Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing utilizes fly fishing and fly tying in the rehabilitation of disabled servicemen and women in Military Hospitals, VA Medical Centers and Warrior Transition Units all across the country. Their premier fundraising event is the 2-Fly Tournament held each year at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia. The farm, dedicated as PHW’s Home Waters, is owned by PHW Chairman of the Board Douglas Dear. Douglas, who also serves as the chair of the 2-Fly committee, graciously offers the use of this special property to numerous charitable organizations throughout the year.
This year was the seventh annual event and it was a huge success by any measure. Everyone had a fantastic time, many fish were caught, and over $220,000 was raised to keep programs running across the nation. The 2-Fly has grown from humble beginnings seven years ago to a full weekend of activities. Things kick off Saturday with a casual pond bass and bluegill tournament in the afternoon, followed by a riverside cocktail party and dinner with a full program of special guests and inspiring speakers. Then the 2-Fly Tournament follows on Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony. Below are some of my favorite photos from the weekend that I hope convey a bit of the heart of this wonderful event…
A great addition to our Saturday evening festivities the last couple years has been the Virginia Patriot Guard Riders. Each year more and more patriotic motorcyclists ride in behind the colors, and it is a sight – and sound! – to behold. As for the parking violation? Well I’m certainly not going to tell them!
Another tradition has been great music from the Gold Top County Ramblers.
It was an absolutely perfect evening for an outdoor cocktail hour along the Rose River, with dinner supplied by Gentry’s Catering.
Co-chair of the tournament (and bamboo rod maker extraordinaire) Jerry Nonnemacher worked tirelessly to pull together staff, volunteers, sponsors and other contributors to make this the smoothest running event yet.
Former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler is Co-anchor of the Fox 21 27 in Morning News in Roanoke, VA. Tara has been the MC for our evening program for three years now and is a cherished friend of Project Healing Waters.
The only way to truly know how this program changes lives is to listen to the words of those whose lives have been directly impacted. Each year a handful of participants take the podium to share their deeply personal and sometimes painful experiences. CPT Eivind Forseth, US Army (Retired) is one of the first participants of the program. Eivind is a good friend and a powerful speaker. I know his story well, but hearing it again after not seeing him for a few years was quite emotional for me as well as the rest of the audience.
After a special evening program and a silent auction that raised over $34,000 thanks to the generosity of those in attendance, and perhaps a little sleep, it was time for the Sunday tournament to begin! Ed Nicholson and Douglas Dear go over the rules.
I love this shot for one reason: Hats. Despite the fact that everyone has a hat in their possession, you won’t find a single hat being worn during Lisa Mei Norton’s beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. A wonderful display of shared respect and patriotism.
Alright, let’s get to some fishing! Thanks for hanging in this long if you have. Kiki Galvin was named PHW’s National Capital Region Volunteer of the Year this year. Here Kiki nets a nice rainbow caught by SFC Aaron Morse, US Army.
Long time supporter Harold Harsh oversees a drift from fellow Marine LCpl Ryan Wightman, USMC. Douglas Dear’s son Kyle built two of these ramps as an Eagle Scout project, and they help many wounded servicemen and women access water they would have difficulty reaching otherwise.
…as bright as the smile on the face of the man who caught it. Josh Williams, along with his wife Lisa, have become great friends of mine over the years, and I always look forward to seeing them. Josh gets a hand here from guide Phil Gay.
SPC (ret.) Andrew Pike, US Army, who claims to have never fly fished before this week, fights one of many, many fish during the tournament under the guidance of pro guide Brian Wilson. Andrew is a great guy, I enjoyed spending some time with him and hope to see him back next year.
During lunch on Sunday, PHW President Ed Nicholson asked everyone in attendance who has ever served in uniform to gather around for a special presentation. Lefty Kreh served this country with honor from 1942 to 1947 and is a combat veteran from the Battle of the Bulge. He continues his service today as a generous supporter of Project Healing Waters, selflessly giving his time and sharing his talents and knowledge with our disabled active military and veterans. Thank you Lefty, what a great American.
Having experts like Lefty and Ed Jaworowski on hand all day to instruct participants is an invaluable service. I watched Ed teaching casting to this group and others in a steady rain for hours, never once suggesting they take a break or wait till things cleared up.
Washington Redskins safety Reed Doughty (#37) was on hand all weekend spending time with the participants, signing autographs and even catching a few trout. Reed, originally from Colorado, is a passionate fly fisherman. He’s also as friendly and down to earth as you can imagine. I’m a huge Skins fan anyway, but meeting someone you admire as a fan and finding out they’re a great person too, makes it even easier to root for them on the field.
You remember Andy Pike from a few photos ago, the one who had never fly fished before? Well not only did he and his teammate SGT (ret.) Michael Davis, US Army win the Pro/Vet category of the tournament, Andy picked up this trophy for the biggest fish of the day, a 19″ rainbow. Congratulations Andy on a great tournament!
As successful as this event was, Project Healing Waters needs the support of donors and volunteers throughout the year to continue healing those who serve. Visit the PHW web site here to find out more about how you can help.
