Bill May: Programs that promote healing through fishing

Reflecting on my nearly 29 years of writing columns for the Carroll County Times, my favorite memories are all the times I participated in and wrote about four healing programs. Although the original stories were published in 2015 and 2016, I can still imagine some of the faces and hear some of the words of the participants.

These growing national organizations with local chapters offer free programs for those who qualify. All meals and lodging are covered for the multi-day programs, and necessary equipment is provided on all four programs, including tackle, boots, life jackets, and kayaks. In addition to their main offerings, most local chapters offer additional activities.

These programs are supported by financial contributions and by large numbers of dedicated volunteers, often several times the number of participants for each event.

CFR was founded in 1996 by a professional fly fisherman and breast cancer reconstruction surgeon with the mission to “improve the quality of life for women with breast cancer through a unique program that combines breast cancer education breast and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. ” CFR weekend programs provide “opportunities for women whose lives have been profoundly affected by breast cancer to experience physical, emotional and spiritual healing through retreats in beautiful natural settings and learning to fly fish , a sport for life”. Retreats are open to breast cancer survivors of all ages, in all stages of treatment and recovery.

Two of my favorite quotes from a past show include: “I went out to the evening campfire and was awed by the beauty of the full moon, the lanterns around the fire, and the faces of the women shining in the lights as they talked, laughed, and sang.” And from another participant: “I came here alone. I’m leaving with 11 friends from our group and nine friends from the volunteer staff.”

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This year, CFR programs are scheduled May 19-21 in Syria, Virginia (Rose River), and October 13-15 in Sharpsburg (Beaver Creek). Note: Request programs two months in advance.

For more details on how to attend, volunteer, or donate, see

A personal guide prepares to catch trout for a Reel Recovery participant in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, in a session in 2015.

Reel Recovery was founded in 2003 by a group of Colorado fly fishermen to address the growing demand and limited supply of support services designed specifically for men with cancer. Their mission is to “help men through the recovery process from cancer by introducing them to the healing powers of the sport of fly fishing, while also providing a safe and supportive environment to explore their personal cancer experience with others who are experiencing cancer.” share their stories, to give these men a respite from their everyday worries so they can gain a new perspective that enables better management of their illness and gives them new skills to bring joy, enthusiasm and renewed hope as they face the challenges of their cancer survival. ”

Retreats are open to adult men, ages 21 and older in any stage of treatment, recovery, or in full remission.

The program features “brave talks” sharing circle sessions and fly fishing sessions with personal guides on the Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. Post-program networking opportunities are also offered.

One participant stated: “I have never seen such compassion from men, never.” Another expressed gratitude for the other participants and the many volunteers, all complete strangers, for doing so much for them. “Some of these guys are retired, but some of these guys took time off work to help us out.”

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Reel Recovery programs are scheduled for 2023 in Syria, Virginia (Rose River) May 1-3 and, for veterans only, October 16-18; Hope, Ney Jersey from May 8-10 and Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania (yellow pants) from June 14-16.

Watch for more details, to apply, donate or volunteer.

A participant participates in a fly tying session at Fort Meade during a Healing Waters Project meeting in 2015.

PHWFF “is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and field trips.”

The organization began in 2005 when retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson was recovering from cancer surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and saw injured and disabled men and women, many of them amputees, struggling with their processes. of recovery. Nicholson introduced several patients to fly fishing, fly tying, and rod building as forms of rehabilitation.

While PHWFF sponsors fly-fishing outings, unlike previous groups, it emphasizes ongoing local outdoor and service-related programs through its local chapters. Fort Meade is the closest of many in our area. It also offers “Virtual Program Meetings” via Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Messenger Chat.

PHWFF National Capital is the local chapter. To contact the group, contact [email protected] or see A prominent feature of PHWFF is that it provides a way to serve as well as be served. Here are two quotes from a fishing program I attended in Virginia.

A retired Navy captain sums it up: “PHWFF saved my life and I mean that completely. That’s why I want to do everything I can to give back even though I’m still in recovery.”

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A retired Army veteran added: “It takes my mind off the pain and gives me a place to be with other veterans.” “I am so grateful to be able to start giving back to an organization that has given so much to me and so many other veterans. Veterans helping veterans! A new world opened up for me.”

HOW was founded in 2007 “to bring wellness and community to our heroes through kayaking, fishing, and the great outdoors.” HOW serves veterans, active duty military and first responders and their immediate families. This organization offers programs through 49 chapters, including four locally: Central Pennsylvania, Appalachian, Tangier Sound, and Maryland. Haven’t seen the 2023 schedules yet, but normally the one day kayak events are held monthly, spring through fall. Get in touch with them via and search chapters.