Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) takes great pleasure in presenting the Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award to Russ Shields for his dedicated and inspiring service to our organization from 2011 to 2019.

(L to R) Ron Bloomquist (Florida DRC), Stewart Mitchell (Florida RC), Russ Shields (awardee), Jim White (Pensacola PL)

As a “Plank Owner”, Russ Shields commitment and dedication to the PHWFF Pensacola Program extends back to 2011. He became the Program Lead in 2012, and for the first five years, Russ was the preverbal one man show. His unparalleled experience and expertise in all aspects of fly fishing ensured the program’s success. A true fly fishing enthusiast and mentor, he always enjoys sharing his knowledge with everyone.

Russ knows and understands how the program’s core program activities – fly tying, fly rod building; fly casting; education; and fly fishing outings – work together to build a therapeutic social setting to form the foundation for a community where our volunteers serve, and our participants heal. Throughout this entire period, Russ served as the Pensacola Program’s “Fly Tier in Chief.” For each of the past seven years, Russ planned, prepared, and led three fly tying sessions each month. Russ also planned and led all rod building sessions. Russ is electrical engineer by college training and professional working experience as an officer in the U.S. Navy for 30 years. He is also an expert mechanic with a fabulous work shop at home. Russ spent countless hours in that shop designing, building, and testing equipment to maximize the rod building experience for the program’s participants. Russ personalized each rod grip to the hand size of its user with the machinery in his shop. Additionally, he built the rod varnish dryers as well as the guide winders that the Pensacola Program is still using today. Russ armed the program’s participants with amazing fly rods, which they built, to chase fish. Finally, Russ wisely utilized the program’s partnering fly fishing club’s casting expertise to ensure participants were ready for their outings. He also connected with local area professional saltwater fly fishing guides to put a lot of participants on Pensacola Bay and the adjacent Gulf of Mexico to chase the wide variety of saltwater species available in Florida’s Panhandle.

Russ selflessly served as the public face of the PHWFF Pensacola Program for seven years. His outreach efforts with the local Department of Veterans Affairs medical clinic, civic groups, veteran organizations, businesses, and other fly fishing organizations helped the program identify and connect with the local disabled veterans. Additionally, his personal interactions with donors resulted in the program receiving funding to support not only some of its core program needs but also overnight outings to mountain streams in Tennessee. His commitment to our Cause inspired all volunteers and participants involved in the program to become a stronger team and to build better friendships. All who know Russ will attest to the positive impact the program has made on their lives and the role model of selfless devotion, mentoring, and leadership Russ provided to them.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is proud to bestow upon Russ Shields the Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award for his tireless and extraordinary service to our organization and to those wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and servicewomen and disabled veterans whom this organization serves.