From left to right: I met Matt many years ago when he showed up at a party at my house with a mutual acquaintance. He spotted a picture on our fridge of me with a Steelhead and we got to talking fly fishing. A few weeks later we were on a road trip together to upstate New York to fish for salmon and we remain great friends and fishing buddies. Harold, who runs the guide service Spring Creek Outfitters out of Western Maryland, was the first guide I ever fished with when I started fly fishing. Since then we have become friends through his generous work with Project Healing Waters. I first met Joel when a mutual online friend introduced us because Joel needed a fly fishing related logo design. We became fast friends, and his Missoula, Montana-based guide business Montana Troutaholics is an absolute must if you are planning a trip to that area to fish.
So myself and three friends I met because of fly fishing but who have never met each other, came together because of that shared passion for fly fishing at one of the best places for it, Rose River Farm.
But I was fishing with two of the best trout guides I know, so I was positive it was just a matter of time.
In the afternoon, with just a hint of sun to warm the water a couple of degrees, things turned on and the fish became a lot more active.
There was a little beer drinking going on as well, of course.
Matt and Joel warming up by the grill before lunch.
A hot lunch hit the spot after spending the cold morning in the water.
Here’s Harold putting the bamboo to the test on a nice rainbow.
And back you go into the Rose River.
My biggest fish of the day.
I think it’s safe to say the Rose was pretty clear!
Joel always looks like he’s in a Simm’s ad or catalog cover.
A full day of fishing behind us and more weekend adventures ahead for Joel and I, we all headed back to the wonderful luxury yurt-style cabin at Rose River Farm. More beer and many laughs went great with a few thick rib-eye steaks on the grill. A perfect end to a great day.
Hanging around the fire pit was so much fun. There was weather coming in, but luckily it held off long enough.
We were surprised the next morning to find a couple inches of fresh, wet snow on the ground!
An unhurried, hearty breakfast started our day off right.
I don’t drink coffee, but on this morning I could have used a cup or two!
After breakfast, Joel and I headed into the Shenandoah National Park for some brook trout fishing and a vigorous hike. We stopped at a few pools along the way, but the fishing was pretty tough, quite possibly the result of the weather front that had just moved through.
But Joel would not be discouraged! We tried many different flies to get the attention of these stubborn fish.
Finally patience and skill paid off as Joel brought this little beauty to hand. Joel’s first native brookie, and also by far his farthest easterly fish caught in the U.S. So while not big, it was memorable.
When we let this little guy go, we told him to tell all his friends that he was treated with care and respect and that the fly was delicious. But they didn’t get the message, this was the only fish of the day. I was psyched Joel got it though, and the company and great hike made for a fantastic day despite the fishing.
This is my favorite photo of the day, and I encourage you to click on it to see it larger. Joel stepped off the path to try one more spot on the hike back, and I captured this cool panorama with my iPhone. Winter has its own brand of beauty, and while at first glance it can look pretty brown and dull outside, nature reveals wonderful, subtle colors in the winter. Sometimes we have to just remember to open our eyes and maybe look a little harder.
The next day brought another opportunity to share with Joel, who has never been out this way, something that’s very special to me: A hike with Team Orange (my two Wirehaired Vizslas). I chose the more difficult trail at Maryland Heights, which has some neat Civil War history along the way.
Another iPhone panorama from the summit, showing the historic town of Harper’s Ferry, WV, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.
A mellow evening after a fun filled weekend was in order, beginning with a final beverage on the Platform.
The sun sets on the last day of Joel’s visit. I’m so grateful to have my friends together for some fishing down at Rose River Farm, and for the chance to spend some more time with Joel, he and his wife Debbie have been such gracious hosts to me when I’ve visited out west.
Everyone was a bit tired after three days of fishing, hiking and drinking. So some couch time was what we were in the mood for, and Finn wasn’t going to let his new hiking buddy get too far away.
I spent a couple of days fishing in beautiful Madison County, VA with my friends Andrew, shown here on the left, who set up the trip as a birthday celebration, and Josh. I met Josh several years ago through Project Healing Waters, and while I always look forward to seeing him at PHW events, he is very much in demand at those events, so it was nice to spend some quality fishing time with him.
We started out with a day of fishing at Rose River Farm, a wonderful private stretch of water that holds some big, strong rainbows, with a few beautiful browns mixed in. Here Andrew targets some trout that were still sluggish in the cold morning water.
William from Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing was also fishing the Rose that day. I know William from his volunteer work with PHW and was glad he was there. He not only took this photo of me with a beautiful rainbow, he provided the fly I caught it on. Thanks William!
The day wound down, and we said goodbye to the Rose River. After a slow morning, the fish got pretty active in the afternoon and the late day dry fly fishing was incredibly fun. A great day on the river.
Andrew had arranged to rent one of the three luxury cabins at Rose River Farm.
I have never tied a fly before. But Josh, an accomplished fly tier who sells his flies on his Dead Drift Flies web site, offered to teach me how to tie one. The wooly bugger is a common beginner fly design, and is also something I could fish the next day as we headed into the Shenandoah National Park in search of brook trout. So this is what I tied. It is far from perfect, but Josh insisted it wasn’t awful for a first attempt.
