Thanks to television, we all know the
latest count of service men and women
who have been killed in Afghanistan and
Iraq. What the TV reporters don't tell
us is that at least ten are wounded for
every one killed, and of the nearly 20,000
wounded, many have lost arms or legs or
suffered wounds that will prevent them
from using or limit the use of their hands
or feet-often for the rest of their lives.
These wounded warriors are in military
and veterans' hospitals across the country,
many of them far from their homes and
families, and being stuck in a hospital
for months of rehabilitation is a fate
they don't deserve. Watching TV, reading,
playing cards or video games, or sleeping
can get old pretty fast, and trips away
from the hospital are pretty hard to arrange
because of the limited staff available.
Here's where fly fishers can really be useful
in the rehabilitation of these wounded warriors:
Go to the nearest military or veterans' hospital
and talk to the rehabilitation and MWR
(morale-welfare-recreation) staff and offer to
take one or two out for a day or half a day on
fishing trip. Find out what limitations the men
and women have-what they are capable of doing
and what you can do to make the outing a pleasant
Don't plan on going to your favorite
mountain stream because wheelchairs,
crutches, and artificial legs don't
work very well on the rough terrain
along most streams. Find a lake or pond
where the warriors can get to the bank
and fish for bluegills and other panfish
and maybe bass or trout.
Plan on spending a little time teaching
them to cast-nothing special, just a simple
pick up and lay down cast of 35 or 40 feet
will get the fly to where the fish are on
most any water. Save the double hauls and
fancy casts for later.
You'll probably have to furnish the fishing
outfit, but your fly fishing club may have
rods and reels that you can borrow. An 8
or 9 foot, 5 or 6 weight rod and a single
action reel loaded with a weight forward
floating line, a leader, and backing; a spool
of tippet material, and a small box of flies
will suffice for starting. A nipper or
fingernail clipper, a forceps, and a small
towel for hand wiping will complete the outfit.
Remember, you're not going to try to set any
world record or catch enough fish to feed
everyone-you're just going to let the warriors
have fun and maybe catch a few fish.
Now for the wounded who can't get out and
go fishing, you might start a fly tying class.
Fly tying can have definite value in the
rehabilitation of those who have suffered
hand and arm injuries. The fine motor skills
used in fly tying may help in recovering the
use of the hand and arm. Talk to the rehab
staff and maybe give them a demonstration so
they can see what's involved.
The Introduction to Fly Tying
booklet published by the Federation of Fly
Fishers is a good, inexpensive text to use.
It's available through the FFF web site
(www.fedflyfishers.org) for $2.00 plus
shipping. Your FFF club can get quantities
of the booklet at a discount.
The tools and materials needed to tie the
flies in the booklet are relatively inexpensive.
If you explain to your local fly tackle shop
owner what you planning, you may be able to
get a reduced price or even a donation.
The vise for most warriors can be one of
the simpler ones similar to the old faithful
Thompson A. However, an inexpensive rotary
vise like the Dan vise or Griffin's Odyssey
might be needed in some cases. C-clamp vises
will probably suffice, but pedestal based
vises will allow almost any flat surface
to be used for tying.
The other tying tools: scissors, whip finisher,
hair stacker, hackle pliers, and bobbin should
be good but not fancy. Bobbin threaders can be
the "dental floss threaders" from the local
drug store-three bucks buys a lifetime supply
for several people, and a bodkin is just a
fairly stout needle in a handle, preferably
one that is not round so it won't roll off
the tying bench.
Get sufficient materials so that your students
will be able to practice tying between class
sessions and provide each student with his or
her own packet of materials. They may not be
able to get together for tying sessions. Also,
provide a container for all the materials and
tools because storage space is often limited
in hospital rooms.
Remember the "KISS" principle in teaching
fly fishing and tying to these wounded
warriors-Keep It Simple, Stupid. You will
be working with people who have a full load
of difficulties and trauma; don't add to
that load. You want to give them something
to do to relieve the monotony of the hospital
and teach them a hobby that they can enjoy
the rest of their lives.
Regardless of your opinions about the
current or previous conflicts, don't
burden these young men and women with
those. Share your pleasure of fly fishing
and tying with them and let them know that
you care. ~ John Colburn (Phly Tyer), The Soldiers' Home