Fly Fishing Helps Veterans Overcome Traumatization
BY LAUREN SEPHTON
The peaceful and quiet serenity of nature is encompassed in every aspect of fly-fishing. From the calming streams to the beautiful natural landscape, fly-fishing is a journey through a moment in time. With the hustle of today’s world, fly-fishing has its own way of closing in that separation between man and God’s marvelous creation, bringing satisfaction to the soul. With that being said, does fly-fishing really help veterans overcome traumatization?
With bravery and sacrifice, many men and women join the armed forces to protect our country every day. And a growing amount of these courageous individuals inevitably winds up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to U.S. News, the suicidal rate of veterans stemming from PTSD was 1.5 times higher than non-veteran suicides. On another note, a study by the Veteran Affairs Health System found that veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose compared to non-veterans. With this in mind, fly-fishing offers a natural stress reliever to help veterans effectively recover and overcome physical and emotional debilitations.
So how is fly-fishing specifically helping veterans overcome PTSD? Instead of becoming easily trapped in their own mind with a jumble of flooding memories, veterans have the ability to take it all to the water. With the surrounding nature offering tranquility and peace, veterans reduce their stress by not having to worry about competition, fight-or-flight mode, safety, time, and so on. Fly-fishing requires the utmost concentration, so all problems tend to fade away into the background during this time, bringing tremendous relief to the veteran. On a similar note, tying flies brings veterans into their own world where hours can pass by without notice, making it very therapeutic.
To let veterans know that they are not alone, there are many non-profit organizations with programs nationwide that teach classes from basic skills for beginners to intermediate classes for previous fishermen trying to learn new skills. For instance, Project Healing Waters provides all equipment, classes, and guided fly-fishing trips at no cost. Serving veterans and disabled active military members, Project Healing Waters is helping these courageous individuals heal remarkably better than medication. Whether one’s disability is physical or emotional, Project Healing Waters offers the opportunity for these individuals to bond with each other as each go through their individual healing process. Whether learning to work with one hand or no legs, they offer every possible device so that the veterans feel that their disability is no longer a disability.
Let’s take a quick peek into the journey of fly-fishing through the eyes of veteran Chris Wikel. Although he grew up fishing all his life, physical injuries sustained while on duty left Chris limited for almost a decade and retiring earlier than he hoped for. About 3 1/2 years ago, an article about the last fly-fishing show in Winston-Salem caught his attention in the Sunday newspaper. It just so happened that the folks of Project Healing Waters were attending the show. After learning about their program, Chris attended their meetings for several years, learning how to build his own fly-fishing rods in the process. Remarkably, the very first fly-rod that he built won first place at a national competition with over 1,000 entries, then became the first two-time fly-rod winner last year, as well. Now, Chris has been given the opportunity to personally mentor ten veterans through Project Healing Waters, which he says is far more meaningful than any award.
Chris Wikel described fly-fishing as bringing together like-minded individuals who at some point dedicated their lives to protecting and serving our country. This common bond helps them to continue to live out the brotherhood they learned to love. When asked about the magic behind fly-fishing, Chris replied, “You are never in an area of God’s creation that is not beautiful.” He further explains how fly-fishing reintroduces veterans to what’s “important and good in life.” Plus, what better way is there to spend your day then in a trout stream?
According to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, fly-fishing has become a natural stress reliever for many individuals. If you or someone you know is struggling with managing their depression, then find a rod and take a beautiful drive over to a local streamflow. There is no doubt that you will become mesmerized by the calming streams and become more relaxed by the escape of the daily hustle. And never forget to take the time to show your appreciation for a veteran, even if it just is a simple ‘thank you.’