The next morning brought temperatures at least 20 degrees colder than the previous day, a change that can sometimes turn off fishing altogether. But we decided to head into the park and give it a try. After a vigorous uphill hike to reach some nice pools, it wasn’t long before my first ever fly tricked this beautiful brookie.
The brook trout are typically small here in the park, with some exceptions, but if there is a more beautiful fish you can catch on a fly rod in the eastern part of the United States, I do not know what it is.
It was a wonderful day of hiking, scrambling on rocks to access hard to reach pools, and catching stunningly beautiful trout. A fantastic couple of days in a beautiful part of the state with great company and cooperative fish. Can you ask for anything more?
I’ve been pressed for time since I got back, but wanted to get these photos up from my trip to New York. So I’m trying the slideshow feature. Let me know how you like it!
I am normally very content to remain in my beloved Virginia. But every now and then, something in my brain clicks and I need to go west. It’s as if some sort of internal GPS needs to be reset and I can only do it in Montana. I am happy to accommodate this particular quirk of my brain every couple years, and am blessed to have a loving wife who is happy to support my pilgrimage.
On this trip, I wanted to dip south into Wyoming and explore Yellowstone National Park for a couple days. I had heard about Slough Creek, a special creek that takes a good hike to reach and holds some beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. So I decided that’s where I was headed.
I recruited some company for the journey, my good friend and Missoula-based fishing guide extraordinaire Joel Thompson for three very good reasons: One, he knows western water and bugs and trout like nobody else; Two, I very much enjoy his company; and Three, Slough Creek is firmly located in an area where it’s not wise to hike alone, an area teeming with wildlife such as elk, moose, wolves, bison and there’s one more, what was it? Oh yeah. Grizzly bears.
I’ll be honest here, I consider myself relatively ‘outdoorsy.’ But I admit that my particular brand of outdoorsy is a far cry from Yellowstone bear country outdoorsy. Joel, on the other hand, has spent a lot of time backcountry hiking and camping in truly remote, potentially perilous locations and conditions. So when he gave me a lesson in bear encounter body language, I listened intently.
I also made the mistake of reading the booklet that came with the bear spray I bought for the hike. This ‘helpful’ guide is loaded with things like a list of ways to avoid a bear encounter, and then a disclaimer saying that might not work. Or a list of bear behaviors that may indicate aggression, and then, “or, a bear may not exhibit any of these signs and attack without notice.”
So while the pep talk at the trailhead was not a big confidence booster, I felt a little better with the bear spray on my belt and the knowledge that encounters are rare, even in areas thick with bears. Backpacks were packed, and I felt anxious and excited and ready to go. We toasted our adventure (and settled my nerves) with a Moose Drool Brown Ale, an excellent choice in a Montana breakfast beer, and hit the trail.
Within 300 yards of the truck we encountered our first sign of bear activity. A huge, steaming (okay, not actually steaming, but unmistakably fresh) pile of bear scat. Soon after that we saw tracks, thankfully headed in the opposite direction we were hiking. But Joel’s relaxed conversation put me at ease and soon I was focused on the hike and scenery.
It was beautiful, no question, and I could have easily spent the entire day there. But we were both looking forward to a longer hike, and had our sights set on the second meadow, about five miles from the trailhead.
These were, as it turned out, easy miles. As we encountered more open country, my bear anxiety lessened. And my fitness efforts over the summer paid off as I felt comfortable hiking at a quick pace with a considerable pack on my back.
When we arrived at the second meadow, the trail had taken us well wide of the creek. A smaller path led a half-mile or so north to the water, and we quickened our steps in anticipation. As we reached the creek and shed the backpacks we spotted a large trout holding in a huge, deep pool below us and our excitement grew. We assembled our fly rods while discussing strategy. Joel was going after the big cuttie in the pool we were watching, and I headed upstream to explore.
Here, a half mile from my friend, I had a clear view in every direction, thousands of acres of grassland spotted with sagebrush surrounded by rugged mountains along the entire horizon. I stopped walking, stopped looking for rising trout, stopped thinking about catching them, and said to myself, “Look at where I am.”
A lone bison grazed in the quiet across the creek from me, and I sat on the bank and watched him. On our drive to the trailhead we saw hundreds of Yellowstone’s bison, but this solitary beast, so peaceful in this spectacular setting, triggered something in me. I was overwhelmed with the grandeur of it all.
It was more than the beauty of the place. It was working hard all year to save for the trip. It was sweating all summer to shed 25 extra pounds so if I got to a place like this I wouldn’t be worried about the hike back out. It was that rewarding burn in the legs from the walk. It was the easy comfort of a good friend nearby and the pleasant mix of adrenaline and Moose Drool in my stomach. It was the sandhill cranes above, the bison in the meadow and the trout below the creek’s surface. It was the aroma of sage with a distant hint of wildfire smoke in the air. It was a landscape unchanged for thousands of years, yet somehow utterly American. It was everything I ever could have imagined in a place, and it was more. It was emotional, spiritual and physical. It was timeless.
I could have wept. And, truthfully, that bison across the way did go blurry for a moment or two.
