Tying a fly, casting a line out into the open water and just taking in your surroundings at a slow pace. For most people who participate in it, few things clear the mind, make you slow down like fly fishing. For veterans, it’s therapeutic and provides the chance to focus on something other than life challenges.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is a nonprofit national organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military veterans through fly fishing.
The program is completely free to veterans through their disability status or referred by the Veterans Association.
Gregg Houghaboom is the program leader for the Panhandle chapter. He has been fly fishing himself for 50 years. “Just being out on the water, there’s a certain connection I get with the water and it extends to a lot of people,” Houghaboom said. “You can leave your troubles behind. Fly fishing gives you something you can focus on besides potential problems that you have in your life.”
Fly fishing provides a unique challenge to veterans, who might have damaged motor skills from injuries suffered on active duty. Learning to tie a fly and using their body to cast a line offers plenty of physical challenges for the veterans to work through.
“It’s fishing but in a highly interactive way, especially with the environment and using your body,” Houghaboom said.
“For a lot of these guys they have developed wounds that affect the balance and their eyes, it’s a retraining method.”
Each Healing Waters group is sponsored by a local fly fishing club. Panhandle Fly Fishing club located in Destin, Florida, sponsors the Panhandle chapter. The national Project Healing Waters organization sponsors national trips, and Houghaboom schedules local guides to take his group out fishing.
Houghaboom has had the honor of working with so many wounded veterans, but some personal stories have stuck out. Recently, a Special Forces soldier joined the program having suffered several physical injuries.
“His wife commented that she was worried about him going down a long dark road and that getting involved in fly fishing has brought him back,” Houghaboom said. “This guy is a stud, you look at him and he’s physically fit but he’s been through the mill. Here he is finding something that is an alternative and finding a challenge in something he can do.”
The group meets every Monday in the Destin Community Center from 5:30- 7 p.m.
Typically, members will work on tying flies or get casting lessons on how to handle a fly rod. The group just finished a rod building class taught by one of its own members. “He got so proficient in building rods that I couldn’t think of anyone else better teaching it,” Houghaboom said.
Healing Waters is an innovative type of therapy for veterans’ bodies and minds and continues to grow in scope and size thanks to generous donations from all over the country.
Project Healing Waters accepts monetary donations as well as equipment. Anyone who wishes to donate or take part can visit the national website or contact Gregg Houghaboom for his chapter specifically.
SARAH O’BEIRNE is a summer intern with 30A. She is majoring in journalism at the University of Illinois and loves the beach.