For as long as I have been fishing I have relied upon a well worn quiver of excuses for my lack of fishing skill. You know, standard stuff like:
“I brought the wrong rod.”
“I can’t see the fish.”
“Your cigar smoke got in my eyes.”
“They’re hitting short.”
“Barometer is rising.”
“Barometer is going down.”
“We should have gone to…”
“We should have been here yesterday.”
“It’s too cloudy.”
“It’s too sunny.”
“There’s no fish in here.”
“It’s too windy.”
“It’s too calm.”
The most common by far - my go to excuse - has been my eyesight. Well, that excuse was pulverized last Tuesday by tiny ultrasonic waves in a process called Phacoemulsification, otherwise known as cataract surgery. The good doctor took out the bad and put in the good – the good being an intraocular plastic lens. With this new bionic eye I’ll surely put fear in the pea sized brains of the trout, as I will not only be able to see them deep in the water, I will be able to detect the specific bugs they are eating. And for those super spooky little blue-line brookies and those highly educated browns of the Davidson – beware. I’ll see you guys and know where you are even before you do! Maybe. If the surgery results go as promised I might even be able to reacquaint myself with those little tiny fuzzy things that occupy the lower reaches of my fly box.
On Wednesday, after a visit to the doctor to allow him to check on the previous day’s procedure, I took a chance and drove up to Spruce Pine, North Carolina to participate in a Project Healing Waters event sponsored by River’s Edge Outfitters.
On Saturday Ryan and I (from the Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited) along with help from the Cherokee, NC contingent of Project Healing Waters, began our 6 week Fly Fishing 101 sessions at Asheville’s Veterans Service 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 they work with the VA Medical Center Homeless Coordinator to consistently reach out to homeless veterans. They help the veteran connect appropriately with VA services and they provide screening and access to veteran benefits. They provide the basic necessities of an individualized cubical/bed, meals, laundry services, recreation and case management. 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.
Our Week 1 session was well attended with 18 vets participating in an overview of the 6 week course. We covered the basics of the gear we use, fly tying, the trout’s traits and personalities, the places we fish, the knots we use and basic fly casting. We ended the session out on the lawn with casting practice.
These guys are fantastic. Both Ryan and I agree that we have never had such an eager and attentive group of veterans. Their enthusiasm and their attitudes make what we are doing through TU’s Veterans Service Program (in partnership with Project Healing Waters) the most fulfilling work that I’ve ever been involved in. I should add that the VRQ sits on a delayed harvest trout stream, and at the conclusion of the six week course we have made arrangements for the state to provide a special stocking just for these guys.
Every time I answer a question or see the gleam in the vet’s eyes as we talk about the fishing outings to come, I remember the old saying…”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”