But there was fishing to be done, and only two of us as far as the eye could see to do it. So I took a few photos of this powerful place, knowing full well that even if I could somehow capture the beauty of it, the images would only tell a fraction of the story. But if nothing else, the pictures would serve as a reminder to me that special places and moments are out there, and that the ones you work hard to reach are made more special by the effort.
He was, predictably, having more success than I was. He had found a tight series of turns in the creek, with gravelly little beaches and rock formations forming a stunningly beautiful collection of promising fishing spots where both of us could fish on our own but still be nearby if one of us needed a hand landing a fish or taking a photo.
Joel loves to fish, but he also loves to help others catch fish. He spotted a feeding trout in a pool and carefully waded across to climb the rock face on the other side so he could look down and direct me where to cast. It worked, and in a few casts I had my very first Yellowstone cutthroat on the line. Joel hurried back across to make sure we got a photo of me with my fish. This is special to me not just as my first fish of this species in the most special place I have ever stood, but because Joel worked hard to help me get it.
But we were five miles from the truck and wanted plenty of daylight to get there. Animals move at dusk and if bears were going to return to the path, it was my preference to be sitting safely somewhere enjoying dinner and a beer or nine by then.
The trail going back seemed different, partly because I was pointed in the opposite direction of course, but partly because I was more relaxed. I was still alert for big things, but able to look around and enjoy the little things we encountered along the way. A grouse tried to startle us from the trailside brush. We watched a Clark’s Nutcracker (named for explorer William Clark) hunt for grasshoppers just a few feet away. Odd insects caught our attention like the bizarre and repugnant Mormon Cricket. And conversations abut these encounters and everything else under the sun were not only enjoyable, but also served to make a little extra noise on the trail so we didn’t surprise any Grizzlies.
But the packs were getting heavy, and we were parched and hungry. We had plenty of water, but it was packed away so we decided to just push on. We got to the truck without incident, and as I shed my backpack I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I had traveled a greater distance on foot than on any other single day in my life. I had stood in a place I will never forget, with a fly rod in my hand, and fooled a new species of fish to my fly. And I had not been mauled by a Grizzly bear. Pretty good day. One of the very best days, in fact.
In the uniquely charming town of Gardiner, Montana, just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, where elk walk the streets and graze on lawns between swing sets and recycle bins, there is a bar called the Iron Horse. We spotted it the previous day and declared when we returned from Slough Creek we would sit outside on their deck overlooking the mighty Yellowstone River, toast to our day with fine Montana brews, and shovel absurd quantities of food into our faces. It was another in a long list of excellent decisions we made all week long.
We refueled our depleted bodies with bison burgers topped with bacon, kielbasa sausage, caramelized onions and cheese. I washed mine down with several Bozone Amber Ales, Joel went with his beer of choice, an IPA.
And then it was over. Days just like it happen one after the other in this special place. The elk bugle, the bison graze and the cutthroat feed whether I’m there or not. But I am humbled, honored and privileged to have been able to stand in that meadow, to reach into that cool, clear water and touch those beautiful trout first described to science by Lewis and Clark, to be a part of this place for a day. And I’m not overstating it to say that all my days from now on will be a little bit different, a little bit better, for having been there.
If you are looking for a fly fishing guide in western Montana, look no further than Joel Thompson at Montana Troutaholics.
Note: All the above photos were taken with the Olympus Tough Series TG-1, many with the optional Olympus FCON-T01 Fish eye converter lens.
…might as well be a nice one.
I hit the river this morning for a couple hours with one goal in mind: to get a little more proficient with my Olympus TG-1 and the new fish-eye lens converter I just got for it. It’s supposed to produce better, more dynamic underwater photos. And with my trip to Montana just over a week away, I don’t want to be fumbling with my settings when I get the chance to shoot a cutthroat in those beautiful, clear Montana streams.
There are three different underwater settings for this camera: landscape, action and macro, each with a flash option. So there really is a lot of experimenting to be done to find the best settings for particular underwater photo opportunities. I wanted a fish subject but wasn’t having much luck until this beauty came along. All these photos are of the same cooperative smallmouth, the only fish I caught today.
Most of the photos were taken with the lens zoomed in all the way. I don’t know why it was set like that, but I’m glad I looked at the images with the fish still in my hand so I could back off and get some decent shots of the entire fish.
Having said that, I am very pleased with these oddly abstract close ups!
There’s the big fella! He was a real beauty, easily 16″ I think, and very thick.
Pretty clear underwater image, considering the water isn’t exactly gin clear. But it’ll take more practice to really dial in the best way to shoot these scenes.
See you next time, pal!
It was a fun morning, fly fishing the home waters of the Potomac with a friend. A few smallmouth were caught, but for me it was mostly these pretty little sunfish. They’re small, but they fight hard. The Jack Russell Terriers of the fish world, we decided today. The only interesting photo I took today was this macro of a sunfish eye. You can see my silhouette in the reflection.
It was almost dark
when I headed down the hill
in search of smallmouth
The river gave up
Five fish in twenty minutes
But light was fading
So I headed back
Up the steep hill to the house
Grinning all the way.
It’s hot today. Damned hot. But I felt like walking down to the river with my fly rod and making the most of an otherwise dreadful day. I brought along my new trusty Olympus TG-1 waterproof camera and had some fun with it too.
