For disabled veterans, fly fishing fuels healing
A program teaching fishing skills is helping military veterans overcome physical and mental obstacles associated with combat trauma.
Like many of the people gathered in a room at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery Sunday morning, Todd Green used to know nothing about fly fishing. But before the end of the day, the Army veteran was tying a new fly with ease. He learned as a member of Project Healing Waters, which helps veterans and active duty military service members battle physical and psychological disabilities through fly fishing.
“Healing Waters taught me everything there is to know about fly fishing,” Green said.
He battled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after returning from two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He said it was helpful to make friends with people who were going through their own struggles.
“What keeps me coming back, honestly, is the people,” Green said.
He said tying flies is something he can do at home to reduce the effects of PTSD.
“It takes your mind off things,” Green explained. “Whenever I’d be stressed or having a difficult time, I always go back to fly tying and the things I learned here at Healing Waters.”
The instructor of Sunday’s class, Kelly Galloup, a legend in the fly fishing world, said mastering fly tying is like swinging a gold club.
“You do it once right, and you want to keep getting better and better,” Galloup said. “Anybody can do it. That’s the cool thing.”
Over the years, he has taught plenty of people how to create a fly. But he said teaching veterans is something special.
“It’s pretty dang gratifying, to tell you the truth,” Galloup admitted.
In the novel A River Runs Through It, fly fishing is alluded to as a religion. For Green, it also provided a form of salvation.
“It has been the best thing that has ever happened to me – beside my children – in my life,” Green said. “I am very, very thankful that this program is offered. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
Project Healing Waters holds clinics every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage. There is also a program in the Valley.
You can find a link to their Facebook page by clicking here.