On Thursday, Trout Unlimited’s Veterans Service Program and Project Healing Waters hosted an enthusiastic group of disabled veterans for a day of fun on the private waters of River’s Edge Outfitters in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Volunteers from the Pisgah TU chapter and their eager veteran participants met in the fly shop for a fly tying session and as soon as the vets had completed tying their individual arsenals for the day they caravanned to the water. They were joined on this outing by North Carolina’s senior Senator, Richard Burr. The Senator is the Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and as a good friend of TU and Project Healing Waters, they were honored to have him join in the fun. Though the water was low and the trout were especially wary, each of the participants landed a few beautiful North Carolina rainbows, with the Senator leading the way with a half dozen.
Then on Saturday, members of the Pisgah chapter, along with help from the Cherokee, NC contingent of Project Healing Waters, began their 6 week Fly Fishing 101 sessions at Asheville’s Veterans Restoration Quarters (VRQ). For those not in the know, the VRQ might be called a homeless shelter, but it’s much more than that. A few years ago the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministries purchased a relatively new motel just down the road from the VA Hospital.
The facility houses 230 veterans in a two year program to serve the special needs of homeless veterans, including the disabled. They are providing intensive training, life skills and specialized employment services for veterans who are dislocated workers and/or need retraining and in the past three years, no one has ever been discharged to the streets. Every veteran graduates to appropriate housing with income. They receive full access to medical care, dental care, pharmacy and medication assistance as needed, and now, thanks to TU members and Project Healing Waters they are learning the art of fly fishing.
The Week 1 session was well attended with 18 vets participating in an overview of the 6 week course. The volunteers covered the basics of the gear they use, fly tying, the trout’s traits and personalities, the places they fish, the knots they use and basic fly casting and they ended the session out on the lawn with casting practice.
To quote Alan Folger, TU’s Veterans Service Program Coordinator, “These guys are fantastic. Every time I answer a question or see the gleam in the vet’s eyes as we talk about the sport we love, I remember the old saying…There, but for the grace of God, go I. “ Ryan Harman, a Pisgah TU member and the Project Healing Waters Program Lead, agrees that they have never had such an eager and attentive group of veterans, and that their enthusiasm makes this groundbreaking project the most fulfilling that they’ve been involved in. As an added benefit, the VRQ sits on the bank of the Swannanoa River, a delayed harvest trout stream, and at the conclusion of the six week course Harman and Folger have made arrangements for the state to provide a special trout stocking just for these guys.