The heat kept most sensible people indoors, but it wasn’t bad here on the water late morning. A steady breeze kept things reasonable. But I only spotted a couple people kayaking in the couple hours I was out there.
At this time of year, this grass grows in the river everywhere. The good news is it makes for good, safe habitat for fish. The bad news is it makes for good safe habitat for fish. It’s a challenge to fish water like this without getting snagged continually, but luckily the water was very clear, so you could actually cast to the gaps and watch your fly move underwater. To successfully navigate a streamer through these clumps and end up catching fish is pretty fun and rewarding.
I don’t understand what the camera is doing to make this dark edge around the fish, but to me it gives it the look of a bad movie special effect or something. This is a healthy little smallmouth bass, one of eight small ones I caught today along with a couple pretty sunfish.
This cool wooly bugger is the only fly I fished with today, tied by my friend Josh Williams of Dead Drift Flies. I think it really comes to life in the water, great looking fly.
I feel like the key to my photography is to just take a LOT of photos, because most of them are going to be uninteresting, technically flawed or both. If that’s true above the water’s surface, it is doubly true beneath it. Because you can’t see what you’re shooting, you just pick your settings, hold it underwater and snap away. I took over a hundred underwater pics today (many on ‘burst’ shutter to try to capture movement), and ended up with a half dozen or so keepers. And while the keepers admittedly aren’t that great, I did make some progress in figuring out the settings I like underwater.
On the settings that use a flash, like this one and the photo at the top of the post, to me the photos have almost a surreal look to them.
Well of course, I let this little guy go hoping he would swim toward the camera. No.
I don’t know if you can see these at the top of the picture, but I have a large pod of large carp right off our river bank, and I will figure out how to catch them one day! The largest of these, like the blackish looking one in the top right of the photo, is probably 30″ long and as big around as my thigh. I saw 12-15 carp and some impressive catfish in this hole. I fished to them for a while but they were not interested in my silliness.
And speaking of silly, you find odd things in and around the river all the time. This rubber ducky had a number on the bottom, leftover from an old Brunswick, Maryland Railroad Days game where you buy a number, they release the duckies upstream, and as they catch them downstream there are prizes given out. This wayward fella missed out on the game and was stuck in a little eddie for who knows how long, so I sent him on his way down river.
This is my fiftieth post here on Dispatches from the Potomac. To date there have been 13,355 views from 67 different countries, and more of you choose to follow this blog every week. Thank you all for taking time out of your days and, from time to time, choosing this space to spend a few moments when your online options are virtually infinite. I appreciate it more than I can say, and I will continue to try hard to share the interesting, the beautiful and the funny aspects of my world.
To mark this special milestone I have updated my masthead banner to show my Wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, on a recent kayak trip on the Potomac River.
Thanks again, and please tell your friends!
Regular Readers here will recall my saga with Pentax and their Optio WG-2 “waterproof camera.” After two failed cameras I went back to the Olympus brand from which I regret straying. My beautiful new TG-1 arrived late last week, just in time for a big Saturday on the water.
A friend and I chose a nice spot about four miles upstream from our place to put the kayaks in, and we chose first light because the river is never more beautiful or less populated than it is at dawn. But the spot requires a portage of kayaks and gear over four sets of railroad tracks, a couple of narrow, windy paths and a stretch of the C&O Canal Towpath.
But the sore shoulders and face full of spider webs (Note to self: Do not volunteer to be the first one down the path next time) are quickly forgotten as the sound of the rushing river nears and the spot is just as we had remembered, just as we had hoped.
Dawn came, not with a red skied bang, but rather with a breezy, blue whimper. Cooler than I expected but the breeze brought a promise of a warm day ahead.
In an hour the breeze and water had calmed and we settled into a steady downstream mosey. The smallmouth were biting but not enthusiastically and only little ones.
This bridge between Lovettsville, VA and Brunswick, MD marks the one mile point to home. I love the rippled reflections here.
It was still pretty early in the day when we got off the water and I hadn’t given the new Olympus much of a waterproof workout. So once the kayak was put away I brought Team Orange down to cool off. This is Finn, who I think would stand in this river all day in the summer.
Underwater pictures are fun, but you really don’t know what you have while you’re taking them. My method: Stick the camera underwater, snap away, then get them on to the computer later and throw out 99% of them.
I love the abstract, colorful images you can get by shooting up at a subject (Winnie, in this case) with the lens just barely submerged.
Water plays crazy tricks with light!
Finn doing his thing.
I hope you enjoyed these images from a fun day. I appreciate you all taking time to let me share it with you.
I recently had the privilege of participating in a unique and special project put together by the folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen bloggers from all across the United States were selected to receive this custom-built bamboo fly rod made by Fall River Fly Rods, fish with it, write about it and pass it along to the next blogger on the list. The South Fork model 5-weight rod comes with a beautiful reel from Montana Fly Company loaded with Rio line, and after each has had a turn with it, one participant will get to keep it!
