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On the fly: A female Veteran’s tale of empowerment

Sue Kerver catches a trout in Fort Smith, Montana with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Sue Kerver catches a trout in Fort Smith, Montana with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

Fly fishing has long been a passion of mine. I picked it up about five years ago because I needed to do something that would force me to slow down and breathe. Plus, I knew I needed to be outside because nature centers and grounds me. So, fly fishing seemed like the perfect solution.

However, as a novice angler, I didn’t know where to go, what equipment to use, which flies to put on, or really, how to get started.  So, I figured if I got involved with other fly fisherwomen, I would gain the knowledge and skill that I needed to journey out on my own.

My quest for female fly fishers led me to Casting for Recovery (CfR), which is a non-profit providing no-cost, healing, outdoor retreats for women with breast cancer. I am not a survivor, but I am an advocate for Women’s Health and I was excited to connect with an organization where I could build my skills while also giving back.  Over the next several years, I volunteered as a River Helper and, in this capacity, met strong, resilient women who were not defined by their breast cancer diagnoses, but rather by the positive impact they could have on the lives of others by sharing their stories and experiences. 

When I moved to Charleston, I wanted to continue to grow as an angler and remain connected to the peace and healing that only nature can provide. I’d also found that I liked the comradery of a group and wanted to continue to participate in some sort of fly fishing club,  So, I chose to join Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), which is focused on helping disabled active military service personnel and disabled Veterans find physical and emotional healing through fly fishing.

Over the course of the last six months, I’ve been actively involved with the Charleston PHWFF chapter, and worked alongside an incredible group of volunteers and Veterans who are supportive, encouraging, collaborative and welcoming. In this short time, I’ve learned fly tying, rod building, improved my casting techniques and, of course, done some fishing.  However, it never occurred to me that, as an active PHWFF participant, I would be given the opportunity to attend an all-expense paid, week-long, fly-fishing trip in Fort Smith, Montana, with seven other Veterans from around the country. 

On April 23, 2019, I flew into Billings, Montana, to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I was met at the airport by Bob, our PHWFF lead, who made quick work of collecting the rest of the crew and transporting us to Forrester’s Bighorn River Resort, which was a few hours away.

Once we were settled in, it didn’t take long for our tiny group to bond. Over the next several days, we found joy and laughter on the Bighorn River with experienced guides who donated their time and talents to put us on some of the most beautiful rainbows and browns (trout) that I’ve ever seen. 

Each morning, after a gourmet breakfast, the eight of us were split into groups of one or two and assigned to different boats. We spent hours on the river, exploring nooks and crannies, looking for sweet spots, and breathing in the gloriousness of the Big Sky state.  And, every evening, we would reconvene at the lodge, share our best stories and fishy pictures, and strengthen our bonds of friendship and understanding over incredible homemade dinners.  Despite our generational differences, this tiny group of Veterans, from all over the United States connected with purpose and found hope and healing through the magic of catch-and-release fly fishing.

In the spirit of National Women’s Health Week, I encourage women everywhere to connect with your own power, connect with your own purpose and get outside and get active! Nature is non-judgmental and full of epic opportunity.  Ladies, your next adventure awaits … what’s it going to be?

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