By Henry Little,
Volunteer founder and program leader for the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club’s Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
Healing Those Who Served
For the past three summers, disabled veterans have enjoyed the solace of Cal Trout’s “Shasta Springs Trout Camp,” wading the waters of the upper Sacramento River, sharing home cooked meals, and telling fish tales around the campfire beneath a cathedral of tall pines.
These vets–and the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club volunteers with them–are from the San Francisco chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), a national non-profit organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled veterans and active military service personnel through fly fishing education and outings.
The San Francisco Program of Project Heading Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF-SF) was started in 2016 by longtime angler Henry Little, himself a U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient who knows firsthand the restorative qualities of stalking wily trout amidst some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes.
Of course, PHWFF-SF really isn’t so much about fishing as it is about healing, helping vets know they aren’t alone and that others care for them, and even may have shared similar challenges.
It’s about caring and camaraderie developed over shared experiences.
It’s about helping those who have served our county.
Cover Photo: Cal Trout Ambassador Craig Ballenger with PWHFF-SF vets & volunteers at Shasta Springs Trout Camp
Learning the Tools of the Trade
Every other Wednesday at the Angler’s Lodge and casting pools in Golden Gate Park, PHWFF-SF hosts classes during which volunteers instruct the vets in fly casting, fly tying, fly fishing equipment and tactics, knot tying, and stream entomology.
Photo: Anglers Lodge, Golden Gate Park
PHWFF-SF also takes vet participants on a dozen one-day to four-day outings, including surf fishing for stripers at San Francisco's Crissy Field, float fishing the lower Sacramento out of Redding (for trout) and out of Chico (for shad), and wading the upper Sacramento and McCloud rivers for trout.
More than 20 disabled veterans, with the support of 20 volunteers, actively engage in these activities together.
PHWFF-SF is one of PHWFF’s 11 programs in California (and 230 nationwide), with other programs located in San Diego, Redding, Chico, Martinez, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Fresno, Ventura, Sepulveda, and Victorville.
Disabled veterans are referred to each program by local VA facilities. For PHWFF-SF, vets are referred by the San Francisco VA Medical Center.
All PHWFF activities are 100% free for the disabled veteran participants, as the volunteers raise funds to buy fishing equipment and to pay for outings.
Many members of Cal Trout and the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club have been generous PHWFF-SF supporters, donating both funds and fishing gear.
For this, the disabled veterans and volunteers associated with PHWFF-SF are deeply appreciative.
Photo: Confluence Outfitters guides PHWFF-SF vets on the Lower Sacramento River (photo by C. J. Glynn)
In Their Own Words
PHWFF-SF vet participant Tom Glynn, who as an Army medic cared for wounded soldiers aboard medevac flights from Vietnam to the USA, fished at Trout Camp in 2017 and recently commented about his experiences with PHWFF-SF:
"The practice of fly fishing is very suitable for the healing process for veterans. It engages the mind, places you in an environment that is connected to nature, is both exciting and also completive, encourages social interaction and allows solitude—a very salubrious practice. I learned a few things from Project Healing Waters: fishing is about a lot more than catching fish; that there is a special, unique camaraderie between veterans and other veterans and military people; and this can be very, very useful in the healing process, healing from the internal wounds of war; and most important, that you are not alone and that people really do care."
To learn more about PHWFF, please visit projecthealingwaters.org
Connect with PHWFF on Facebook at facebook.com/PHWFFSF
Contact Henry Little at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (415) 264-7827