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Now in its 12th year, 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 Beginner Rod Builders who participated this year!

We are pleased to announce the Category 1 (Beginner) winners of the 12th Annual Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing National Fly Rod Building Competition! Following an exciting Public Judging Round (during which over 600 votes were cast!), fourteen Category 1 finalists proceeded to the Finals Round to be judged by an expert panel who determined 1st, 2nd & 3rd place in Category 1 (Beginner). The panel used the following criteria to score the flies and determine the winners: Neatness, Functionality, and Creativity.


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. Participants in this category have built either a 5 or 8 weight fly rod.

3rd Place

Chris McKinney | PHWFF Winston-Salem, NC

It is a 9 foot, 5 weight rod. The blank was colored black, and I used a combination of 2 different blue threads, 2 different green threads, 5 different shades of purple, and some metallic gold thread. Four of the purples were used together in the decorative wrap to create shading, culminating with using the gold last to make the wrap “Pop!” My choice of colors was brought about by my daughter, a picture, and a necktie. Earlier in the year I had gone to church with my daughter, and took a selfie with her. I loved the picture, and noticed the tie I was wearing had a combination of colors that I thought would look great on my rod. Looking at the finished product, I believe I was right.

I haven’t gotten to fish with PHWFF yet, but I have met an amazing group of people. I’ve learned rod building, I’m taking classes on fly tying, and I honestly can’t wait to catch a fish on a fly I tied from a rod I built! What I’m enjoying most about PHWFF is the help with my PTSD. I have an extremely hard time focusing, and my loved ones are constantly amazed at my flies and my rod, because they can’t believe I could be still that long. PHWFF truly has changed my life for the better.

Chris McKinney, U.S. Army (ret)

2nd Place

John Huffman | PHWFF Shenandoah, VA

My fly rod is a 9ft 5wt rod and is the first rod I’ve ever built. I probably went through miles of thread before finding a color combination that I felt properly fits the small, backcountry streams of Virginia’s trout waters. It was truly a cathartic experience learning the techniques, seeing what others have done, and trying various iterations of wrapping. The countless hours invested in this rod have helped me realize how powerful yet another aspect of the fly fishing lifestyle can be at battling PTSD.

At the butt wrap, I used metallic trim bands, then a fade wrap that consists of only two pieces of thread. Going up the rod, I put white alignment dots to speed up time until first cast. For the ferrules, I used an “olive branch” technique, twisting the threads together as I wrapped them, along with a metallic inlay. On the guides, I used more trim bands and an inlay technique. For the tip, I also used the inlay technique, switching colors to black and red.

Throughout this process, I constantly thought about how this program could’ve saved the lives of so many veterans that died by their own hands. It was because of this that my fade wrap consists of 22 sections, representing the 22 veterans that die from suicide every day. Since finding PHWFF, I have shared my story with other veterans and encouraged them all to participate.

John Huffman, USMC (ret)

1st Place

Joshua Geforos | PHWFF Joint Base Lewis McChord, WA

The rod is an Arctos 9’3″ 4 piece 5 Weight. I wanted to keep a traditional “old school” look with a low key spiral decorative wrap. I also put a penny on the bottom of the handle with my wife’s birth year on it, she has been my rock through this healing process and I wanted a reminder of her on the river. I also made a special place for the PHWFF logo up above the decorative wrap.

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.

Joshua Geforos, USAF (ret)

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



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