The Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited partnered with the Colorado Springs Chapter TU for the second consecutive year to bring eight veterans and three volunteers, to participate in Project Healing Waters.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing 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.
Since our area rivers were at high water levels and associated turbidity, we decided that the best option was Hayden Meadows Reservoir.
The two groups met at the Reservoir on June 25 and were excited to see hundreds of fish rising to midge hatches. After receiving a gift box of flies from CPC-TU, the vets headed out with their respective mentors.
It was an ideal day and a perfect location. Some vets were able to wade out into the water, while others with disabilities cast from the handicapped access, and along the crest of the dam.
The inlet spillway into the Reservoir created a flow of water that made a very active and fishy honey hole.
Vet Richard, mentored by Mike Perry, quickly discovered that the inlet was like a stream flowing into the lake, and the trout were all stacked in this channel.
He kept busy landing one fish after another. Richard commented that this event was very special to him, like coming back home, since he was born in Leadville and later moved to Salida and graduated from SHS. He also participated in last year’s outing.
The vets that were able took their turn at the honey hole. Mike, the youngest Vet had never fly fished before and was ecstatic to land his first fish in the honey hole, with his mentor Warren Miller holding the net.
Probably the quietest of the group, Mike left with a big smile on his face, and a sincere thank you to all involved.
Vet Bill, mentored by Rick Helmick, enjoyed fishing in the morning but was content to relax in a chair, and take in the afternoon. He marveled at the beauty of the heavily snow-covered late June mountains and the crystal-clear waters.
He commented that only some scotch and a cigar could have made this day any better.
Vet Sam fished with a bamboo rod that he made, but the effects of a stroke limited his ability to cast as well as he once did. He and his mentor Larry Payne chatted about their experiences of building bamboo rods. Vet Sam eventually landed a fish, and promptly lit a cigar to celebrate.
Vet David was limited by his oxygen regulator but was happy to fish all day from a chair and was thrilled to catch a couple of fish. As the Trout Unlimited mentors acknowledged during their orientation, it’s not all about the fishing.
Regardless of the number of fish caught, each vet enjoyed the day at Hayden Meadows Reservoir, in his own way.
The vets’ spirits seem to rise throughout the day. And during our hour lunch break, fishing stories, as well as life stories, were shared.
The camaraderie between all involved was fun, relaxed and truly gratifying.
One of the veterans told his mentor that these outings into the mountains has “saved him.”
The Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited is recruiting disabled Vets from the Upper Arkansas Valley to join the Colorado Springs Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Once accepted into the program, these vets would have access to all resources of the largest PHW chapter in the country.
If you have, or know of someone who has a service related disability and would like to go fly fishing, please visit the Project Healing Waters website at https://phwffcoloradosprings.org/join/
No fly-fishing experience is necessary.
Thanks to CPC-TU members Rick Helmick, Eric Heltzel, Warren Miller, Gene Milus, Larry Payne and Mike Perry. A shout out to members Patricia Helmick, Carolyn Miller and Monika Milus, who participated, visited with vets and provided homemade dishes to serve with lunch.
Most of the flies were tied and donated by Larry Chiuppi, Jim Impara and Jerry Wright. A special thank you to Gene and Monika Milus who organized the event.
For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter our events and projects visit our website: collegiatepeaksTU.org
Rick Helmick and Gene Milus are current board directors for the Collegiate Peaks Chapter – TU.