Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. (PHWFF) began in 2005 serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, PHWFF has expanded nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and Clinics. PHWFF brings a high-quality, full spectrum fly fishing program to an ever-expanding number of disabled active military service and veteran personnel. PHWFF has become recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of therapeutic outdoor recreation for the disabled through its successful application of the sport of fly fishing as a rehabilitation tool.
Catch Magazine began its special relationship with Project Healing Waters in 2018 with the Veterans Day publication of “Healing on the Fall” about a group of disabled veterans from the PHWFF Martinez and San Francisco, CA programs coming together for five days of healing on Northern California’s spectacular Fall River.
This partnership continued in 2019 when PHWFF Martinez veterans traveled north to join Central Oregon veterans for “Three Perfect Days of Healing” on the Crooked River, Upper Deschutes River, and East Lake, also published on Veterans Day. With the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, PHWFF San Francisco dug into their archives to produce another special Veterans Day edition “Casting to Heal” which reflects on how their program builds incredible camaraderie with veterans and volunteers at their historic Golden Gate Anglers Lodge & Casting Pools and a recent outing on the Lower Sacramento River.
Taking a year off as the COVID-19 onslaught lingered into 2021, Project Healing Waters safely curtailed all overnight group fly fishing outings for most of the year, finally reopening these trips in October 2021. Catch Magazine now draws together Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Val Atkinson, Circle 7 Ranch, and California Trout to collaborate on “Healing Full Circle” for release on Veterans Day.
HEALING FULL CIRCLE
With the Project Healing Waters revival in 2022, the programs from PHWFF Martinez, San Francisco, and Central Oregon planned a return trip to Fall River. Six veterans and six volunteers came together at the historic Circle 7 Ranch to heal and bond on the magical waters of the Fall. They were once again joined by internationally acclaimed fly fishing photographer Val Atkinson, who’s spellbinding photography graced the pages of “Healing on the Fall” four years ago. Also contributing was Michael Wier of California Trout for some stunning aerial images of the Fall River Valley. “Healing Full Circle” brings these three PHWFF programs together for the very first time, encircling the stories of six disabled veterans to bind their individual threads of healing, camaraderie, emotions, wonder, and fun at one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The Fall River fishery is a hidden gem located about 5 hours northeast of San Francisco, in Northern California’s intermountain region. Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges, one can be immersed in the majestic views of both Mount Lassen to the south and Mount Shasta to the northwest. The Fall River watershed drains 612 square miles in the Fall River Valley with the main stem extending 15 miles southeast from its headwaters at Thousand Springs to its confluence with the Tule River. The Fall River is the largest of California’s spring creeks fed by several icy aquifers bubbling up from the snows and glaciers of Mount Shasta.
Over the years Circle 7 Ranch has become a safe haven for Project Healing Waters outings on Fall River. Here, the PHWFF veterans enjoyed warm accommodations in the historic Circle 7 White House (built in 1932) while the volunteers were lodged in surrounding cabins. Circle 7 manager Trena Keefe generously donated all lodging and boats for the week and arranged for Fall River fly fishing guides George Durand and Matt Mitchell who had also guided PHWFF at the 2018 outing. Trena, along with Gerald Ricks, Dave Jolin, and the Circle 7 staff went above and beyond to provide a warm, caring, and inviting venue for the PHWFF veterans and volunteers.
It should be noted that Trena is also a U.S. Navy veteran. Having entered the service in 1979, she spent the next six years as a ‘Radioman’ responsible for all forms of radio, telecommunications, and transmission media aboard ships, aircraft, and at shore facilities. Upon her discharge in 1985, Trena found her way to back California. A Fall River Valley resident for over 30 years, she has spent most of that time working and managing both Circle 7 Ranch and previously Spinner Fall Lodge. Owners Dan & Jean Smith take good care of Trena and the staff, all of whom care so much about Circle 7 Ranch and the special experiences of their guests.
“These Project Healing Waters veterans are just good people … never met a bad one! It’s so much fun talking to them, hearing their stories, and laughing together at their jokes. They are so deserving and make me love my job even more!
A MOUNTAIN OF HEALING
Also coming back full circle was the return of the PHWFF ‘Mountain Book’ … a small green journal originally introduced at the Central Oregon outing 2019 in which veterans and volunteers inscribe their experiences and reflections of PHWFF outings. The Mountain Book is a tradition in the U.S. Army, handed down from hilltop to mountaintop, soldier to soldier. These books are left at the top of some hard fought terrain summited by soldiers, and as tradition has it, all who summit should sign the book to let others know who has made it to the mountaintop. The PHWFF Mountain Book will serve as a record of Project Healing Waters events as is being passed from group to group as each pursues a mountaintop of healing. As you open this small green book, the first passage reads …
“This book serves as a history of Project Healing Waters participants. It is dedicated to the volunteers in service and those that serve the nations fighting men and women we so proudly call veterans. Thank you for your sacrifice. This Mountain Book and it’s photos are to be entrusted to the next healing waters group and passed on.”
