love and have passion for fishing in general.

What Is Your Favorite Activity With Project Healing Waters? Why?

One of my favorite activities is the fishing portion, but also the fly tying portion. I have learned a lot. It’s given me a chance to build a small community on my YouTube channel where I can share what I learn in fly tying class on a live segment. I get to share and meet others that are passionate about fly fishing and fly tying.

What Do You Most Look Forward To With Project Healing Waters In The Upcoming Year? Why?

I look forward to making memories out on the stream with fellow Veterans from the group. It’s the peace on the water that brings everyone together, where there is no animosity or disruptions from the outside world.

A Bit More About Paul:

My name is Paul Bohorquez, a Marine Corps Combat Veteran from Hamilton, New Jersey. I joined the Marine Corps in 2010 and deployed to Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011. A lot has changed since those past times. It was a struggle to get my mindset to a place where I can feel “normal” after coming back from a war that had taken so much from us. I had my brother Joshua Barrett, a combat veteran as well, who helped me get back to my feet, as I had mentally declined shortly after getting out of the service. It was a struggle but I was able to get back up on top. Years later, I was faced with a couple challenges in life, where I ultimately had to restart my life again. I was able to get myself out of a situation that had brought nothing but chaos to my world. But with God on my side and the people who He had put in my life to guide me, like my family, I was able to overcome these issues. As I continue to work on building a more structured lifestyle, I am blessed to have met my Beautiful wife Angela Bohorquez, who I married 08/28/2022. A phenomenal woman who has stuck by me as I worked on rebuilding my life. In 2022 I had the opportunity to be re-introduced to Project Healing Waters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My Brother Josh had told me about the organization in 2019 but I kindly shrugged it off and missed out. Once I finally joined the local program in 2022, I was able to learn and meet some really great people along the way. I’ve had the opportunity to have met Vincent Taylor, who has been a positive and knowledgeable role model, as well as my fly tying mentor Rusty Berrier. PHW has played a role in my healing process, for which I am grateful. They have provided me with tools to be able to pursue a career for which I never even intended to form a passion. In the past year that I have been involved with the program, I have been able to learn how to fly fish, learn to tie flies, as well as pursue attending Sweet Water Guide School out in Montana to become a fishing guide. I also create fly fishing content for my YouTube channel (LastCast31 is the YouTube Handle) for other Veterans to see that there are opportunities like the one PHW offers. I’ve learned that with the right people and tools like PHW offers, you can move forward in a more positive mindset. THANK YOU TO PROJECT HEALING WATERS AND THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE SCENES MAKING ALL OF THIS A POSSIBILITY.

The PHW Spotlight will publish each Friday morning on www.projecthealingwaters.org. Learn more about this inspiring series HERE

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Project Healing Waters Tennessee Valley In The News: National Casting Champion Earns The Spotlight!

September 15, 2023

The recent Project Healing Waters National Casting Competition brought together 15 regional champions from across the country. Held at Bennett Spring Park in Lebanon, Missouri, the competition was the culmination of local and regional casting competitions hosted across the country, with the winners meeting to determine who would earn the prestigious title for 2023.

In addition to a full day of practice Tuesday prior to Wednesday’s competition, there were plenty of opportunities for fishing on the Niangua River. Henry Stockman, from the Tennessee Valley region, posted impressive scores for both rounds on Competition Day to take the top spot!

It’s great to see our organization’s flagship fly casting event be highlighted by media outlets! Check out more here, thanks to the Chattanoogan and Ross Schweinforth!

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Benefit Veterans in-need with the PHW Colorado Springs Auction!

September 14, 2023

How About Something Unique For Father’s Day?

June 12, 2023

Don’t worry, we’re not about to recommend the next rod, reel, net, fishing vest, fishing pack, or exciting new fly fishing gadget to politely nudge your spouse about for your Father’s Day present. You can sneak that into the garage afterward when they drop their guard after you ask for a book for you and your child to share together…

We know that we’ve got plenty of fathers throughout our organization, including some relatively new ones! So when we heard the story of Patty the Palomino, written by our friend Artie Mabbett and with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Project Healing Waters, obviously we had to share! A day with a young kiddo can often be full of craziness, but at the end of the day, when you lay down to read a book with the kiddo, that’s a special moment. And if you’re like us, any chance to bring fishing in is a chance we’re going to take.

A few years back, I was on a fishing trip with my best friend and partner (aka my wife) in Colorado.  My wife spotted this oddly colored trout and called me over for a look.  Sure enough there were a few Palomino trout in the river. Curiously we looked up the story of the Palomino trout over dinner and joked about writing a children’s book about a special kind of fish.  Fast forward two years when we found out we were pregnant with our first child, the book idea didn’t seem so silly.  Intrigued by the history of this fish and dreaming of the day when our son could join us on these adventures, Patty the Palomino was conceived.