When the rod arrived at my post office, having only made three stops so far (Arizona, New Mexico and Alabama) the shipping tube it came in was already getting the look and feel of a world traveled suitcase with stickers and labels all over it. Inside, the rod case alone is a thing of beauty, but as I took everything out and put it together I was really impressed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the rod. I had known for some time that I would be taking part in this, but now it was here, it was real, and it was exciting. I couldn’t wait to get that line wet and fish with this piece of art!
I had to bring this rod to my favorite trout fishing spot in the area, Rose River Farm in scenic Madison County, Virginia. I arrived in the evening, with just enough light left to try for one of the many rising trout I could see along the entire stretch of river at the farm. So I carefully assembled the rod and realized I had a new top priority above even catching fish: Do Not Break This Rod! So, slowing down, methodically stringing the rod and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like leave the spare rod tip partially out of the case where I could sit on it or something, I was finally ready to fish.
This was my first time fishing with bamboo, and it took a few minutes to get a feel for it. But the learning curve was not as great as I had anticipated. Short casts were difficult, I found, but once I got some line out, I was comfortable with the rod in no time. And with the June light fading in a pink sky, the black water around my fly broke in a burst of life as a rainbow rose to it. Fish on.
This rod is not light, in fact it feels quite stout for a 5-weight. But the tip is very responsive to a fighting fish. I really loved having this rainbow on the line and wanted to savor the moment, but I also needed to make sure I got it all the way to hand so I could get a picture of my first fish on bamboo. My first fish as my part of this rod’s journey.
The next morning brought perfect conditions, a few friends and one very special guest to the farm.
Photo by Steve Hasty.
I had met General Conway (left), retired four star general and the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at a Project Healing Waters event a month earlier, and his speech was awe inspiring. This man simply exudes leadership, and it was an honor to spend time with him.
I told the general about the bamboo rod project and asked if he would fish a little bit with it. He graciously agreed, and it was fun to watch him cast this rod so beautifully.
Here he is with the Outdoor Blogger Network South Fork rod. A big thanks to General Conway for helping add some unique history to the path this rod will take before settling down in one of fifteen permanent homes.
After a nice lunch with the general, it was time to have some fun with this rod and try to get into some more fish. The dry flies weren’t working anymore, so I tried nymphs and even some streamers. I got very comfortable with the rod trying many different styles and approaches to casting and fishing.
This nice Rose River rainbow fell for my antics and was kind enough to stick around for a photo.
I released my last fish of the day back into the cool Rose, and closed the book on a fun and memorable day of fishing, thus ending my chapter of this rod’s story. Unless of course I am lucky enough to end up with it in the end, in which case you will see a lot more of this bamboo rod here!
Let’s have one last look at the beautiful Montana Fly Company reel under the water’s surface. Good luck to Joel in South Carolina who has the rod now, and to everyone who will share and add to its unique history. Waters in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Utah, Washington and Oregon will see this rod before it’s all said and done. I am proud to have been a part of it all. Thank you to the Outdoor Blogger Network, Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company and Rio for conceiving such a fun and different project.
History was never a strong subject for me in school. It just didn’t interest me. I liked science, and have always been curious about the natural world around me. But, I thought, I had no use for history.
It wasn’t until, oh, around age 40 that I found myself seeking out books about history to read recreationally. The brilliant HBO series Band of Brothers single-handedly sparked an appreciation and fascination of the immense efforts and sacrifices made during World War II. When the series was over, I hungered for more. I started by reading the book by Stephen Ambrose upon which the series was based. And then, having discovered for the first time a teacher who brought history to life for me, I craved and read more Ambrose.
While preparing for a half-work, half-fishing trip to Montana several years ago, I purchased Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. For some reason at that time, and on two more attempts in the years to follow, the book just didn’t grab me. But a few months ago, as I began making plans for a September return trip to Montana, I picked up the book again. This time, like a trout finally taking a fly after having refused numerous similar presentations, the story hooked me. I was enthralled. I decided then to add the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls and some other spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail to my itinerary.
As I looked on a map, plotting a course that combined new places I wanted to see and fish like Yellowstone with places of historical interest, it occurred to me that they are the same places. It turns out I do have a use for history. The natural world I love so dearly has a fascinating fabric of American history woven through it. The cutthroat trout I’ve caught before in the cold, clear waters of western Montana have some of the same genetic material as the cutthroats first described to science in the expedition journals of Meriwether Lewis. And while the expedition did not enter what is now Yellowstone National Park, Lewis and Clark did explore the Yellowstone River. And this September I may stand near where they once stood, looking out over terrain virtually unchanged in 200 years.
But it is not unchanged by chance, it literally took an act of Congress to preserve such a place. In March, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication, and Yellowstone, America’s first national park, was born.
Today, individuals and organizations work tirelessly to protect these special resources. And the threats against them are real. The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout is in grave danger due to the illegal introduction of invasive, non-native lake trout into Yellowstone Lake 20 years ago, and Trout Unlimited, along with the Yellowstone Park Foundation is aggressively attempting to reverse the near total decimation of the Yellowstone Cutthroat.