All Fall River participants entered their thoughtful words to share for future PHWFF readers. Now with 17 fly fishing trips and over 80 entries to date, the Mountain Book is an anthology of lives touched who may one day see someone they know, reconnecting as family with shared experiences. Within the traditions of the Mountain Book, these veterans have found a new tribe and peace on the water. The Project Healing Waters volunteers are the glue that will keep it together.
HEROES ON THE WATER
As the PHWFF veterans and volunteers arrived at Circle 7 Ranch, their first sunset together was one of instant appreciation of the beauty of Fall River and majesty of Mount Shasta on the horizon. Reacquainting with old friends and making new ones, special relationships beckoned with warm introductions, a hearty meal, congenial laughter, and eager anticipation of the days to come on the water. Over a dinner of barbecued burgers, they were joined by guide George Durand who briefed the group on the history of the Fall River Valley ecosystem and the technical aspects of fly fishing this special water. The camaraderie and communion had begun.
Early the next morning all veterans, volunteers, and guides converged at the Circle 7 dock for final briefings, boat assignments, good luck wishes, and shove offs for their first day on the water. The weather cooperated for a beautiful day of fly fishing with Mount Shasta rising prominently in the background. The participants were instantly mesmerized by the beauty of Fall River, especially the hypnotic Z-grass (Zannichellia palustris), a native aquatic species important to the fishery habitat.
Plenty of rainbows came to the net caught with an array of small dry flies, nymphs, and streamers on long, lightweight leaders and tippets. As fish were caught the smiles abounded, fists were bumped, photos were taken, and tall tales emerged … later to be enjoyed over a sunset pasta dinner. With new boat assignments, day two mirrored day one with new ‘friends on the water’ and many more rainbows in the net. A venison dinner was enjoyed as everyone circled around the White House dining room for more stories of their day on the water.
Veteran excerpts from the PHWFF Mountain Book:
“Sometimes we find the most beauty in the space between the spaces … in places of happenstance that open our eyes to feelings and actions that are both enlightening and rewarding. As I return to heal on the Fall River, I find the joy and camaraderie of service with my friends and brothers in arms. This magnificent river will live in my recovery as vivid as my love of soldier and country. I am grateful to have known all of you. To the volunteers, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For all you do for veterans, we salute you!”
“Being with fellow veterans and having the camaraderie again was something I missed. I met most of the men for the first time and we didn’t miss a beat. We had each other’s back. Being on the water again after many years and feeling my pulse quicken at the first strike gave me a moment I had forgotten. Meeting my new friends brought a memory long faded by the years. The time here at Fall River was magic! We often sacrifice, accommodate, and compromise without realizing it. This healing water gave me a respite to reflect and remind myself of the need for my own healing. This is my opportunity to carry on.”
BACK AT THE RANCH
Owned by Dan & Jean Smith, Circle 7 Ranch is an idyllic rural destination on the banks of Fall River situated within the larger Smith Ranch. It was here that ranchers and PHWFF friends George & Chris McArthur hosted an afternoon cattle roundup for the veterans and volunteers on their last day at the ranch.
George & Chris along with their ‘Cow Boss’ Tom guided the crew in rounding up 60 head of cattle through a Smith Ranch corral and into a hydraulic squeeze chute. Once in the chute, cows were given multiple vaccinations for parasites, worms, influenza, and other potential maladies. Fly tags were also inserted in their ears to keep flies out of their eyes. This is part of a regularly scheduled routine health program for the cattle. The PHWFF veterans and volunteers had key hands-on roles inside and outside the corral and during the vaccination process … as one veteran quipped “Veterans are healing cattle while healing ourselves!”
“The roundup was awesome! It was a nice break from fishing and seeing another layer of life. I got to keep the cattle moving through the chute in person! The people involved were a class act … friendships were made here.”
“The exposure to activities on the adjacent McArthur cattle ranch was really fun, especially the operation of vaccinating and deworming the cattle before they go to or return from remote pastures. I was leery at first, but it was a big kick for the veterans to actually get some hands-on experience!”
“I worked cattle my whole life. It was great to get back in the ring with sporty cows fresh from the mountains. The McArthurs were great … George is a cowboy through-and-through, and Chris was simply amazing pulling a great roundup together for us!”
After the roundup, the group returned to Circle 7 where the PHWFF Program Leaders hosted a special barbecue to give thanks to some of the many people who have made Fall River so special for Project Healing Waters … Circle 7 staff, guides, local families … all of whom make these trips exceedingly successful in the PHWFF mission of healing. They enjoyed barbecued ribs, slow cooked pork, and all the great sides one could ever want. They even ‘imported’ local favorite Loard’s Ice Cream from the San Francisco Bay Area. It was truly a feast to be remembered and a great way to say thank you.
