Fly-fishing for a cause

Veterans and volunteers of Project Healing Waters during the 2 Fly competition. Photo by Cmdr. James Kammel.

Veterans and volunteers of Project Healing Waters during the 2 Fly competition. Photo courtesy of Cmdr. James Kammel.

“Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.”

“Take care of your shipmates.”

These are adages as timeless as they are true. Every Coast Guardsman has heard them in training and beyond. That’s why Cmdrs. James Kammel and Cliff Neve decided to walk the walk and volunteer at the 7th annual “2 Fly” competition in partnership with Project Healing Waters, a non-profit organization bringing wounded and disabled veterans together for therapeutic fly-fishing. “2 Fly” is literally a two-flies-only fishing competition where the most prolific angler takes the crown.

“This 2 Fly competition pairs alumni of the PHW program with regional guides and teams from across the U.S. in a friendly competition using only two flies for each competitor all day,” said Kammel. “ Over the last three years, I have volunteered as a stream monitor during this event. Whether measuring and counting fish, giving pointers to the disabled warriors and vets or picking up trash, the opportunity to give back to these brave men and women drew me back each year. During that time, I watched countless anglers try their luck on the Rose River, a stream that I have fished several times. So each year, I begged for a spot to compete. This year, I got called up to the majors.”

The competition allows these disabled veterans to be among their own; those who understand the sacrifices, the long road to rehabilitation and the memories. This kinship, coupled with the natural beauty of the Rose River and the sport they love makes for a memorable experience.

“I know that these events can be emotional for me. The alumni are incredible people. Their stories encourage, enlighten and enthrall. For me they also weigh on my mind and soul. For this reason, I [took] Saturday morning to be alone in silent contemplation of the sacrifices these men and women have made,” said Kammel.

Fly fishing can work wonders for those rehabbing injuries of the body and mind. It takes patience and skill to master. It also takes repetition and commitment, not unlike rehab exercises.

One disabled veteran who had lost an arm said by learning to tie a fly, he relearned to tie his shoes. Another veteran learned to build fly rods and said it helped calm his mind and relax the anger still nagging him. He showed Kammel a finished rod he had fashioned with a small Purple Heart built into the rod handle.

Kammel reflected on the competition. “Although the fishing was incredible, my mind kept drifting back to why we were there. This tournament was more than a competition and fundraiser. It was a celebration; a celebration of success despite the hurdles life had thrown each of us; a celebration of friendships, old and new; a celebration of fish and flies. Most of all, a celebration of the freedoms that we each hold so dear, we would stand shoulder to shoulder to defend them; freedoms that have been protected by those willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.”

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