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Many thanks to Gary Rihn, Erie Participant, for providing this summary of a great event.

Fly fishing with friends is always a good thing. Making new friends while fly fishing just makes a good thing that much better.

Recently, a group of disabled veterans gathered at the village of Volant, PA to fish Neshannock Creek together. The veterans are all participants in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, from the Pittsburgh and Erie programs. They had come together as part of a joint outing designed to help veterans from the two programs in western PA fish and heal with each other.

Amanda Thompson, Pittsburgh program lead, explained her thinking in putting the joint outing together. “For the past two Summers we have been unable to have regional outings because of the pandemic. Neshannock Creek is a great halfway point for both programs to get together and have a day of socializing, catching up, and fishing. Veterans from the two programs have gotten to know each other over the years and have become friends.”

Neshannock Creek made for a perfect meeting location for the outing. It sits almost exactly halfway between the two cities, making it equally convenient for both programs. It is also one of only 22 sections of streams in the state to be designated as Keystone Select waters, which are stocked with larger and older trout, in a 2.7 mile Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only waters, offering anglers the chance at much better fish than average. 

Sean Britt, from the Pittsburgh program, who had never fish the Neshannock before related, “It’s a wider, relatively calm and easy to wade stream.”

Veterans from both groups appreciated the opportunity to meet and fish with fellow PHWFF vets that they had never met before. It gave them an opportunity to not only fish with each other, compare techniques and flies used, but also to share experiences that help in the healing process, a key element of the PHWFF mission.  

Jon Krahe, of the Erie program, said, “Not only did we get to fish together, but we shared stories, compared treatments, and gained insights.” He continued, speaking on a more personal level, “Stream therapy is outstanding. It taught me to relax, to close out intrusive thoughts. My anxiety could be up to here, but on the stream it goes down to here.”

In between stretches of fishing, the veterans were able to relax on the patio of the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, situated a mere 50 feet from the stream, and with a prime stretch of water directly behind the shop that many of the veterans took advantage of. Shop owner Mark Collier was gracious enough to not only offer his facilities as a home base for the veterans, but also asked other fishermen to please avoid fishing that stretch of water for the day to give the more physically challenged vets a place with easier access and a more pleasant experience for the day. When asked what it meant to watch the vets fishing there, when he watches other people fishing literally every day, he related, “This is a special group of people. I loved seeing their smiles as they got to spend a day with their buddies. They were really enjoying themselves out there.” 

The participants were also treated to a catered lunch provided by a nearby local business, Michele’s Homemade Vittles. More reflection took place over lunch, with Erie participant Dorothy Molder noting that PHWFF helps bring her out of slumps. “I enjoy getting out and doing things with the other veterans. These are some people that I respect and admire. I can’t wait to do these things more often now that we can get together again.” She said that Neshannock Creek was a very convenient location for both programs to meet for more joint outings. 

Before breaking up for the day, offers of steelhead fishing in Erie were made to the Pittsburgh vets, while offers of fishing in the southwest corner of the state were made by the Pittsburgh guys in return. Despite some occasional rain, the idea of a joint outing was a big hit, and the vets looked forward to the next one. “It’s low key, very relaxing, people can be themselves”, said Matt Darwin, a Pittsburgh program veteran relatively new to PHWFF and on his third outing with the group. Regarding PHWFF, he continued, “It helped being able to connect to other veterans, to dive deeper into fly fishing. It’s very therapeutic, very relaxing and serene. Project Healing Waters is great for veterans; it’s great to have people help and guide you. I caught my first fish on a fly on this stream in July.” 

Thompson said that she could tell how excited the veterans were to see each other when even the rain couldn’t keep everybody from showing up for the day.

After watching the veterans spend the day fly fishing, catching up with old friends and making new friends, Collier summed up the day with, “Fly fishing has a medicinal value to it. It gets you out on a stream, lets you relax, find peace, physically, psychologically, meditatively. It’s good for the soul. These guys show that.”

Project Healing Water Fly Fishing’s stated mission is it’s dedication to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. Days like this go a long way towards that rehabilitation.

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