“The BBQ brought it all together, the big picture of Fall River … the people who live here with their finger on the pulse of this magical place, sharing their stories and their friendship … a fitting end to a wonderful week on and off the water!”
MCARTHUR LIVESTOCK & FAMILY HISTORY
The McArthur family’s rich history began with the emigration of the John McArthur, Sr. family from Scotland to Canada in 1843, then to Wisconsin in 1845. They remained in Wisconsin for 20 years before the family’s move to California’s Fall River Valley in 1868 where they initially grew crops such as wheat and barley in the Pitt and Fall River Valleys. In the 1890’s, eldest son John McArthur, Jr. purchased large tracts of swamp land adjoining Fall River, the reclamation of which was the main focus of the family for the next 20 years.
In 1902 he built a store, hotel, blacksmith shop, and post office in what became the new town of McArthur. The McArthur ‘Big House’ was completed in 1904 and the family moved in. That same year, the John McArthur Company was incorporated with initial land holdings of 8,000 acres for farming and cattle grazing. In the 1920’s, descendants of this pioneering family purchased Burney Falls and 160 acres of nearby land to protect it from hydroelectric development. In 1926, they presented it as a gift to the state of California, which today is designated McArthur–Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
Today, the fourth generation George & Chris McArthur family owns 9,500 acres across Shasta and Lassen counties, including many acres in the Fall River Valley. They lease another 50,000 acres across multiple Northern California counties for feed and livestock operations. In any given year, they raise and rotate around 800 mother cows and 5,000 to 7,000 yearlings across their pastures.
George & Chris started McArthur Livestock in 1988 and purchased McArthur Farm Supply in 1991, which continue to this day. Their eldest son John is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and currently holds the rank of Major in the U.S. Marines. After earning a PhD in Chemistry, youngest son Scott decided to return to the ranch and manages many aspects including the winter operations. George’s mother Shirley still resides in the small town of McArthur, while cousins Craig & Marlene reside there in the original McArthur family home.
For the past 17 years, the McArthurs have leased 600 acres of Smith Ranch bordering the Fall River. Their generational commitment to Smith Ranch includes running the Smith feed and livestock operations. It is here where George & Chris hosted the veterans cattle roundup along with Tom Azevedo, their Livestock Manager for the past 20 years. Project Healing Waters offers a heartfelt thank you to the McArthur family for their generous contributions and support of our disabled military veterans.
HEALING FULL CIRCLE WITH DAD
(“Healing Full Circle” by Britton Miller, originally written in 2018 for “Healing on the Fall”)
For many years now, I’ve returned to fish the Fall River for my health, wellness, and the pure enjoyment this magical place has to offer. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to get up there twice a year. The way the river winds and reflects the history and tranquility of the red barns, the reeds blowing in the wind, and the flying ‘V’ of ducks and geese only adds to the enjoyment I find in fly fishing.
When I was 24 years old, I was finally able to grasp the benefits found from fly fishing that my father had been trying to explain to me for nearly a decade. Begrudgingly, I took my precious leave from the Air Force, and I followed him up to the Whipple Ranch in Fall River Mills. I was enamored by the beauty and solitude this place had to offer. But I was ready to fish!
Being an athlete my entire life and now as an Air Force Second Lieutenant, I thought that I’d pick-up fly fishing with ease. Little did I understand that athleticism and energy didn’t translate directly to being a good fly fisher; quite the opposite actually. Fly fishing is more of an art form and humbled me rather quickly.
Patiently, my father tried to teach me techniques and tricks to cast better, choose flies, and swing line to those devilishly difficult fish to catch on the Fall River. Being his son, I still resisted. He often would acquiesce and hire one of the amazing guides the area has to offer. Slowly but surely, I was able to catch more and more fish. But, unbeknownst to me at the time (and very apparent to my father), the fishing wasn’t the only thing that got better. My temperament changed when I was on the water. I was able to relax and just focus on one thing. Additionally, my relationship with my father grew stronger. This became “our” trip.
After 5 years of doing this with my father, I was notified that I’d have to deploy to Afghanistan in May of 2009. This meant no trips to Fall River that year. Though my deployment was a short 6 months, it had a lasting emotional and experiential impact on me. Many events transpired over that half-year that are still difficult to discuss. I arrived home from Afghanistan on Veterans Day that year a very different person. Though happy to be home, I couldn’t shake an eerie unrest and anger that welled up inside me. I was on edge. More than I normally was. Little things irritated me to no end. Good friends were starting to shy away from me. I didn’t know what to do. In hindsight I now know that this is a fairly common reaction for many of the women and men who return home after deployments.
