Fly rod. Check.
Sunny day. Check.
Ten Wounded Warriors, Dominion Transmission, Inc. employees and fly fishing guides spent last weekend at Elk Springs Resort, in Monterville, for the fifth annual Wounded Warriors fly fishing event.
Organized and hosted by Dominion, the weekend gives Wounded Warriors the opportunity to get back to nature and enjoy a couple days of fishing. Whether first timers or experts, the participants gather their gear and head out on the river and in the ponds in and around the resort to catch golden and brook trout.
“It’s pretty much blossomed,” Rod Jennings, of Dominion said. “It started here at Elk Springs and we now have an annual event at Harman’s and just recently one of our folks organized an event at Spruce Creek in Pennsylvania. We have some great fly fisherman within the company, and we’re fortunate to use our skills to help the veterans.”
Many of the participants return each year to spend time with one another and on the water.
Jim Whiting, of Spencer, has participated for three years and, at this point, said it’s incidental if he actually catches anything.
“I enjoy myself just sitting here watching everyone,” he said.
An Army Combat engineer veteran, Whiting learn-ed to fish long ago but recently took up fly fishing thanks to the Wounded Warriors program.
“I used to come up here and fish probably fifty years ago down at Bergoo,” he said. “There wasn’t anything down there. I like it up here. This is alright. It’s an oasis for fishermen.”
Some of the Wounded Warriors return each year to participate while others return as guides. Charles Samples, of Franklin, a member of the Potomac Highland Wounded Warriors takes part in all the events as a guide or volunteer to assist fellow veterans.
“This is a wonderful thing right here,” he said. “I know all of [the participants] personally and some of them really have come a long way. It’s a Godsend.”
First time fly fisherman Dave Begg, of Snowshoe, has been working with the Wounded Warriors for years in the Adaptive Ski Program at Silver Creek, but he never considered trying the fishing until now.
“I come down every year to see the guys because I know a lot of these guys from different camps,” he said. “This is the first year I took a lesson. It’s going pretty well. I didn’t even care if I caught a fish, I just wanted to learn how to cast.”
Along with fishing, the Warriors and their guides are treated to a weekend in the cabins at Elk Springs, as well as three meals a day from the restaurant.
The resort loves hosting the event each year and hopes it continues to grow.
“I would do it every month in the summer if I could,” marketing manager Tracy McClain said. “They’re probably the friendliest, most appreciative group we ever had. They come in – a lot of the ones that return – they’re already happy when they get here. They can’t wait to get here.”
For a lot of the Warriors, especially the ones who recently saw combat, the weekend is very therapeutic.
“A lot of these that have Post Traumatic [Stress Disorder] – they’ll get here and they’re almost scared to come out of the cabins,” McClain said. “With a little coaxing, we get them on the river, and usually by the end of the weekend, you can’t get them off the river.”
McClain said he also hears back from participants or their sponsors who say the event has really been a life changing experience.
Most of the time when groups of fly fishermen come to the resort, they stick to themselves and concentrate on the catch, but with the Warriors, it’s a different story.
“These guys are really interactive with us,” he said. “They want to come up and tell stories. They want to look at videos. Thursday, when they got here, I sat here for two hours showing videos. It gets them all cranked up to hit the river.”
One thing McClain enjoys most about hosting the event is the people he meets. A lot of the guys stick with him, and he likes to see them come back.
“We had a guy who came back last year and he was on one of those chairs with tracks like a bulldozer,” he said. “Before that, he was here in a regular wheelchair. He shows up in that thing and he was like ‘bought it for fishing.’ He had this thing tricked out. He had a place to hang his rod when he was tying flies. He said, ‘I’ll go anywhere.’ When we took him out here at Primeval, he was rolling out in the middle of the stream just like everyone else.”
Elk Springs also hosts events for Healing Waters, another organization which takes veterans fly fishing.
“We had the D.C. Healing Waters up here,” McClain said. “They want to do their national one here now. They had their big event at Flatwoods this year and a bunch of them came up and they brought the Washington, D.C. guys. They came up and scoped the place out.”
At the end of the day, the main goal of Elk Springs is to ensure the Wounded Warriors have a great time.
“This is a bunch of great guys,” McClain said. “Like I said, I’d do it every month if we could.”