There is something about the motions of fly fishing that calm and heal the mind. I have experienced this power in various degrees in my life---it can erase the stress of a thousand workdays, the loss of a family member or the stress of deadlines.
Athletes speak of “the zone” a place where time ceases to matter and creativity blossoms, a place where motion slows, and perspective expands. Writers, surfers, bikers, artists and cooks often find themselves in a similar zone that is at its essence, a positive, productive and healing experience.
There is a freedom in being fully focused in a moment—free of past and future. Buddhists call it mindfulness, surfers call it the stoke, and bikers call it the freedom of the road.
“Poets talk about spots of time, but it is really the fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is…until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone,” wrote Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It.
Everyone who lives will garner their share of inner and outer scars.
War is one of mankind’s most horrific traumas. Those who live with its aftermath often battle physical, mental and emotional pain. Yet in the gentle rise and fall of a roll cast there is peace--- even if it’s only for a moment, hour, or day, according to many veterans.
One of the most effective programs that promotes the rejuvenating power of fly fishing is Project Healing Waters, it assists wounded and disabled service members, active or retired, in finding that “new normal” through fly-fishing, fly-tying and rod building, according to the organization’s mission.
This Saturday, area fly fishermen and more specifically its fly-tiers will gather inside the expansive main hall of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, for its 6th Annual Fly-Tying Marathon held to benefit Project Healing Waters.
Flies? There will be Wooly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Lefty Poppers, Purple Nurples and few Snowhite Damsel Flies all tied and arrayed into a colorful mosaic for the cause. There will be friendly mix of people, many in interesting hats, beginners and seasoned fly-tiers all happily sharing stories while tying flies.
As the feathers are cut, shaped and tied to hooks participants are surrounded by hundreds of years of Marine Corps history. Military aircraft are suspended overhead and famous quotes about the fighting spirit of the Marine Corps are carved on the walls surrounding the tables of busy fly-tiers.
The natural light of the museum’s windows creates a perfect setting for a noble mission. Over the last six years, the event has generated thousands of flies to distribute to wounded and disabled service members across the nation.
Where else could the spirits of “Chesty” and “Lefty” be brought up with equal reverence?
A couple of years back the event’s coordinator explained the origins of the event.
“I’m extremely proud to coordinate this event,” said Chris Thompson, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant from Swansboro, North Carolina and the event’s coordinator for Project Healing Waters. “All of the flies tied are separated and sent to our national headquarters for events held across the country. Many are sent to programs that are just getting started. We don’t tell fly-tiers what to tie. Our volunteers create all types of flies from bass bugs to saltwater streamers.”
The event continues to be a labor of love for Thompson, who originally joined PHW with the Quantico-based program. Saturday’s event is a joint operation between PHW’s Quantico and Fort Belvoir-based programs.
“The two programs are close in proximity. I was one of the founders of the PHW program here in Quantico,” said Thompson. “The concept of the fly-tying marathon was not unique. When the idea of bringing this event to this area came to mind. Instantly, this venue came to mind.”
Six years ago, Thompson approached the museum’s staff and it quickly became an essential partner in hosting the event.
“The museum is a great place that captures the essence of our mission. It was the only place that came to mind. Even the lighting is ideal,” added Thompson.
The use of social media allowed the event to grow within fly-fishing and military communities since its first year. Last year, volunteers for the event gave many reasons for their time and dedication—each is a unique story. At last year’s marathon Vietnam veterans sat alongside a veteran from the Iraq War. Just a few feet away a combat-wounded Marine smiled proudly as he tied a fly for the first time.
Other memorable moments included seeing kids and families creating flies together. Other tiers included notable outdoor writers, bloggers, podcasters, guides and representatives from many fly fishing-oriented companies.
“A love of the outdoors is an essential element in the healing process. Some wounded warriors feared that their joy for the outdoors could never be regained after suffering physical and mental wounds. It is something that you can’t really appreciate until you’ve experienced a Healing Waters event. There are guys whose hands shake so badly or have lost both legs---but when they get back on the water, they realize that they can still enjoy the outdoors again,” a volunteer explained. “When they are fishing, tying a fly or building a rod they are not thinking about injuries or war—that’s the essence of it.”
Fly tiers interested in supporting Project Healing Waters are encouraged to participate. All flies tied during the event are donated for use by programs across the country.
Come check it out or even better yet, tie a fly for a worthy cause. Beginners, old salts and everyone in-between are welcomed. The event runs from 9a.m.-5p.m. Saturday.