Fred Kuepper with Ceamus McDermott during last year's PHW fly fishing outing on the Salmon River.
Streams have been associated with human transition throughout history. The ancient Greeks believed the dead had to cross the River Styx to enter the underworld. In Western Civilization, water from the River Jordan was the first to cleanse souls of original sin. Currently, streams are put to use rehabilitating the broken bodies and spirits of combat soldiers and veterans.
Baptism by enemy fire isn't anything new. Indeed, it's been utterly changing the lives of men--lately women, too--since the beginning of time. Fortunately, 21st century American warriors have retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson in their corner.
You see, he's the guy credited with spawning Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc., an organization "dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personal and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings."
Nicholson's original plans called for simply teaching the guys how to fly cast and fly fish. But he knew about the remarkable results Bill Blades, a prominent fly-tier, had with disabled veterans at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital during World War II and added lessons on tying flies to his program.
The rest is history. Since 2004, PHWFF has grown to 45 programs in 35 states.
One of the program's major events in 2008, was held in Central New York from October 5-7. Fred Kuepper, Coordinator for the Oswego County Chapter of PHWFF, and Fran Verdoliva, Salmon River Program Coordinator for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, along with numerous professional fishing guides and local businessmen introduced more than a dozen wounded soldiers and veterans to the Salmon River's trophy salmon and trout fishing.
What's more, Verdoliva arranged access for the group on the closed waters of the Salmon River near the state hatchery, a sanctuary for fish lucky enough to make it through the 11-something-mile gauntlet of anglers standing shoulder to shoulder downstream.
The event was a huge success, with the majority catching a salmon. Some steelies were taken, too.
Incidentally, PHWFF doesn't target trout exclusively. In fact, in other parts of the country, the organization stages outings for ocean species like red fish and flat-water critters like bass. It's only a matter of time before fly-fishing for warmwater fish (black bass, northern pike and panfish) in places like Sandy Pond, Lake Neahtahwanta and Oneida Lake makes it into the Central New York program.
Kuepper says "four to six fishing trips in Oswego and Onondaga Counties are being planned for this year."
For more information or to donate your time or money to the local effort, contact Kuepper at 315-963-4095; FredKuepper@aol.com.