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2018 2-Fly
Broadmoor Invitational
Freedom Ranch for Heroes
Healing Saturday
Hike to Heal Veterans
HoF NOVA
Holy Waters
Mossy Creek Invitational
Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award

By Gary Rihn, PHW Pittsburgh

Fly fishing can be hard, especially when somebody is relatively new to the sport. Having a mentor can be a big help. Actually having a qualified guide can be a bigger help.

Two Veterans from the Pittsburgh program of Project Healing Waters recently enjoyed a day fishing together, each with their own individual guide. The Veterans had traveled an hour north to fish Neshannock Creek in Volant, PA.

Jim Leone had fished the Neshannock before. Jim mused during a break,

It’s beautiful here. Just being out here, man, just being here….

Dan, Jim, Tom, and Chris, alongside the Neshannock.
Dan, Jim, Tom, and Chris on the bank of the Neshannock.

Along with Leone was Tom Lunardi. Lunardi said that he had heard others talking about the Neshannock, and that it had a good reputation. “I was excited about coming here, being guided, I was really looking forward to the whole thing”, he commented. Neshannock Creek is a stream designated as Keystone Select by the PA Fish Commission, meaning that it is stocked with larger than normal trout. It is also a Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only project, with almost three miles of water that can be fished year-round with flies and artificial lures only.

The morning started cold, in the mid-20s, but with the stream in perfect conditions. Each angler took to their own section of the stream with their respective guide, and spent the morning and into the early afternoon fishing. Occasionally breaks were taken around the fire pit on the stone patio at the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, which sits streamside. During these breaks, the healing part of PHWFF’s mission started to happen. Leone noted during one of the fireside chats:

This isn’t just a sport, it’s an outlet. It’s a way to calm down when I need to. Even at home, sometimes I’ll go to my tying table and just focus on that for a while.

Helping the Veterans were two guides: Dan Heitzenrater, the fly shop’s lead guide, along with Chris Horn. Both mentioned that the low temps presented a challenge for the day, as they never rose much above freezing. However, even with the cold conditions, they managed to put both fishermen on multiple fish. When asked why he donated his services for the day, Heitzenrater said, “It’s a small thing actually when you think about the fact that I can do this (as he swept his arm out across the stream and the Veterans) in a wonderful country that they provided for me.” Horn backed him up with, “It’s something I’ve been wanting to get involved with for a while, helping those who served our country. Today I got to do that.” Along with the guides, Mark Collier, the owner of Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, decided to donate the day’s services to the Veterans at no cost. Collier’s father was an Air Force Veteran, and said his father raised him a certain way. “We have so much in this country that we don’t fully appreciate; we have that because of those that fought for it. We need to challenge ourselves to not take that for granted. It gives me a good feeling to see everybody enjoying each others’ company, especially these guys that were injured,” as he looked out the window of the shop at the two Veterans in the stream.

As the day progressed, the Veterans kept picking up more tips from the guides. Horn noted, “They both already had enough knowledge when they showed up, they had a good base, we just helped with some finer points”. That combination of knowledge and tips all came together for Lunardi when he landed his first unassisted trout, a beautiful 14″ rainbow. He said that it was the first trout where he had made the cast, hookset, fight, and brought the fish to net all without help from anybody else. Surprisingly, he said that might not have even been the highlight of his day (or at least maybe tied for it). “Just being out here, seeing the water, I’m learning, every time you do this you learn a little more.” When asked about his highlight of his day though, Horn immediately said, “Watching Tom land his first trout on a fly! The smile on his face!”

As the day wrapped up, the waders came off, and everybody gathered around the fire to chase off the chill of being in the stream for hours, Leone thought aloud, “If somebody had told me five years ago that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them.” Lunardi followed up with,

Project Healing Water is good for your mind; there’s a peace that you have being out here.

Project Healing Waters’ stated mission is its dedication to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of Veterans in need through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.