– Artie Mabbett

And it’s a pretty cool story too, as it helps explain some common challenges to our growing kiddos. So not only can you help your kid learn about what’s so great about being unique, maybe you can inspire them to drag you out for a fishing trip to find some trout of their own! Patty the Palomino is available at a wide range of booksellers, but it looks like Amazon can get it to your door well before Father’s Day, and you’d be helping benefit Veterans’ healing journeys in the process! We’ll call it a win-win-win.

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Benefit Veterans In-Need with the PHW Murfreesboro Auction!

June 6, 2023

Filled with a range of vintage and modern fishing gear, boats, artwork, sports memorabilia, and other speciality goods, this auction is a great opportunity to support the Veterans in-need in our Murfreesboro, TN Program while simultaneously angling for some awesome items.

All proceeds go towards supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of Veterans in-need served annually by PHW Murfreesboro. Dive right in: this auction is live now!

The PHW Murfreesboro Program has provided fly tying, fly rod building, and fly fishing outings on an ongoing basis at no cost to our veteran participants for over a decade. This auction will raise funds to sends Veterans to the program’s 14th annual Caney Fork outing!

One item up for auction is this wonderful Sockeye painting!

In order to expand the number of quality fly-fishing experiences available to its participants, PHW Murfreesboro is holding an extensive online auction starting June 5. Up for auction is a wide range of fly-fishing gear, including a number of vintage bamboo rods, a Gheenoe and trolling motor package, an Outcast kick-boat, a range of art pieces, and more. All proceeds raised will send Veteran participants that are part of the Murfreesboro Program to the 14th annual Caney Fork outing. We encourage you to visit the auction and share with your friends, families and colleagues. Together we can cast a lifeline to Veterans in-need. Check out several of the items up for auction:

The auction will be open June 5 – June 12, 2023.

Filled with incredible gear, trips, experiences, and unique specialty items, this auction is a great opportunity to support the Veterans in-need in our Murfreesboro Program while simultaneously angling for some awesome items.

All proceeds go towards supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of Veterans in-need served annually by PHW Murfreesboro, TN. This auction is live now!

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Potomac Shad – Fun at Fletcher’s Cove

June 4, 2023

May 20th, 2023

By Tim Metzger

The American and Hickory Shad run in the Potomac River is somewhat of a bittersweet story. In my opinion, shad are not that smart of a fish, relatively speaking, and they fight pretty hard, making for an attractive combination for the average angler such as myself. The 10,000-mile journey some of these fish take after wintering in Florida is not what it once was, but the shad presence is notable in the history of the United States and the Potomac River.

Native Americans relied on shad as a primary spring food source when winter stores were depleted. | Source: PotomacRiver.org
  • The 1608 General History of Virginia states the shad were ‘…lying so thicke with their heads above water, as for want of nets we attempted to catch them with frying pans.‘ In the 1830s it was not uncommon for fishermen to pull 4,000 shad or 300,000 herring in one single haul. Many know the story about how shad saved George Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1778, as their “delivery” saved his troops from starvation. According to the 1938 account of Harry Emerson Wildes “dramatically, the famine completely ended. Countless thousands of fat shad, swimming up the Schuylkill to spawn, filled the river….Soldiers thronged to the river bank….the netting continued day after day…until the army was thoroughly stuffed with fish.”
  • George Washington was one of the first watermen on the Potomac and his fishery helped keep Mount Vernon viable. There are historical writings that he was paying six shillings a piece for shad (~$30 today).  That is a lot considering Washington was known to be frugal!
  • Shad influenced the American Civil War, when, at “the decisive battle at Five Forks (Va). On April 1, 1865 (CSA General) Rosser had paused to scoop up some succulent shad from the Nottoway River. He invited George Pickett and Fitz Lee to join him for lunch.”
Shad Haul Fishing – 1890s | Source:PotomacRiver.org

In the late 1950s-1970s the history of Shad in the Potomac becomes a lot less pleasant. The upper freshwater tidal Potomac in the Washington metropolitan area receives the river’s largest wastewater and stormwater inputs, deposits that were (and are) often lethal to most fish, and particularly so to migratory fish returning to that area to spawn. Major migratory fish kills which occurred in the early 1960s are one of the major reasons that President Lyndon Johnson declared the Potomac River a “national disgrace.” Migratory fish were also subject to over-harvest and loss of spawning habitat, the latter principally through the construction of dams. Despite significant improvements in water quality since the 1970s and a river harvest moratorium in effect since 1982, the American shad stocks had not recovered in the Potomac River by the mid-1990s. 

Source: PotomacRiver.org

While the shad population in the Potomac watershed is not back to its former glory, some major steps have been taken to give the species a fighting chance, and some rebound has occurred. Factors contributing to the rebound include:

  • The Potomac has high potential for shad based on location, bottom topography, and temperature.
  • Water quality improvements in the last decade.
  • Shad harvest moratoriums. 
  • An important milestone for the fish passage restoration project was accomplished in January of 2000 with the completion of the fishway at the Little Falls (Brookmont) Dam by the US Army Corps of Engineers (North of Chain Bridge).
  • Shad stocking programs: In 1995 an effort began by a coalition of federal, state, regional, and local agencies and nonprofit groups, organized as a Task Force22, to open historic spawning and nursery habitat for native and anadromous fishes in the Potomac River. An eight-year American shad stocking project began that same year which was designed to imprint shad to the historic spawning and nursery waters and to help rebuild Potomac River shad stocks. The stocking of one million shad fry was the annual goal. 