Be that as it may, I was concerned, and so was my family. It wasn’t until the following year that my dad invited me once again up to Fall River that I was able to understand and get perspective. On the drive up I was anxious, but once we passed the sign for Burney Falls and drove past Hat Creek, I could feel the fog lifting. I remember my dad asking me if I wanted to try to fish anywhere else in the area. I promptly responded, “No, just get me to Fall River!”
Once on the river the following morning with my line in the water, I could feel the tension in my shoulders and the knot in my gut give way to the relaxation I’ve only felt fly fishing on Fall River. The memories of all the trips with my dad, his friends, and others flooded back to me and made me feel the best I’d felt in the several months since I returned from deployment. The motion of the rod in your hand and line in the air gives you a certain peace that can’t be found anywhere else.
After separating from the Air Force in 2011, I went to work in the private sector and still went on many fishing trips with my father. In 2014, my father introduced me to Project Healing Waters. Seeing the transformation it had in me, he was passionate about its message and wanted us to get involved together. Being a veteran, I was excited to see how fly fishing would affect others in my situation. After several events with PHWFF and meeting people with similar history, I realized that not only was the fly fishing curative, being able to talk and share my experiences with other veterans was another added benefit.
As the years have gone on and I’ve gotten busier with my career after the Air Force, my trips to Fall River have been less frequent. However, earlier this year, I was invited to be a part of a PHWFF outing to Fall River. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect for a PHWFF event!
Several veterans, volunteers, and my father and I stayed at the amazingly beautiful Circle 7 Ranch for a 3 day fly fishing adventure on my most favorite river to fish. This trip brought my own healing full circle. As a now seasoned fly fisherman with knowledge of the river we were fishing, I was able to play several roles on the trip. I was first and foremost a veteran, able to “smoke and joke” with the others about our individual careers in the military. Secondly, I was a volunteer able to assist my father and others with logistics. Lastly, I was an ad-hoc guide. My nearly 15 years of returning to Fall River allowed me to impart some of my insights to the other veterans during our outing.
All-in-all my own healing has come from many different unforeseen sources. Fly fishing has been the focus that my mind needed. Fall River has been the retreat that calms my soul. PHWFF has been the guide that let me know that I was not alone. Finally, my father is the mentor who brought all these wonderful things into my life.
“My father had found a way to love without showing it or perhaps even admitting it to himself. His way was through our fishing together.” (Gene Hill from R. Valentine Atkinson, “Friends on the Water — Fly Fishing in Good Company”)
Dave Allen, PHWFF Martinez Veteran
Growing up in Michigan, Dave Allen joined the U.S. Army in 1972 right out of high school and after boot camp was assigned to Strategic Communications Command in Stuttgart, Germany. He left the Army in 1974 on a family hardship discharge. In 1975 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, initially stationed on USS Tecumseh SSBN 628. From there his assignments included the Cryptographic Training School in Vallejo CA and the USS Permit SSN 594.
In 1984, Dave left the Navy and enrolled in Diablo Valley College on Concord CA followed by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo CA where he graduated in 1991 with a degree in Engineering Technologies. Upon graduation, his career took him to various companies in the mail sorting and cash sorting industries and the San Francisco Federal Reserve. Dave retired in 2021.
“I heard about Project Healing Waters from a counselor at the VA Martinez Outpatient Clinic. I joined in June 2021 and have since participated in a fly fishing fundamentals class, rod building class, and many casting lessons. I have fished the Feather River CA for steelhead and the Lower Sacramento River CA and Fall River CA for rainbow trout. In early 2022 I joined the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing club, participating in a Lake Almanor CA outing to fish the Hexagenia hatch for large rainbow trout.”
“This was my first time visiting Fall River … what an absolute treasure. The clear cold water, the almost fluorescent grasses, the beautiful trout we could see feeding on insects while ignoring our flies, those that did take our flies, the waterfowl with their babies, muskrats, deer, and other wildlife that pretty much ignored us. What a wonderful way for veterans to be able to turn off their everyday lives by being immersed in such a beautiful environment with fellow veterans and the Project Healing Waters staff and volunteers. While on the water, around the dinner table, or sitting around the ranch many new acquaintances and connections were made by the vets. And to top off a super fishing trip I got to play cowboy and inoculate some 30 cows! Many thanks to all that made this happen.”
Levie Isaacks, PHWFF San Francisco Veteran
Born in Houston TX to deaf parents, Levie Isaacks used sign language to speak his first words. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 where he qualified for and attended Officer Candidate School, emerging as a Second Lieutenant. In 1967 Levie was deployed to Vietnam where he served as a Platoon Leader patrolling and engaging in battles along the Ho Chi Min Trail. For his service, he was decorated with a Bronze Star for heroism and an Army Commendation for Valor, leaving the Army in 1969 as a Captain to return to college.
