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Have you entered a fly rod in this years competition? The submission period closes on October 17, 2022. Contact your Program Lead to started. Only registered participants in the PHWFF program who are registered in an active PHWFF program are eligible to submit fly rods. Professional or sponsored fly rod builders are not eligible to participate. Click here to learn more

We caught up with a few of the Fly Rod Building Competition winners to see where they’re at, how they’re doing, and pick their brain for advice and tips ahead of the 2022 competitions.

John Huffman, PHWFF Shenandoah, VA

2nd Place (Beginner), The 12th Annual PHWFF Fly Rod Building Competition

“I wanted my rod to resemble a brook trout,” John Huffman said of his second-place winning rod last year. Although he ultimately ended up changing the color pattern on his rod a little, he wanted to keep the brookie-esq feel to it, so he took it down to a local stream that inspired him to make the rod, to take photos.

Photo Tips

“I enlisted my wife’s help, who has a really nice camera,” Huffman said. “I looked at websites and other rods that were being manufactured and thought, ‘I could recreate that.’”

Huffman said getting the small details of the rod in the photos were most important, so they tried different angles and lighting as well.

Huffman has been with PHWFF for about two years now, and originally, he admits he just joined so he can catch some fish.

“Now it is so therapeutic to me. It’s therapy without actual therapy. I get so much out of it.”

Huffman mentioned Program Lead for the Shenandoah Valley PHWFF Charles Howdyshell is who inspired him to build a rod.

“He came to me and said, ‘Hey man, I think you should try (building a rod); I think you’d really enjoy it.’ He walked me through the process, and we probably spent hundreds of hours on YouTube looking up videos.”

“Being a first-timer and not knowing what to expect drove me to learn more and do more, and utimately, to showcase something amazing.”

Why Fly Rod Building?

Huffman says for him, rod building is an escape.

“I am at the point where things are getting better (mentally) and PHWFF has continued to build that progress. Your mind just gets lost in the details. That’s 100 hours you’re spending not stressing. Learning the skills and little techniques…it surprised me how much I enjoyed that part as well.”

Huffman would like to tell someone on the fence about building a rod to ‘just do it.’

“If there’s any apprehension, or lack of knowledge, just sit down and give it a shot. Learning can be as simple or difficult as you want to make it.”

Corporal John Huffman enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003 as a 1371 Combat Engineer with B Co. 4th Combat Engineer Battalion. In 2005, Cpl. Huffman deployed to the Al-Anbar region of Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom as an engineer attachment to L Co 3rd Battalion 25th Marines. Throughout the deployment, Cpl. Huffman took part in counterinsurgency operations in addition to explosive ordinance disposal as part of Task Force Wolf. It was during these operations that Cpl. Huffman sustained multiple traumas that resulted in PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and a variety of other life-affecting conditions. Growing up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Cpl. Huffman is a long-time outdoors enthusiast with hobbies to include hunting, fishing, hiking, and kayaking. Recently, Cpl. Huffman has began to explore fly fishing after meeting representatives from Project Healing Waters. He has since become enamored with the intricacies, challenges, and “tight line therapy” found almost exclusively with fly fishing. Cpl. Huffman currently resides in Stuarts Draft, VA with Sylvia, his wife of fifteen years, and their eight-year-old daughter. The family enjoys spending time together outdoors taking part in a myriad of activities where they can appreciate the natural resources offered in their area.

Billy Dailey III, PHWFF Portland, OR Program

1st Place (Advanced), The 12th Annual PHWFF Fly Rod Building Competition

“I am a craftsman in a lot of ways,” Billy Daily said about using his skills to come in first place with his rod in the 12th Annual PHWFF Rod Building Competition in 2020.

As student turned teacher, Daily loves his new role as running the rod building class for his program.

“My favorite part is teaching now and have them turn their own handles. I love teaching and seeing my students learn and get creative.”

Photo Tips

For the photos, Daily enlisted the help of his daughter, who owns a nice Canon camera.

“We played around with different lighting and different angles throughout the day. It definitely helps to have a nice camera or a newer phone.”

Daily said one of his favorite parts of the competition is seeing the different ideas that people bring to the table.

“Most of the (participants) do a military themed rod, or incorporate their campaign ribbons into them. I just love seeing the different people and their ideas showcased.”

Why Fly Rod Building?

Daily says he is always telling people how much the rod building program in many ways, both mentally and physically.

“Without the competition, without PWFF, I don’t think I would have ever thought to go out and make my own rod. It’s a way of expressing yourself that is rather unique. Then when you catch a fish on your own rod, and with your own fly, man…there’s nothing better.”

Robert Bell III, PHWFF Montrose, CO

3rd Place (Intermediate), The 12th Annual PHWFF Fly Rod Building Competition

“When I first told people I wanted to a camouflaged rod, they said ‘I couldn’t’ so I wanted to do it more,” Robert (Bob) Bell said of his third-place winning rod last year. To practice, Bell bought fiberglass arrow shafts and experimented on those to get a perfect balance of not too much camo, but enough to give it an accent.

“All the rods are beautiful, but to me they all had the same thing in common. I wanted to think outside of the box and balance my creativity and my pride in building (the rod) and see how I could apply both.”

Bell took his guides, and coated them with Cerakote, a specialized coating that he hopes will help the guides from freezing over on those colder days on the river. “I haven’t had a chance to test it though,” Bell laughed.

Robert Bell joined the military in 1979. He spent 10 years in service making the rank of Sergeant E5. His primary MOS was that of a Quality Control Rotary Wing Aircraft Inspector. After his service he worked for a DoD contractor for an additional 12 years overseas supporting military missions in Southeast Asia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and National Guard training rotations in Germany from our base in Belgium; again, as a Quality Control Rotary Wing Aircraft Inspector. He then came back to the United States and worked for Addam Aircraft as a fixed wing Quality Control Inspector for three years and was subsequently medically retired. Bell found a new home in Montrose, Colorado and a group of special people in an organization known as Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans. It was here that he was introduced to another group of exceptional people in Project Healing Waters and Gunnison Gorge Anglers, a chapter of Trout Unlimited. Members of Gunnison Gorge Anglers provided instruction, time, and materials for our benefit, for which Bell says he will always be indebted. Project Healing Waters first introduced Bell to fly tying. It was during this program; they were asked who would be interested in building a fly rod. Bell immediately jumped at the chance to do so.

To find out more about the 2021 Rod Building Competition, please click here

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