I realize that was more history than you expected from the regional events blog, but I collected this information for a Zoom meeting the DC Program had during the 2020 days of virtual meetings. Fast forwarding to 2023, the DC program finally organized an event to actually go shad fishing! Timing the event is a bit tough because the shad run is dependent on a lot of environmental factors. Last year, the run was still going relatively strong into May. This year, the run had slowed down significantly by May but that did not stop us from giving it a shot!

DC APL Mitch Fenton paddling out!

Similar to our recent successful trip to the Savage River, this event was made possible by a generous donation from the National Park Trust. I want to once again thank Ivan Levin (Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications) and Nick Weig (Programs Coordinator) for supporting our Program. Due to the generosity of their partnership, we were able to cater the event with BBQ, and send each participant home with their own fly rod, floating and sinking line, and a box of flies with the help of our local fly shop, District Angling.

As I mentioned above we were late for the Shad run this year. We did end up catching a few blue gill in the C&O canal but that was it!

This event was also another opportunity to highlight the collaboration in the National Capital Region. DC welcomed numerous participants from Ft Belvoir and La Plata. We intentionally paired up boat teams with volunteers and participants from different programs, and everyone came away from the day making a few new friends that probably live pretty close by.

Keep an eye out for the next Capital Region collaborative events!

Sources: https://www.potomacriver.org | https://www.chesapeakebay.net

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Spring Browns on the Savage River

May 25, 2023

April 28th – 30th, 2023

By: Tim Metzger

Last October, the DC Program booked a weekend trip to the Savage River in Swanton, Maryland, our closest “Top 100” trout stream. This was to be our first overnight trip since before the pandemic, but due to inclement weather, the trip was postponed until April 2023. Of course, early in the week of the event, the forecast looked bleak with a 99% chance of rain on Friday and Sunday, with Saturday being hit or miss. No matter what, we knew the scenery would be beautiful and the time spent away from traffic, work, and the stressors of day-to-day life would be as therapeutic as ever.

As the week went on the forecast improved slightly, and the owner of Savage River Outfitters assured me we needed to come, and that the Blue Quill hatch was ON! The Blue Quills hatch normally begins in early April in Appalachia, and these small mayflies hatch in significant numbers at a time when hungry spring trout are just beginning to take dry flies again after winter.

One aspect that made this trip special is that Mike Evans, the owner of Savage River Outfitters, is himself a Navy Veteran! Anyone who has visited Savage River Outfitters has probably seen Mike sporting a Navy hat. This Veteran connection made the trip just a little more impactful. Another special part of this trip is that it demonstrates the continued commitment from the National Capital Region Programs to share events across Programs. DC was honored to share this trip with a participant from Fort Belvoir, and not only was he the life of the party, but he was a ringer with the brown trout too, as you will see below!

The group arrived Friday afternoon to rainy conditions, as the forecast predicted. The water temperature was pretty cold and we were nervous things may not pick up. Nobody caught fish Friday afternoon, but everyone was well-fed and well-rested for the following day. Saturday morning the forecast was spotty, but we finally caught a break. Not too cold, sun poking through the clouds, water temps rising slightly, and some Blue Quills hatching! After getting rods put together, and some quick casting lessons on the lawn, participants were paired up with guides and hit the water.

Right away it was pretty obvious it was going to be a good day – the brown trout were eating on the surface and taking nymphs.

It’s tempting to get poetic with these write ups – but all that needs to be said is that EVERYONE was catching fish, with several brown trout over 16 inches. It really was an incredible day.

As hard as it was to get people off the water, barbecue chicken seemed to do the trick for almost everyone. Everyone had a nice evening and the camaraderie was at an all-time high. We had a bonfire at the river bank as the sun went down and watched the last few participants coming off the water for dinner. Up until last light, people were still catching fish.

Sunday morning the weather was pretty rough as predicted, and the event formally concluded. However, this did not stop a few of our participants from hitting the water on their way home, and a few more fish were caught, but not quite as good as the day before.

This trip was made possible by a generous donation from the National Park Trust. Project Healing Waters DC originally connected with the National Park Trust at a collaborative event with TAPS in November 2022. The shared commitment to fishing, public land, and the therapeutic properties of time spent outside were the foundation for this great relationship. I want to personally thank Ivan Levin (Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications) and Nick Weig (Programs Coordinator) for supporting our Program and this relationship. I look forward to continued collaboration between our organizations at the National level.

I also want to thank Mike Evans, Owner of Savage River Outfitters, for supporting this trip. It is really hard to beat the lodging right on the river! The Savage River Outfitters Guides put our participants on fish, and were very helpful in teaching our participants new fishing skills and how to read the water. Charlie Laffey, Brad Urbas, and Ryan Cooper provided wonderful guide services.

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