While attending the University of Texas, Levie began his life in cinematography by working part-time at a local television station in Austin TX. There he was handed a newsreel camera and his love affair with film and telling stories began. After graduation in 1972, he continued to work in broadcast journalism, commercials, and documentary films while garnering experience as a camera operator shooting films on location in Texas. In 1987 Levie pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles CA to try his hand as Director of Photography for movies and films. As Cinematographer ASC for over 30 years, his feature credits include movies for MGM, Universal, and Paramount studios.
“I first got involved with the PHWFF San Francisco program in 2019, making the 60 mile drive to the Golden Gate Anglers Lodge & Casting Pools. I joined a couple of Yuba River CA outings with limited success, then spent two years on Zoom calls during the COVID-19 pandemic … so no fishing. I had joined PHWFF because I wanted to fish all my life, but I never had time to do it until now. With Project Healing Waters, I have found dedicated brothers who have taken me under their wing where I can learn to fly fish, find peace in my heart, and have fun in nature. I was incredibly excited to be chosen to go to Fall River!
“The Fall River experience was a community one of veterans enjoying each other’s company telling war stories, but more importantly fishing stories. The interaction between Vietnam vets and younger generation Iraq and Afghanistan vets was enlightening. While military technology changes, the experience of war does not. Fly fishing for me is an escape. It helps me leave the ruminations inherent with PTSD, live in the moment of beautiful surroundings, and experience life as it is lived in our instant of time. Fall River took me back to when I was 12 years old, experiencing that wonder and excitement we have at that eventful age. It’s been a long time since I have been given that gift of a wondrous experience. I am so grateful. And I’m ready to go back to Fall River!”
Patrick Minnifield, PHWFF San Francisco Veteran
Patrick Minnifield was born and raised on a farm in rural Alabama, the 9th of 10 children in his family, with 6 sisters and 3 brothers. Upon graduating from McAdory High School in McCalla AL, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1987 at the age of 18. Over the course of his 9-year Navy career he rose to the rank of First Class Petty Officer (E6). It was important for Patrick to serve his country with dignity and pride. At the height of the Cold War, he was assigned to the highly decorated nuclear submarine USS Parche SSN-683, out of Mare Island CA. Patrick earned two Presidential Unit Citations for submarine reconnaissance in the Pacific Theater. He medically retired in 1996.
After retirement, Patrick moved to Northern California where his careers spanned the Mass Food Production industry and the U.S. Postal Service for several years. Residing in Sebastopol CA for the past 8 years, he met fellow PHWFF veteran Steve DeVaughn at the local VA Hospital and they’ve been fly fishing and golfing together ever since. He also joins his sons chasing steelhead and trout on Northern California waters.
“I grew up fishing on the lakes and streams in Alabama and always wanted to fly fish. Watching Tom Brokaw fly fishing for Bonefish in the 80’s got me hooked! I was introduced to Project Healing Waters in 2017 and have since fished Montana’s Big Hole (at PHWFF Freedom Ranch), Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers … and the McCloud River, Hat Creek, Smith River, Baum Lake, Stanislaus River, and Lower Sacramento River in Northern CA. I’ve tried tying flies, but don’t have the patience. I’ve attended many casting lessons and just got into Euro Nymphing. But what I mostly enjoy is being with other veterans … fly fishing is the icing on the cake. The camaraderie and support I receive from Project Healing Waters has greatly contributed to the healing of my mind, body, and soul.”
“What I enjoyed most about Fall River was the river itself and being in good company at this special place, fishing with the other veterans and guides, learning new fishing styles, and just spending time together. Circle 7 Ranch is also very special … I really enjoyed seeing the baby barn owls in the ranch’s historic barns. I’ll never forget guide George Durand’s voice when I had a fish on … ‘don’t horse it, just come tight’ … he taught me how to fish this technical water with soft hands and being in the moment. It was personally heartwarming to be invited and involved with this group. There was nothing but healing going on and it was very healing for me.”
Noel O’Brien, PHWFF Martinez Veteran
Born in Ireland, Noel O’Brien came to Rochester NY as a child, the first generation of his family to leave Ireland. Growing up there, hunting and fishing were major parts of his young life. Two years into college, he had a catharsis … to actually experience life on the big stage and joined the U.S. Navy in 1981. As Quartermaster and Navigation Specialist, he navigated at least half of the world and worked his way up to Chief in record time. He was assigned to the USS Constellation CB64 aircraft carrier in the Middle East, the USS Truxton CG35 guided missile cruiser in the Pacific, and the USS Ranger CV61 aircraft carrier in Central America. He was slotted to his own hovercraft to retake Kuwait, but was injured in training and not deployed.
After two years of surgeries Noel left the Navy in 1996 and got involved with the VA. He received a Master’s Degree in Psychology and became a Therapist with the Vet Centers program, community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional counseling to eligible veterans. Vet Center counselors, many of whom are veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma. Today Noel is the Commander of American Legion Post 178 in Rio Vista CA.
