how fly fishing is helping veterans

How Fly Fishing Is Helping Heal Disabled Veterans

Posted by Corey Hunt on November 10, 2020

Fly fishing is known to be meditative, challenging, and deeply rewarding. Learn how Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is leveraging those benefits to help our nation's disabled veterans heal.

It’s no coincidence that music for meditation includes the sounds of streams. Many fly fishing enthusiasts will confess that the calming sound of rushing water is as much a draw to the sport of fly fishing as the success of catching trout. 

However, learning how to fly fish is difficult. But, for our 4.7 million disabled veterans it presents its own unique challenges. One organization, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, teaches our service men and women the sport of fly fishing to allow for healing both on and off the water.

About Project Healing Water Fly Fishing

fly fishing for veterans

Project Healing Water Fly Fishing is a nonprofit organization that is “dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.”

Project Healing Water began in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. Currently the organization has 219 programs nationwide and serves 48 states. In 2018, the organization was able to serve over 8,307 disabled veterans and disabled active military service personnel through its extensive volunteer network including Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishing International, and local fishing clubs.

“What makes our program unique,'' said Daniel Morgan, Program Lead and Deputy Regional Coordinator for Project Healing Water, “is that it is ongoing.” Through classes and education “friends, companions, and mentors meet once a week throughout the year.” 

These gatherings cover a broad range of topics from fly tying, rod building, and stream-side skills. Participants also have the opportunity for fly fishing trips, and all equipment is provided for them at no cost.  

The Right Tools make Fly Fishing accessible to everyone

Adaptive fly fishing

Project Healing Water Fly Fishing uses several tools to make fly fishing accessible to veterans and military service personnel of all abilities. 

All of these tools are available for purchase on the websites for individuals with upper extremity weakness or a decrease in grip strength that are not participants of the program but would still like to fly fish. 

One such tool, called Adaptive Rexfly Casting System, is for anglers who have limited use of both hands. 

This device is a harness that fits on the angler’s chest, with an attachment for the fly reel. Without the weight of the reel, anglers can cast with less fatigue in their shoulder and hand. 

To find out more about this product, see video demonstrations, or to order, visit

Another tool Project Healing Waters utilizes is called the Franco Vivarelli Fishing Reel.

This reel is essentially a lever attached to a fishing reel with gears that wind the line from inside the reel. This way, when an angler that only has the use of one hand hooks a fish, they can hold the lever down to reel the line in or let go and the reel will allow the line out, allowing the angler to play the fish. 

Some reviews of this reel mentioned that it can reel ninety feet of line in about fifteen seconds, which will catch the vast majority of fish.  

For anglers that are interested in tying flies, Olympic Peninsula Fishing Innovations (OPFI) has produced a product called the Evergreen Hand. 

fly tying one handed

This device allows anglers to tie flies using just one hand. It was developed by Jesse Scott and Marvin Johnson in 2007 after Marvin had suffered a hand injury. 

The Evergreen Hand consists of three magnetic tools with a plate and a vase that attach to a fly tying vice. The magnetic tools allow the angler to hold the thread and hook in place for various aspects of the tying process.

This product is free of charge through the OPFI website.  

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is dependent on their volunteer network to allow the organization to serve our military servicemen and women. 

fly fishing for the disabled

To get involved with PHW, find the local chapter by clicking on the state of interest on the website  Each local chapter has a representative to reach out to and find the next meeting or volunteer opportunity. 

Donations can also be made through the website to Project Healing Waters. These donations help ensure that the equipment provided is free of charge to the participants as well as fund the trip outings and classroom materials. 

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is not just about fly fishing, but fostering healing through community both on and off the water.

Corey Hunt

Corey Hunt is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and photographer from the upstate of South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in publications such as Dun Magazine, South Carolina Wildlife and other online publications. More on Corey’s writing can be found on the blog she writes with her husband,

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