Any fisherman will tell you that being on an open lake with a rod in hand is a de-stressing and relaxing experience. Building on this concept, Wounded Warriors Canada hosts multiple fly fishing retreats. The most recent event, Cariboo Wounded Warriors, was held in Williams Lake, B.C. from Sept. 18 to 23.
“The overall concept was to bring a small number of ‘veterans in care’ to the Cariboo Region of B.C. at no cost to them, teach them the theory and practice of fly fishing, provide a positive experience and encourage them to pursue fly fishing as a means of relieving stress, as well as pursuing it as a healthy recreational activity,” said Jack Simpson organizer of the event.
Wounded Warriors Fly Fishing is designed to help veterans experiencing PTSD find a way to reconnect with themselves and de-stress.
“One of the symptoms of being affected with PTSD is often being unable to deal with crowded places and all the elements that go with that. Survival skills we learned and honed while deployed on operations have now become a challenge to overcome now that we are home.
Eventually, many veterans retreat from society as a result and may end up staying indoors. Fly Fishing events allow for veterans to get back out into nature in a calming environment. It is just them, the boat, the water, and the fish. There is no stress, beyond losing a fish that was hooked, and it gets the veteran outside again and amongst a group of fellow veterans they can relate too and bond with,” said David Macdonald national partnerships director for Wounded Warriors Canada.
Veterans attending the event learn about the sport of fly fishing in three phases. First they learn about the art of fly fishing, then they are given casting classes from experts and finally the veterans can try out their newly acquired skills on the lake.
Simpson invited a former provincial fisheries biologist, and world-renowned Stillwater fly fisher, author and teacher Brian Chan to attend and put on a four-hour seminar for the vets, to give them the basics and theories behind successful fly fishing.
“…he attended, donating his time and substantial effort, as well as accompanying everyone out to the three lakes that we rotated the fishing groups through. All of the vets were absolutely astounded at the incredible seminar put on by Brian,” said Simpson.
He also invited organization of fly fishers known as “FlyBC.”
The event was attended by 14 veterans and a team of volunteers and organizers with a total attendance of 38.
“At the beginning of the event there was some apprehension amongst the veterans. However throughout the weekend you began to see this wash away with stories being told and some veterans finding shared experiences. By the last day of the event, the mood was one of joy and rediscovery along many smiles and laughs. The feedback was amazing with many of the group looking forward to rediscovering their lives,” said Macdonald.
The program developed from one veteran’s passion for fly fishing. Gervais Jeffrey, Wounded Warriors Canada’s National Fly Fishing Guide, and Operations Manager, used fly fishing as a method of de-stressing after coming home from tours. In 2010, he connected with Project Healing Waters Canada and opened a chapter in Quebec. Since then he built a team of volunteers to teach injured soldiers the art of fly fishing.
Other Fly Fishing events took place in Quebec City in June with 25 participants and Walkerton, ON. in July.