Thankful for Fly Fishing Part 1 - Project Healing Waters

In the tradition of Thanksgiving, we thought it would be a good idea to write about the things in fly fishing that we are thankful for. More precisely, charities that give back to the sport of fly fishing.

Each week, we’ll feature a short article about a fly fishing charity organization, and why we think they are awesome.

For our first “Thankful for Fly Fishing” post, we will feature an organization that is near and dear to me personally.


Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

Mission Statement                                                                                                       

(Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.), Project Healing Waters 


Project Healing Waters has grown to over 200 programs nationwide since it began in 2005. Founder and President Emeritus, Ed Nicholson, started the program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to help wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. What started as an idea to take a few injured service members fly fishing, caught on and grew into the amazing organization that it is today.

Project Healing Waters programs can now be found throughout the United States, including several chapters in Alaska. Beyond the US, there is a program in Germany, and affiliate programs in Canada and Australia. The US programs are categorized into different regions depending on the number of programs in that area. I am proud to say that my home state of North Carolina is categorized as its own region, since there are ten separate programs within the state. Project Healing Waters shows no signs of slowing growth, as there is a continual need for the type of rehabilitation provided by the program.

(The Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes, along with clinics for participants ranging from beginners who have never fished before, to those with prior fly fishing and tying experience who are adapting their skills to their new abilities.), Project Healing Waters

There is no charge to any of the participants in the program. Fly rods, waders, tying materials, travel costs (fuel, food, accommodations) are all covered by the program. Those funds come from fundraisers, grants, and donations of money and gear by everyday people like you and I who want to support their mission. You can also feel good about donating to PHWFF, as $.84 of every dollar goes directly to providing programs and equipment to the veterans.

Each program is run completely by volunteers from the community. Obviously, fly fishing experience is a plus, but there is plenty of need for volunteers to help with fundraising, event planning, etc. If you’ve been looking for a way to give back, I can assure you that this is a program where your heart and soul are rewarded ten-fold for the time you put into serving others. You can contact your local Program Lead or Regional Coordinator to find out how to get involved.

Veterans and active duty military service personnel can also contact their local Program Lead or Regional Coordinator to become a participant. To participate, you must either have a disability rating, be waiting to receive your military disability rating, or be recommended for the program through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Every program is different, based on location, volunteers and participant needs. Although they vary, the main objective of each program is to get disabled veterans and active duty into a group setting and teach them a skill that can help heal both mental and physical ailments. It also introduces them to people who have been through similar circumstances, and allows them the chance to form new friendships around the sport of fly fishing.

The act of fly tying, fly casting and rod building is proven to be therapeutic both to the mind and the body. Simple acts like tying a tiny mayfly pattern, or unrolling a loop of line through the air can set one’s mind at ease and help rehabilitate parts of the body that may not be working the way they used to.

Most of you reading this are involved in the sport of fly fishing, so you know that the rivers, lakes, and oceans have healing powers. When is the last time you stood knee deep in a stream, casting to a rising trout, and worried for one second about bills, Dr appointments or your boss at work? It just doesn’t happen. You, the water and the fish are all that exists in that moment in time. Project Healing Waters takes the magic that we as fly fisherman already know about, and shares it with a new audience, using it to heal both their minds and souls.

I have had the honor of being involved with PHWFF for the last 5 years, and it has changed a lot of things about my life for the better. I know without a doubt that the program saves lives, not just because of my observations, but because the participants have told me so. I have seen veterans grow a new hobby, make new friends, become licensed fly fishing guides, start fly tying companies, and move up the ranks from participant to volunteer to program lead. I can personally say that I am proud to be involved with a program that has changed the lives of thousands of people for the better, and I will always support their mission because of it.



(Participating and volunteering with PHWFF reinforces that there are good people in our country, people that unselfishly give their time, expertise and money, so that veterans and service members can heal. Personal demons are replaced, even if for only a short time, with fish demons, fly demons, rod demons, that are much more fun and a helluva lot easier to slay. The camaraderie of our program is just like that found in a military unit where you meet friends for life who love fishing as much as you. Awesome!), Tom W., PHWFF Participant and Volunteer


(Project healing waters has helped me find people like myself with similar backgrounds, experience fly fishing, nature, and exploration while creating opportunities to make new friends and memories for life. From seeing a red fish tail on a grass flat to a small brookie in a mountain stream, it wouldn't have been possible without people in and out of the program to make it all possible.), Justin C., PHWFF Participant


(Anxiety, depression and troubles making and maintaining meaningful relationships has made life after the military difficult. It’s something I don’t like to talk about much but Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has given me a sense of military comradery again, that helps me cope with the inner battles I face daily.), Abby F., PHWFF Participant



Useful links:

PHWFF Website                                                

PHWFF Facebook Page                                             

Locate a program near you.  

How to make a donation.                  

Answers to most of your questions can be found on their FAQ page.



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