Veterans Heal on the Connecticut and Androscoggin Rivers

By Tom Laaser -Augusta/Togus, ME Project Healing Waters

Several Maine veterans of the PHWFF Augusta Chapter came together for a fly fishing weekend at Lopstick Lodge in Pittsburg, NH this August. Arriving Friday evening, the group found themselves in a row of cabins right on the shore of First Connecticut Lake. While the cabins could be considered ‘traditional’, they lacked no amenities and were more than comfortable. Volunteers leading the outing grilled a delicious dinner that everyone enjoyed looking out over the lake and rolling mountains. Starting on a high note, the weekend only got better from there. Saturday and Sunday were long days full of fishing. The guides of Lopstick Outfitters divided the group into twos, loaded the drift boats, and took every one on different stretches of the Connecticut and Androscoggin rivers. 

The group was a mixture; veterans young and old, different branches, experiences, some long-time fly anglers, and some complete beginners. The guides expertly navigated the needs and wants of each member, bringing them on waters that proved both challenging and rewarding. Each day when the sun got high and fish went low, the boats would find a quiet spot onshore and the veterans were treated to lunches that would be considered gourmet in a restaurant. The weather all weekend was warm, sunny, with passing clouds each day that provided just enough covered for the fish to come out and skin to not burn. Only once did a rain pass through, quickly, with guides living up to their reputation by being prepared and having rain gear on hand for those who didn’t bring any. 

Fish weren’t the only thing on the rivers as the boats would glide by bald eagles, a loud family of beavers, and even a fawn who stood on the bank as the group passed. All with the gorgeous backdrop of Northern New Hampshire. 

Each night the boats would pull in, the veterans would collect around a large and warm dinner, and talk into the evening. Despite differences of age, service, and angling experience, all quickly found themselves as part of one big fishing family, swapping stories, advice, and many pictures of fish. 

This long weekend was an idyllic snapshot of the best of PHWFF and the sport of fly fishing as we know and love it. Standing on a drift boat, slowly sliding along, casting a fly recommended by a fellow veteran you just met but instantly trust, and waiting for that brief but immense moment with a guide yelling “Fish on!” and a splash in the water, is such a simple thing, but in the company of others, can be profound and healing in a way words can’t explain. 

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