“I joined Project Healing Waters in the summer of 2020 during COVID-19. With no travel and lots of free time I continued as Therapist for combat vets, often promoting PHWFF to help them heal. As I took this healing more seriously for myself, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and engage in the program. With some lingering medical issues, I’m moving around okay and getting more involved in PHWFF activities. Already this year I have fly fished the Umpqua River in Oregon and the Fall River. I am re-learning fly fishing techniques after being away from it for 30 years … little-by-little it’s becoming almost automatic!”
“Fly fishing on Fall River is simply magic … the movements of the water, the grasses, and the fish. The guides were great, patient, and tolerant … they get it. They helped me going from thinking about it to actually doing it. Day one was my learning day … no fish. Day two I caught 5 fish by getting the feel, being there in the moment, and building friendships with my boatmates. We were definitely healing just by hanging out together, seeing a certain happiness cross their faces and sparking some open dialogue. At the cattle roundup, we each stepped up to new roles with a level playing field. We learned a lot, using new tools and hearing about the McArthur family ranching operations. Well done by all!”
Asa Stamps, PWHFF Central Oregon Veteran
Born in Hawaii, Asa Stamps was raised all over the United States and Caribbean, but mostly in Tulsa OK. He was educated at multiple universities including Oklahoma State, Langston, Trinity, and Syracuse. Following his military father (Major Asa Stamps III), Asa joined the U.S. Army in 1990 as a Private and progressed through the ranks before commissioning as a Second Lieutenant, continuing to serve through the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served over 27 years throughout the U.S., Europe, Panama, and South America. His positions included Infantry Platoon Leader, Infantry Company Commander, Staff Officer, Battalion Commander, and Brigade Commander. Asa completed multiple combat tours culminating in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan 2002-2004, suffering multiple traumatic brain injuries.
Upon retirement, Asa moved to Bend OR in 2018, joining the PHWFF Central Oregon Program in 2019. He’s now splitting time between Bend OR, his family ranch in Oklahoma, and new home near Pensacola FL. While still active with the Oregon program, he is hoping to bridge a PHWFF relationship with the Pensacola, San Francisco, and Martinez programs.
“Our lives are a series of climbs; we ascend and descend much like mountaineers. Our accomplishments are much more savory in the company of others, the witnesses to our successes and failures. Project Healing Waters brings together those that are in the process of healing, and through the selfless service and camaraderie of our volunteers and veterans, we are able to heal. PHWFF has allowed me to face some of my disabilities, and as a servant leader, to listen to the voices of those treated far less fair than me. I have found healing through helping my older veterans tell their story and get through their pain, anguish, and anger.”
“I would say that on Fall River, what I enjoyed the most were the people … not just the veterans, but the staff, workforce, and volunteers that made it all possible. For myself, each of these trips make an impact on all of us. There is a lot of guilt that goes with service. This can be empathy for loved ones that were left behind without their loved ones or for those who never returned from their missions. I am more comfortable speaking of my service and forgiving myself after speaking with those who have gone through the same things. Strangely, war and the experiences do not change with time. My Vietnam brothers and sisters still hold the same pain today for service 50 years ago, and I can only hope that Project Healing Waters is helping them as it is helping me. Yahoo for the roundup and BBQ at Circle 7 Ranch!”
David Lipscomb, PHWFF Martinez Volunteer & Senior Advisor
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, David Lipscomb retired as Captain in the U.S. Navy after having spent over 30 years of combined active and reserve duty, serving on five submarines and five commands in the reserves. While Captain Lipscomb received numerous individual medals, including two Navy Meritorious Service Awards, he is most proud of his three-unit commendations for his units’ very active support to Fleet Commands. His post-military career included a stint in the power industry, then transitioning to the high tech world in the early 80’s.
David is currently Assistant Program Lead and Senior Advisor for the PHWFF Martinez program, having started the program in 2011 with the strong backing of the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing (DVFF) club. In 2019, DVFF was recognized with a national PHWFF Club Excellence Award for their support and partnership with the PHWFF Martinez program. David is also proud of his partnership with Program Lead Henry Little to help establish the PHWFF San Francisco program with the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club (GGACC).
“The magic of Fall River never ceases to amaze! When we arrived at Circle 7 Ranch late afternoon, I went to look at the river and the sunset. Even Ansel Adams would be proud of the photo I took with my iPhone. It was a gorgeous moment with beautiful weather. But this is Fall River and the weather changes rather quickly. By the next morning the temperature had dropped 30 degrees and the winds were whipping up and down the river. While we tried fishing for a few hours, but it was not to be on this day! However, our main purpose that day was not the fishing, but to pay back in some small way some of the local folks who have made Fall River so special in the healing of our veterans.”