But I can’t just sit back and observe these efforts and hope they go well. There is more at stake than just being able to hold up a cutthroat trout and say, “Oncorhynchus clarkii, named after William Clark. Neat!” As a fly fisherman, a lover of the outdoors, a fervent – albeit recent – student of history, an outdoor writer and blogger and a regular visitor to our national parks and waterways, I have a responsibility as a steward of these resources.
It’s not for me to say what others should do. But as I enjoy my recreational pursuits, both here in Virginia and across this great land, I will try harder to do my part, to stay informed about the preservation and conservation efforts concerning natural treasures like the Yellowstone Cutthroat, and to support organizations like Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Simms and the Outdoor Blogger Network, whose efforts both on the ground and in the arena of public awareness are a true act of dedication. I encourage my friends and readers to do the same.
Project Healing Waters held its sixth annual 2-Fly Tournament this past weekend and it was, as it always is, an amazing experience for all involved. Rose River Farm was declared PHW’s national home waters at last year’s event, and it’s a perfect venue for this quickly growing tradition.
Project Healing Waters “is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings,” says their mission statement. An unquestionably noble mission it is, and founder Ed Nicholson’s vision is made possible because countless volunteers and donors and corporations generously give time and money and equipment to support it.
This year’s event was the biggest and best yet! Please visit the PHW web site for more information or to make a donation to this cause that has changed the lives of so many men and women who have sacrificed so much. I hope you enjoy some of the sights from this year’s event…
A time lapse film of all the volunteers and anglers arriving early Sunday morning.
One of the participants’ daughters helping out.
The healing power of simply being in nature can not be understated.
I’ve met many great people through my involvement with PHW. Josh is a friend, a new doting father and one hell of a fly fisherman. You can read more about him and purchase amazing flies from him on his Dead Drift Flies web site.
Douglas Dear, in the foreground here welcoming the participants, works tirelessly all year long on this event and as Chairman of PHW’s board.
It’s hard to find anyone not in a great mood at this event!
Guides like Harold from Spring Creek Outfitters give freely of their time and expertise year after year to make sure the wounded servicemen and women get the very most from their experience.
Oh yeah, there are also some huge trout in the Rose River!
Sometimes captions just aren’t needed.
Choosing the right fly is tough when you only get to choose two for the entire day!
Measuring a catch.
Entertainment, food, logistics…so many people come through to put on an event like this.
Everywhere you turn, moments like this are unfolding. Josh used to play guitar before he lost his arm. So he and Russ teamed up to play a few songs.
We focus a lot on the wounded, and sometimes overlook the sacrifices, the painful adjustments the families of those wounded have to endure. God bless them all.
Every now and then I’m in the mood to do a long hike, which for me is anything over five miles. The Cedar Run/White Oak Canyon loop in the Shenandoah National Park has a few different configurations, but last year I did an eight mile loop which is plenty, considering half of that is steeply uphill. So I decided to repeat this very enjoyable and vigorous hike, with one addition: this time I brought a fly rod. Both Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon are home to some of the most beautiful brook trout you’ll find anywhere. And since during my last outing in search of brookies I got shut out, I had a score to settle.
The Cabins at Rose River Farm are an awesome place for any weekend getaway, and a Saturday night stay allowed me to get a nice early start Sunday morning as I was literally just minutes from the trail head.
The Hill Top Cabin offers great views and is an extremely relaxing place to put the work week behind you and focus on the outdoors!
This is the type of water found along both legs of this hike. Falls at the head of a pool, surrounded by great scenery.
In the early morning, I could see trout rising in almost all of those pools, so I just started fishing them and it wasn’t long before this beauty fell for my antics.
Not all that’s beautiful is under water along this hike!
Trout don’t live in ugly places.
I have to brag on this wonderful little 3-weight Scott fly rod of mine. It casts beautifully, and a lot of the casting in these confined places has to be pretty accurate. It’s only 6’6″ long which helps too.
Back you go, little fella!
Nice view of the beautiful White Oak Canyon.
This is, without a doubt, a very large Shenandoah National Park brook trout. My best brook trout by a wide margin.
Another look at the same fish.
This is the payoff for all that uphill hiking!
A three foot black snake sharing the trail.
This one escaped before he reached me, but I was able to get his picture before he got too far.
Life is good indeed. Bringing the fly rod along made for a longer, but much more enjoyable day!
Eight miles = Four Advil. I’ll feel it tomorrow, but the excitement of dry fly fishing for wild brook trout in stunning scenery will have me back very soon!
An oddly mild winter folded into an unseasonably warm first day of Spring here in Virginia, and I was lucky enough to spend the day at Rose River Farm. The peach trees had begun to blossom, bumblebees were everywhere doing their thing, and the trout were jumping with Spring Fever!
We fished dry flies exclusively all afternoon. It was the first time I’ve done that in a long time. But when trout are rising, and taking what you’re offering, there is just nothing like it in the world. My favorite rod for this river, a Sage 4-weight ZXL, loaded with Rio Gold line, is simply at its best with a long, tapered leader and a single dry fly. It casts effortlessly, and when I set a caddis down softly over a rising trout, and watch that little black speck as it disappears into a burst of water and motion, it’s as exciting as it was the very first time I ever experienced it. A confident hook set, the hiss of line snapping off the surface and then that awesome, unmistakeable tug of life vibrating through leader, line, rod, hand, and soul. A fight, a fish not quite ready to come in, a little more fight and then the match is conceded. Man, this is fly fishing.
