You never know what you will come home with after a day on the water, fishing. For Mike Burns, of Minnehaha Springs, he went out to fly fish on a stream in Virginia and came home as a volunteer for Healing Waters – a veterans fly fishing program.
“I was over fishing a stream in Virginia and ran into this guy,” Burns said. “We got to talking and he invited me to come over. I told him I guided in West Virginia and he said ‘we could always use the help.’ That was right as I retired.”
Burns was nearly finished with his last year as forestry teacher at Pocahontas County High School when he started working with Healing Waters.
The Hot Springs chapter covers Highland and Bath counties, in Virginia, and Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties in West Virginia. When Burns was asked to start the chapter, he said he would, under one condition.
“I said only if I could include the West Virginia guys and they said, ‘sure,’” he said. “There are a lot of vets in these rural areas – Highland, Bath, Pocahontas and Greenbrier – that aren’t getting served.”
Now as program lead, Burns is trying to grow the ranks of his program and get veterans involved in learning how to tie flies and fly fish. For the past month, Burns has met with three local veterans each Sunday at New Hope Lutheran Church in Minnehaha Springs to tie flies and learn fly fishing techniques.
Burns said it is difficult to find veterans eligible for the program because they must have a disability rating in order to qualify.
“I know a lot of vets, but I didn’t know anyone with a disability,” he said. “You have to have the disability through the DAV to qualify. So I went to Norris [Long] and Norris suggested I talk to Barry Sharp, who drives the DAV van and he said, David Hissom drives the van with me, and he has a DAV rating.”
Through word of mouth, Burns was able to find veterans interested in participating in the program. Hissom contacted Brian VanReenan, and he and his fiancé, Rebecca Lawrence, both qualified and were interested in the program.
“All you have to do is find them,” Burns said. “These guys are interested, and they fished before. All they had to do is learn this. This is not easy, but they’re getting it. The test is going to be a week from tomorrow when we go up to the ponds.”
The three “students” – Hissom, VanReenen and Lawrence – have spent each Sunday with Burns, honing their skills and creating a collection of flies which they will put to use April 3 at Pocahontas Fishing Game Adventures on Stony Creek.
Burns said it doesn’t cost the veterans anything to participate in the program. Healing Waters provides all the equipment – fly rods, materials to make flies, waders and more.
After they master the craft, the veterans attend a Healing Waters event where they receive their permanent equipment. Everything they use with Burns stays with him as part of the initial classes. At this time, he has enough equipment for 10 participants.
For more information on the Hot Springs chapter or to join the classes, contact Burns at email@example.com