Henry Little, PHWFF San Francisco Volunteer & Program Lead
A native of Rochester NY, Henry Little received a BA degree from Hamilton College and MBA degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Between college and graduate school, he served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1969, during which time he was a combat infantry officer and advisor to the army of South Vietnam. For his service in Vietnam, Henry was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and a Purple Heart. He retired from the Army as a First Lieutenant in 1969.
Shortly after graduation from Wharton, Henry moved to San Francisco to begin a 38 year career in the conservation field, most notably with The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund. In 2010, he was awarded the Stream Keepers Award by California Trout for his work on the McCloud and Shasta Rivers. From 2011 to 2014, Henry served on the Board of Directors of the Western River Conservancy.
In 2016, Henry founded and still leads the PHWFF San Francisco program. His passion for trout fishing dates back to his college years in the early 60’s in upstate New York. As a disabled veteran himself, he recognizes the healing qualities of fishing for trout, an activity which he found especially restorative during his own post-military convalescence. The camaraderie and warm relationships enjoyed by the disabled veteran participants, GGACC volunteers, and PHWFF Martinez partners have greatly enriched Henry’s life.
“Although the individual stories of those of us who rendezvoused at Circle 7 Ranch may have varied greatly, the journey together over these five days has been very uplifting for me. Reconnecting with old friends and making new friends in a beautiful locale were the highlights of the outing. The time spent together on Fall River made our journey more welcoming and restorative.”
Jeff Marshall, PHWFF Martinez Volunteer & Program Lead
Following his upbringing overseas in Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, Jeff Marshall returned to the United States to complete high school and attend the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1989. Upon completing flight school, he served in a variety of operational tours afloat, flying the S-3 Viking, hunting submarines, refueling fighters, and conducting surveillance during the Gulf War. Jeff was then chosen to fly the E-6B Mercury for his first Commanding Officer tour in 2006-2008 in Oklahoma where his squadron conducted Nuclear Command and Control. His squadron also provided flight operations during the Iraq War, for crucial overhead communications to Army, Marine, and allied ground units. Along with multiple international and domestic Commanding Officer tours, Jeff studied Chinese Peacekeeping Operations as a Federal Executive Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK and earned post graduate degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School and Troy State University.
After 30 years of uniformed service, Jeff retired in 2015 and began a new aerospace industry career in Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley as Program Manager for several companies building and launching satellites for DARPA, NASA, USAF, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Continuing in government service, he began working for the Social Security Administration in 2019 and presently serves as the Support Servvices Division Chief for the Oakland VA Regional Office, serving veterans and military families across Northern California. Jeff is currently the Program Lead for the PHWFF Martinez program, supporting 70+ volunteers and veteran participants who have served our nation from Korea through Iraq and Afghanistan for their rehabilitation and healing.
“The Fall River is a very special place. This visit was my first to Circle 7 Ranch and Fall River, and to witness the beauty of Mount Shasta and its crystal clear spring-fed waters running through the countryside. Despite my lack of success on the water, it was a true pleasure to be there, to be part of the team, and see all three PHWFF program members come together. The warmth, friendship, solitude, and joint experiences on the water allowed all the participants to bond over their common service to this nation and to this program. We learned from each other and to came together to thank our generous Circle 7 sponsors, their neighbors, and other supporters for their continued support to our programs and our participants’ continued recovery and rehabilitation. The memories of the success of this gathering continue to resonate across all three programs, and have encouraged us to seek out more opportunities for joint outings in Northern California and Oregon.”
Brian Miller, PHWFF Martinez Volunteer & Assistant Program Lead
A lifelong California native, Brian Miller received a BA degree in photography from Humboldt State University in 1974, moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 80’s. Upon graduation, he began a 25 year career in telecommunications, followed by another 17 years in high tech, retiring as Marketing Director from Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2016. Brian first learned to fish at a young age from his grandfather and uncle on the lakes of North Dakota. He began fly fishing 30 years ago and has fished Fall River every year since. Brian introduced fly fishing to his son Britton 20 years ago while he attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, taking him on many of those Fall River trips over the years, later helping his son’s healing from deployment to Afghanistan.
A Diablo Valley Fly Fishing member since 2010, Brian joined the PHWFF Martinez program as Assistant Program Lead and volunteer in 2014. Britton later joined him as both participant and volunteer. Brian is currently the PHWFF Outings Program Lead, coordinating over 15 fly fishing trips per year for veterans and volunteers. Also in this role, Brian has been the principal author of three previous Catch Magazine publications “Healing on the Fall, Three Perfect Days of Healing, Casting to Heal” in collaboration with multiple PHWFF Program Leads and the national PHWFF organization.
