Fly-tying marathon lures supporters

Virginia’s Regional Coordinator for Project Healing Waters Phil Johnson attended the recent fly-tying marathon which generated 1,725 lures.
Photo by Marshall Conner



There is a moment when the sweep of a cast drops a fly upon the surface tension of the water—that’s when time and the soothing sounds of a moving river refocus the mind to the present moment.

It’s been said that catching fish can become secondary to the rhythmic motion of fly-fishing. In the loop and arc of a cast, mind and body can begin to heal from the trauma of war—- even if it’s only for a moment.

Two weeks ago this was the motivation for more than 50 fly-tiers gathered inside the expansive main hall of the National Museum of the Marine Corps for the 4th Annual Fly-Tying Marathon held to benefit Project Healing Waters. The event, now nearly a half decade old, is hosted by the Quantico and Fort Belvoir Chapters of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF). Healing Waters assists wounded and disabled service members, active or retired, in finding that “new normal” through fly-fishing, fly-tying and rod building, according to the organization’s mission.

The marathon generated 1,725 fly lures in two shifts over the course of a Saturday, according to organizers.  This topped previous year’s numbers by about 200 flies.

Approximately 53 volunteers crafted and tied flies onsite, while dozens of donations from fly-tiers not able to attend also added to the total, according to Project Healing Waters officers.

A diverse mix of fly-tiers sat at tables and shared stories while tying lures—there were experienced tiers, shop owners, guides, retirees, first-timers and even children.

One girl tying one of the largest most colorful flies smiled as she shared the experience with her father.

“I’m tying a beaded Hapson’s Fly—it’s like a crawfish and it works for smallmouth and largemouth bass,” said Ada, a 7-year-old tier with just a couple of weeks experience. “I also tied a few worms and zebra midges. I like how we use all these weird bits of animal fur, feathers and craft store supplies.”

As the feathers were cut, shaped and tied into their creations the volunteers were surrounded by hundreds of years of Marine Corps history.  A Corsair and a WWI biplane are suspended overhead and famous quotes about the fighting spirit of the Marine Corps are carved in stone surrounding the tables of busy fly-tiers.

“We get volunteer fly tiers in a marathon setting to see how many flies we can tie and donate to Project Healing Waters programs across the nation,” said George Gaines, a National Capital / Regional Coordinator for Project Healing Waters. “Last year, this event and a couple others contributed over 7,000 flies. I suggest contacting a local chapter if you are interested in donating or volunteering. All styles of flies are appreciated.  I really like the variety of flies on the table today.”

The use of social media allowed the event to grow within fly-fishing and military communities.

Volunteers for the organization have many reasons for their time and dedication—each is a unique story.  A common love of the outdoors is an essential element in the healing process, according to veterans in the program. Some wounded warriors feared that their joy for the outdoors could never be regained after suffering physical and mental wounds—-Project Healing Waters shows them that it is not.

There are former combat veterans whose hands shake so badly or have lost both legs—-but when they get back on the water they realize that they can still enjoy the outdoors again.

To see wounded and disabled service members transcending their wounds and sharing time fishing is as magic as seeing a fish strike a fly.

“When veterans are fishing, tying a fly or building a rod they are not thinking about injuries or war—that’s the essence of it,” said Chris Thompson, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant from Swansboro, North Carolina two years ago when he attended the 2nd Annual Marathon.

His words reflect the true mission of Project Healing Waters.

The first program was started at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. in 2005. The official name was established in the fall of 2006, and the organization was incorporated in the State of Maryland in 2007, according to its website.

PHWFF currently has over 206 operational programs serving disabled veterans and disabled military service personnel from all 50 states and Germany. Each program is managed at the local level by volunteers who work with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, Department of Defense (DOD) military installations, Warrior Transition Units (WTU) and other institutions. PHWFF has 20 geographic regions throughout the United States and a region in Europe. PHWFF also has affiliate programs in Canada and Australia, according to its website.

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