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We are pleased to announce the winners of Category 1 (Beginner) of the 14th Annual PHW Fly Rod Building Competition! 

Following an exciting Public Judging Round (during which over 1,000 votes were cast!), six finalists proceeded to the Finals Round to be judged by an expert panel who determined 1st, 2nd & 3rd place.

Now in its 14th year, the National Fly Rod Building Competition is focused on expanding the therapeutic experience for Veterans participating in PHW 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.



Category 1: Beginner

The focus of this category is to create an understanding of what it takes to build a functional fly rod and is for participants who have never built a fly rod.

3rd Place

Andy Blue | PHW Knoxville, TN

I am an Army Veteran with 1 deployment to Iraq. Married with 7 children and 8 grandchildren. I enjoy being in nature whether it be hiking, fishing or hunting. I just recently started fly fishing. Since I started I enjoy tying my own flies and building my own rod. I enjoyed the rod building so much that I am working on more fly rods. Different sizes for different streams and rivers.

My pole is 9 foot 5 weight. The cork Handle is embellished with a variety of flies. My pole is Blue with blue and white thread and has Black Double Foot Snake Wire Fly Guide.
The Flies on the handle were transferred from Waterslide Decal Paper and then epoxied in place. After they dried the whole handle was epoxied.

I enjoy the complete process of rod building but when you start wrapping time gets away from you. Seeing the rod complete is very satisfying. Catching your first fish with it is even better.

Being able to get out in nature is one of the best ways to take your mind to a relaxing state. Being able to get out with fellow veterans and have a good time fishing is what it’s all about.

Andy Blue | PHW Knoxville, TN

2nd Place

Kimberly Reed | PHW

One of my earliest memories of when my dad retired from the Navy was him teaching me to use a fly rod in the yard when I was 5 yrs old. We trout fished the NC/TN mountains, ponds and lakes. I attended the PHW meeting when my VA counselor told me about the program but I was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after. PHW was an important part of my recovery to kept me motivated. I turned the reel seat and made the grip. It gave me an opportunity to move outside of my comfort zone.

I built 7” 9’, 4 weight rod. I did a basket weave handle and made a matching sock. The reel seat is stabilized elder that I turned on a lathe.
Basket weaving is one of my hobbies. I saw this woven grip online and thought it would be a fitting addition. I was taught by a fellow veteran to use a lathe to make the reel seat. It is stabilized elder. The tiger striped thread is from my Dad’s collection from the 1954 Herters catalog. I felt I needed to add a bit of Dad to my rod

Building a fly rod is a challenge. It takes persistence and dedication. It’s not a common hobby and I enjoy the novelty of doing something different. It can be relaxing (the learning curve I mentioned), it is challenging, it exercises creativity and the end product is a testament to doing what you love. Also, the connection with my late father and my new friends, both veteran and non-veterans has been very important to my recovery.

My friends are the most important aspect of the program. Both the volunteers and my fellow veterans share a mutual interest that goes beyond just fishing. I am anxious to become more involved.

Kimberly Reed | PHW

1st Place

James Lopez | PHW Auburn, AL

I served in the United States Army Infantry from 1998 to 2018. During this time, I completed 1 tour in Kosovo as an automatic rifleman and 6 tours in Afghanistan as an Infantry Squad Leader and Infantry Platoon Sergeant, retiring after 20 years.

This fly rod is a 9ft. 8 wt. fly rod with a completely customized grip and reel seat. This rod was not built to be only a very effective fishing rod; it was also built to tell a story. I chose to name the rod Kaos (Chaos). From the grip to the tip, the rod tells my story of how chaos has controlled my life and how PHWFFs program has helped me to find that peace that I have so long lived without.

Each ferrule is tied using a fade wrap with different colors, each of which has specific significance. Yellow represents regret; red represents anger; black represents depression; blue represents water; and white represents peace. As you move toward the tip of the rod, those haphazard threads gradually start to reveal the blue and white that represent peace. This is meant to give a visual representation of my healing process.

I found rod building to be very therapeutic. Many people have no issues talking about their issues, challenges, and emotional wellbeing; however, I am not one of those people. I found that I could tell my story though the rod build. In this way, I can get these issues I am dealing with off my chest, learn a new skill, and pass that knowledge onto other members that are attempting to build their first rod.

The regret represented by yellow represents when all the chaos started. While serving in Afghanistan, I lost 6 soldiers, after losing my first soldier I was emotionally destroyed. I put up an emotional wall, so I never had to worry about feeling that way again. This wall became so normal to me I began to lose all the important parts of my personality that allowed me to show empathy. At the handle just past the winding check there is a gold metallic wrap with 6 wraps that represent my 6 lost soldiers.

I enjoy being able to get with other veterans and volunteers and building that community of support that many of us felt we lost after we got out. It is also very helpful to have people that have dealt with the same issues as I have or am dealing with to help each other through those hard times.

James Lopez | PHW Auburn, AL

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

Fly Rod Building: A Life Saving Gift

“Fly rod building is very therapeutic for me, it is my release. It allows me to focus on something and allows me to be creative which I think is a key part of recovery and healing

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