In mid-October the trout stocked waters of Back Creek below Dominion’s Bath County Pumped Storage Station provided valuable recreation and rehabilitation for a special group of anglers on a two-day trout fishing trip in the Virginia Highlands. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), Dominion, The Guilford Foundation of Richmond and Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) hosted a combination of 12 active duty military personnel and veterans recovering from wounds and injuries incurred while serving their country. Warriors and vets from the following military medical facilities and Veterans Administration (VA) centers took part in the two day fly fishing event: McGuire in Richmond, Fort Eustis Warrior Transition Unit, Hampton, Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Salem and Staunton-Harrisonburg Community Based Outpatient Clinic. Service members and guides also participated from VA Medical Centers in West Virginia at Beckley, Huntington, Clarksburg and Wheeling. Volunteer Guides from the PHWFF programs provided one-on-one support for each warrior and vet fishing designated sections of Back Creek called ‘beats’. Another 40 plus volunteers from the sponsoring organizations pitched in to make this event a great success for a special rehabilitative and therapeutic fly-fishing experience.

Each warrior and vet was given a complete fly fishing outfit from rod to waders featuring gear provided by a number of outdoor retailers. For the fourth year in a row, Dominion overstocked the delay harvest section of Back Creek with very nice rainbow trout. This assured the new fly fishers an opportunity to hook up with nice fish on their new 5 wt. rods. This special stocking using private hatchery stock while immediately benefiting the event, enhances the fishery for all the anglers who come to fish Back Creek. Bath County Pumped Storage Station employees provide great support and they kindly allow the group to use their facilities for the event. Phil Johnson, PHWFF Virginia’s Regional Coordinator expressed a big “THANK YOU” to all the volunteers who help make this one of our program’s best trips this year. A special plaque was presented to Dan Genest, Dominion Coordinator for PHWFF sponsored events, in recognition of his service to the organization. Mike Puffenbarger and family who operate Maple Tree Outdoors and provide the home cooked meals for the group while visiting the Virginia Highlands, were recognized for their support of the event now in its fourth year. David Coffman, VDGIF Editor for The Outdoor Report e-newsletter provided goodie bags for the vets and volunteers featuring gear and information to enhance their outdoor activities and provided photos of the participants in a special CD following the event. The Warm Springs Inn was also noted for their contribution of accommodations for the service member guests.

The many volunteers who assist with the PHWFF events note that, “We’re not just taking them fishing…” The volunteer guides who assist the service members while fishing come from a variety of backgrounds and fishing oriented organizations including the Fly Fishers of Virginia, Trout Unlimited, and PHWFF Program Leads who hold fly tying classes and casting workshops at the veteran facilities and military hospitals. Many of these Program Leads are also veterans themselves who have been through rehabilitation and recovery and see this as a way of giving back to fellow service members working to recover from their injuries both physical and emotional. Participants in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) programs and alumni receive therapy, physical and emotional rehabilitation and support for their recovery and transition back into their communities.

WSLS TV NBC Channel 10 Roanoke news anchor John Carlin, in his Virginia Crossroads news feature, came and interviewed the warriors at the Dominion sponsored event to get a feeling on what this program has meant to the lives and families of service members who have experienced post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. Be sure and watch this video clip for a close-up, personal and passionate look at the healing power of fly fishing…

“Is it possible that flowing water (and a few fish) are more powerful than medicine? As helpful as group therapy? Perhaps more. For veterans returning from war the answer is often yes.

Visit the Virginia Crossroads Project Healing Waters website to see how you can support this valuable program. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings. The 2-Fly Tournament is the organization’s headline event each May to raise awareness and funding for its 146 programs across the nation in 46 states. Visit the PHWFF website for more details. For outdoor recreation opportunities in Bath County visit their website.

Photos: The A Position (top), Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (all others)