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Project Healing Waters 2024 Spring FishOut

Last weekend I participated in Project Healing Waters’ (PHW) Spring FishOut at Beaver Lake in Sammamish.  Club members who attended April’s meeting may remember our guest, Rick Davidson discussing this event.  Rick is PHW’s Northwest Regional Coordinator, as well as the Program Lead for Joint Base Lewis McCord.  I was a volunteer “Boat Captain” for the event and spent the day “guiding” a participating angler around Beaver Lake.

For those not up to speed on what Project Healing Waters is or does, here is a little background from their website:

“Project Healing Waters helps both veterans and active military through a  program of fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying, and fly rod building.”  In 2023 alone, through the generosity of almost 6,500 volunteers, PHW worked with over 6,000 participants comprised of all services and all recent service eras.  Started in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC to serve military service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, PHW has expanded nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department Of Defense Hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.

On the morning of the event, the requirement to have our boats in the water and ready to go for the anglers necessitated an early morning launch.  To be ready, I drove down on Saturday and camped nearby in my van.  The Beaver Lake boat launch is tucked away inconspicuously in the middle of a sleepy Sammamish neighborhood and was already crowded when I arrived at 6:30am with a homogeneous mix of idling trucks towing drift boats.  My small Mitsubishi van and two-man raft definitely stood out amongst the crowd of F-250s and trolling motor equipped Clackacraft (Beaver Lake allows electric motors only).  Regardless, the group was friendly and welcoming as I got in line and prepped my raft for launching.

The only other raft at the event (Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW))

After a short delay and some gentle boat launch ribbing occasioned by a forgotten drain plug (who hasn’t been there?!?!), I was finally on deck to launch.  Not wanting to draw undue attention to myself or my diminutive vessel, or bring shame upon the honor of the Whidbey Island Fly Fishing Club, I quickly backed down the ramp, launched my raft, and moved it out of the way for the next rig in the Clacka-conga line.  Luckily, things went smoothly!

Boats awaiting anglers. Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW)

The weather was cloudy and in the high 40s as I rowed from the boat launch, across a small bay, to the Beaver Lake Park pavilion where the PHW event was being held.  A small cadre of orange vest clad volunteers were on hand to direct boats to a landing spot on the beach and to point the captains to the registration table for check-in.  Our anglers wouldn’t begin arriving for another hour, so staff and volunteers spent the time arranging their boats, getting to know one another, and enjoying the plentiful coffee and snacks provided and served by the North Bend’s Annie Pulliam Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a long-time sponsor of the event.  Other sponsors include the main sponsor, Issaquah's Three Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Redmond’s Overlake Fly Fishing Club.  Eventually, anglers from various PHW chapters began to filter in and were shunted to their assigned boats.

Annie Pulliam Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), North Bend. Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW)

Being the smallest vessel amongst the flotilla, I could take only one angler.  I was eventually teamed up with Sebastian, a young active duty Army Sergeant First Class from New Orleans.  Word on the street was that Sebastian was a very good and enthusiastic fly fisherman.

A variety of boats, but my raft was the smallest. Photo By: Jeff Sturm

Sebastian was sporting his 5-weight and a floating line and while most were planning to troll some type of streamer, Sebastian promptly informed me that he intended to fish a red worm fly under an indicator.  I’ve always prided myself on an active questioning attitude and a keen skepticism of the status quo, so I was onboard with thumbing our noses at the collective wisdom.  Therefore, ignoring the wrath of the conservative Fly Fishing Gods, we boarded our dinky inflatable dingy and went ugly early with Sebastian’s venerable squirmy wormy.

Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW)

The Fishing Gods seemed to be in on the joke as unconventional wisdom prevailed.  Exactly four minutes post-launch we had our first (of many!) fish.  The casting, catching, netting, and releasing went on relatively unabated for the morning.  All fish caught were your standard issue 10-14” stocked rainbow trout and proved to be great fun (WDFW stocks the lake prior to this event).  Our morning’s piscatorial debauchery was only interrupted by one half-hour dry spell when the sun began peeking through the clouds.  Undaunted, Sebastian swapped his well-worn worm for a light tan mop fly.  The catching quickly resumed.  Eventually, we made our way back to the beach for a well-deserved lunch and ample swapping of fish stories.

Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW)

Bellies satiated and competitive vices satisfied (an unofficial survey put Sebastian somewhere near the top catch-wise) we headed back out to try our luck.  While the morning was overcast with a slight breeze, the afternoon delivered sunshine, increased temperatures, and calm conditions.  The fish were a little pickier and I eventually talked Sebastian into trolling and stripping one of my white balanced leeches.  Skeptical, Sebastian humored me.  Our more traditional efforts quickly paid dividends.  The afternoon catch wasn’t as frenetic as the morning’s, but it was steady and we appeared to be doing better than most.

Beaver Lake - Photo By: Bruce Tyson (PHW)

By about 2:30pm we were back on the beach recounting our day and discussing future trips.  With another organization scheduled to use the pavilion in the late-afternoon, anglers and volunteers were packing up.  Sebastian and I took pictures, exchanged contact information, and said our goodbyes.  I headed back across the bay to haul out and head home.  Again, I encountered a line at the launch.  The line was shorter and more casual with plenty of great conversation as we awaited our turn at the ramp while jockeying our boats to maintain position in the afternoon’s freshening breeze.  I eventually made it to the head of the line and by 4:00pm was headed back towards the ferry and Whidbey Island.

Photo By: Jeff Sturm

The Beaver Lake FishOut was my first PHW event.  Not only was it an opportunity to make a small difference in the world and in the lives of others, but to my surprise it also gave me something in return.  Besides the expected intrinsic satisfaction of doing something good for others, I felt a renewed sense of fellowship that I didn’t know I was missing.  I’m not trying to minimize the immense value that I place on my current relationships and social networks, but connecting with Project Healing Waters tapped something deeper as I rediscovered a brotherhood with a tribe that I didn’t know I missed.

Photo By: Jeff Sturm

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Well done Jeff!

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