Guide Dick Nicka (left) assists Vietnam veteran Bruce Bogart, of Erie, PA with a fine brown trout that Bogart caught on a fly that he had tied himself that afternoon. -- Mark Nale
Guide Carl Sprouse (left) and Gods Country Trout Unlimited chapter president Pete Ryan (right) poses with a trout landed by Vietnam veteran Jerry Sagan (center). -- Mark Nale
Carl Sprouse (left) guides veteran Jerry Sagan. Guides were able to help Sagen catch over a dozen trout during the Healing Waters outing in Potter County. -- Mark Nale
Waters That Heal
By Mark Nale
Centre Daily Times
Fishing is always much more than catching fish - spending an evening on a trout stream or a morning on a bass lake can have rejuvenating qualities.
Many of us who fish understand and regularly use an angling outing to drain away the stress and refresh the mind. magical event took place in Potter County last week, taking the healing properties of fishing to a higher calling.
A dozen Vietnam veterans from New York and Pennsylvania were treated to a three-day fishing outing, June 17-19. The excursion was part of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which was started in 2006 by retired Navy captain Ed Nicholson.His organization is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled veterans and active duty military personnel through fly fishing, fly tying and outings.
Their hosts were Cathy and Roy Magarigal, owners of the Moores Run Fish & Game Preserve, and the God’s Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The Magarigals’ waters are not just any waters.They advertise their 540-acre property, lake and 1.5 miles of Big Moores Run as “catch and release fly fishing for some of the largest trout found anywhere.”According to the owners,This is one of the few places in the East where you can expect to get into really large trout in a natural stream environment.”Nothing that I observed would question that claim.
“I saw a clip about the Healing Waters program while watching CNN last fall,” Cathy Magarigal said.“Veterans, fly fishing, we can do that.We emailed Healing Waters and then Roy asked his Trout Unlimited chapter if they would be the sponsoring organization.This project has received a tremendous amount of support from the community.Everyone has been very responsive.”
Roy Magarigal added, “We thought that it would be a good fit and it sure looks like everybody, guides and vets, are having a good time.”
The 12 vets, all suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, really appreciated the northcentral Pennsylvania hospitality. They were met at the Pennsylvania state line and escorted to the First Fork Lodge by ten motorcyclists – members of the Coudersport American Legion – and greeted at the lodge by flag-waving residents.
“The welcome that we received at the border brought tears to my eyes,” commented veteran Rick Rizzo, of Albany, NY.“The treatment that we are getting here is just overwhelming.People are different here than where I come from.”
The schedule on June 17 included a reception, meal and an introduction to fly fishing.Following breakfast on Wednesday, the veterans spent the morning receiving instruction with casting and fly fishing and then fishing at the preserve.After lunch, it was time for the vets to try their hand at fly tying.
“We gave them all beginners’ fly tying kits and materials,” explained Pete Ryan, long-time president of the Gods Country Chapter of TU.“It took them about an hour-and-a-half to tie their first fly - a green weenie - but each fly after that took progressively less time.On the third day, they tied a foam beetle in less than 20 minutes.
Wednesday ended with an evening of fishing on Big Moores Run and the preserve’s well-stocked lake. A mayfly hatch started, and it seemed that someone’s rod was always bent by a heavy trout.There were excited yells and broad smiles as many brown trout were hooked, played and netted.
Jerry Sagan, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, smiled after landing a large brown. “I’ve never felt this way before,” he exclaimed.“This is so exciting.Everyone here has been magnanimous.Today is etched in stone in my mind.I just don’t feel the pain when I’m fishing.”
Former Navy corpsman Bruce Bogart, from Erie, had fished before, but had never tried fly fishing. “This is just a super experience,” said Bogart.
Thursday’s schedule was much like the previous day’s, with the addition of a stream conservation program presented by Jack Fleckenstein, from the Potter County Conservation District, and closing ceremonies in the evening.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Ryan said.“Bruce [Bogart] caught his first trout on Wednesday evening with the fly that he tied that afternoon.He was so excited about that.
“We had total cooperation from everyone with donations of goods, services, and money.The Austin-Costello Sportsmen Club donated their club for the fly tying, the First Fork Lodge put up the vets and, of course, the Margarigals provided the excellent trout fishing,” Ryan commented.“This has been an enlightening experience.It is the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done.”
Two other Healing Waters events were held in Pennsylvania earlier this year.One, sponsored by the Cumberland Valley Chapter of TU, was held on the Yellow Breeches Creek on May 17.The second, held June 7,was hosted on Conococheague Creek near Chambersburg by the Franklin County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League.A third event, hosted by the Spring Ridge Club on Spruce Creek, is scheduled for mid-August.
While an individual is often the impetus for events, Ray Markiewicz, who volunteers as the northeast coordinator for Healing Waters, stressed the importance of having a host organization.
“It takes a lot of volunteers to stage one of these events, and that means a group affiliation.We usually work with Trout Unlimited or Federation of Fly Fishers chapters, but we welcome almost any sponsoring organization,” Markiewicz said.
“I’ve witnessed how this program is helping our service men and women,” Markiewicz said.“The therapy value is immeasurable.”
Markiewicz could not say enough about the Potter County event.“I just can’t speak more highly of the special treatment that the veterans received here.These volunteers are all sweet people and I feel like I’ve known them for years.”He added, “Actually, no words can really express the way that I feel.”
A number of the TU volunteer guides, including Howard Bajor and Carl Sprouse, commented that they felt that they were getting more out of helping than they were giving.Sprouse said, “It was a real privilege to provide ‘fish therapy’ for these guys.The fishing provided them a focus that was a distraction from their everyday problems.I was glad that I could help.”
Ryan added, “The event went off as planned and the chapter will discuss this but, right now, I can’t see now how we could have made it any better.Everyone was so supportive that we’d love to do this again next year.”
Learn more about Project Healing Waters by visiting http://www.projecthealingwaters.org
The article and pictures on today's Solomon's words about the Healing Waters experience in Potter County was written by outdoor writer Mark Nale. Mark was there and shares the experience courtesy of Mark and the Centre Daily Times.
Mark can be reached at: MarkAngler@AOL.com
Part time outdoor writer/photographer Mark Nale, who lives in rural Centre County with his wife Gail, has been writing since 1978. He has weekly columns in the Centre Daily Times (State College) and The Daily Herald (northern Blair Co.), and is the north-central correspondent for Pennsylvania Outdoor News. His articles and photographs have also appeared in the Fly Rod & Reel, Trout, PA Game & Fish as well as many other publications and two books. His most-recent magazine article appeared in the Nov-Dec issue of PA Angler & Boater. Mark is a retired biology teacher.