Douglas, visible through the rocking chair as he fishes, told me how great this Palm Beer is, and he is right. This is an absolutely delicious product.
As we wrapped up our day on the water, lightning began to flicker over the mountains. While the grill warmed up, I set up the tripod and tried to catch an image of it. No luck, but I like the colors in this 20-second exposure.
I’m no connoisseur, but after a day of fishing, a bottle of this Malbec (okay, there may have been two bottles) from Argentina hit the spot with grilled rib-eyes so big I shared part of mine with Enzo, my gracious host’s Spinone. It was the first day of Spring, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Today I loaded up the dogs, camera and fly rod and headed down to Madison County, Virginia to explore the upper portion of the Rapidan River. The source of the Rapidan is located where two streams come together high on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That spot is also the site of President Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat built in 1929, Rapidan Camp (or, as it is also called, Camp Hoover). You can drive much of the route up the mountain, but high ground clearance is a must, and four wheel drive is recommended. Once you turn off the main road, it’s a rough drive up an extremely rugged and steep road. I drove to the end of the accessible road (seven miles that feel like twenty), not passing a single human, and parked at the gate marking the last stretch up the mountain on foot to Camp Hoover.
I’ve done my fair share of exploring around the Virginias, and I can’t recall ever feeling as remote, as far removed from any other person anywhere in this region as I felt today. I hefted the backpack weighted down with drinking water for the dogs, and we crossed the gate and headed uphill, surrounded by crisp air, brilliant sunshine and total silence but for the soothing nearby rush of free, clean and infinitely abundant drinking water for dogs.
This portion of the Shenandoah National Park is so remote, I broke my Always Keep My Dogs Leashed In Public Parks rule (okay that’s not just my rule, it’s actually the park’s rule too), and let them run ahead and explore. However, the terrain was so remote that I started feeling the real possibility of a bear encounter. The last thing I wanted was for the dogs to spook a bear, or come between a bear and her cubs, or to piss off a bear and then run back to me, leading that pissed off bear back to me. So I decided it was best if we all just walked together.
We (okay, I) took a wrong turn at one point, adding a couple miles to the hike. But exercise was a goal for the day, and besides, if I had not made the error, I would not have seen these cool icicles.
This fireplace was mainly used for photos of President Hoover and his distinguished guests. Heads of state, era icons such as the Lindberghs, Mrs. Thomas Edison, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Finn and Winnie have all been photographed here.
Source of the Rapidan located and historical photographs secured, we headed back down the hill, our sights now set on the wild brook trout that populate the river. If I was a brook trout, I would love this spot right here. I am, however, not a brook trout. Nor do I have much of an idea about where they live or what they eat.
Dogs, as it turns out, are not particularly helpful when it comes to fly fishing. But they are genuinely good company, and it was fun having them along.
When I found a spot to fish, I needed the dogs to just stay in one spot so they wouldn’t come in the water and disturb the fish I was not catching, and also it’s critical to know where your dogs are at all times when you are casting a fly line. They were really great today. Winnie is fascinated by the casting of the fly, she follows it with intense focus, and watches it drift along the current while it is not being eaten by a trout. She, it seems, would make a great fly fisher.
After a good hike and some fishing, I like to stop for lunch. Ideally, a local place with some character. The Pig ‘n’ Steak, complete with NASCAR legends laminated into the bar top, fit the bill nicely. I drank this delicious brew, wolfed down a burger, and split the fries with Finn and Winnie. Total tally for the day, Fish caught: 0, Humans encountered: 0, Bears encountered: 0, Awesome day had: 1.
The WordPress Photo Challenge of the week asks bloggers to illustrate with a photograph what it means to ‘indulge.’ Examples of my personal indulgences are legion, but a favorite of mine is taking a break from trout fishing to enjoy a stream-chilled beer. On this occasion, the trout fishing was being done at Rose River Farm in beautiful Madison County, Virginia, and the beer of the day was delicious Dale’s Pale Ale.
Some photographic highlights from a fun day at Rose River Farm…
I tried to take a picture of Kevin from under the surface of the water. When the (waterproof) camera was completely submerged, the photos didn’t turn out. But this one from just at surface level I thought had a neat effect.
This is one of the prettiest trout I’ve ever caught. The colors are amazing, and the pattern at first made me think it could have been a tiger trout (brown/brook hybrid), but I’m now thinking it’s just a really freakin’ cool brown trout.
Cook a few slices of bacon, crumble it up and put it back into the grease, add an egg, some Worcestershire sauce, Montreal steak seasoning and a pound of ground venison, divide it into two colossal patties, add a slice of smoked Gouda and a toasted kaiser roll and you have one serious streamside lunch!
Okay about a year and a half ago, I brought Winnie to the farm and planted three Chukar for her to find and point. I shot one, another escaped while I was trying to get it out of the cage, and I don’t remember what happened to the third. I was sure surprised to see this very large and healthy Chukar right next to the river not 50 yards from the field where we did that bird training! Now that is making the most out of a second chance!