“In this issue of Catch Magazine, ‘Healing Full Circle’ is the culmination of four years of pre-and-post COVID outings for our veteran participants and volunteers across three PHWFF programs. Once again, the Fall River and Circle 7 Ranch delivered on our promise to heal the wounded bodies and souls of our nation’s warriors in a setting that one has to see to believe. My role was simple … pull the outing together, then sit back and watch the fishing, laughing, and healing unfold. I’d like to extend my warm personal thanks to our PHWFF volunteers, Circle 7’s Trena Keefe, guides George Durand and Matt Mitchell, friends George & Chris McArthur, and our photographers Val Atkinson and Michael Wier … well done everyone!”
Bob Smith, PHWFF Central Oregon Volunteer
Bob Smith was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Upon graduating from San Jose State University, he launched a 30+ year career managing private athletic clubs in San Francisco and Bend OR. An avid fly fisher since 1984, he cut his teeth on the waters of the Shasta/Trinity area of Northern California. These include Hat Creek, McCloud River, Upper Sacramento River, Pit River, and Fall River. Bob moved to Bend in 1995 where his favorite waters include the Metolius River and Cascade High Lakes. He has been a certified FFI Casting Instructor since 2007.
With over 30 years fly fishing experience, Bob has been a PHWFF volunteer since 2019, beginning as a guide on the PHWFF Martinez/Central Oregon joint outing that summer (“Three Perfect Days of Healing”). Today he is very active in the Central Oregon program as fly fishing instructor, mentor, and pseudo-guide. Bob also volunteers with the Mayfly Project (introducing foster kids to fly fishing), Casting for Recovery (fly fishing immersion for breast cancer survivors), and as mentor for the Central Oregon Project for Youth.
The first morning on Fall River, the fishing was slow to say the least. One veteran mocked that they were cursed with bad luck, almost like how bananas became known as omens of danger and misfortune for ships. Now it was about at this time that Bob was reaching for a drink from his cooler, and low and behold sitting right on top was bright yellow banana! Needless to say, that in the company of lifelong sailors with years of naval experience, Bob would never live down this experience. ‘Banana Boat Bob’ may never eat a banana again!
“What a tremendous honor it was to volunteer for the 2022 PHWFF event at Fall River. While not a veteran myself, I found it both humbling and inspirational to be in the presence of so many that have given so much … and to help them land a rainbow or two. I was so grateful for the opportunity to provide whatever assistance I could and look forward to the next outing with great anticipation. Regardless of when and where, the one thing I can ensure is that I will never bring another banana on my boat!”
Val Wadsworth, PHWFF Central Oregon Volunteer & Program Lead
A native of Idaho, Val Wadsworth enlisted in the U.S. Navy right out of high school in 1979. As a Navy Cryptologic Chief Warrant Officer, he traveled the world in support of the Naval Security Group Command during the Cold War era. His final tour was in Washington DC at the Executive Office of the President in the White House, providing support for the National Security Council and White House Situation Room. Upon retiring in 1999, Val attended the University of Maryland earning a Computer Science degree and started a small business in computer network design and support.
After a 40 year hiatus from the hunting and fishing of his youth, Val learned about Project Healing Waters in 2017 and was immediately obsessed with fly fishing. In his first year as participant, he was fortunate to go to the Freedom Ranch for Heroes in Montana. In 2019 Val became a PHWFF volunteer and in 2020 became the Assistant Program Lead of the La Plata, MD program. In 2021, after 30 years in the DC Metro area, Val and his wife Sandy moved to Bend, OR to be near family. At that time, the PHWFF Central Oregon/Bend program was inactive due to COVID-19. After talking to Regional and HQ staff, Val accepted the role of new Program Lead and has restarted the program. In a few short months the program has grown to 20 veteran participants and 6 volunteers.
“The Fall River trip was my first as Program Lead. Fortunately, the other PHWFF Martinez leaders put the whole outing together, so it was really an invaluable training trip for me. The trip gave me a chance to get to know Bend veteran Asa Stamps. I learned that his soldiers are family to him, even after retiring. That’s something I see in combat veterans that I don’t see in my fellow Cold War veterans. Just as I saw at Freedom Ranch, the veterans at Fall River didn’t take long to start sharing stories, finding common experiences, and making friends. The camaraderie, the beauty of the place, and the meditative nature of fly fishing make these trips memorable and healing.”
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) 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. PHWFF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dependent on tax-deductible, charitable donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, equipment, transportation, and related needs of its participants. PLEASE DONATE HERE!
EPILOGUE: CALIFORNIA TROUT ON FALL RIVER
The Fall River, fed by Mount Shasta’s ice-cold volcanic aquifers, is California’s largest spring creek. With its bounty of cold, nutrient-rich spring water, the Fall River boasts one of the largest populations of wild trout for any California waterway. Spring-fed rivers like the Fall are critical to California’s water security, fish populations, and people─ healthy waters, healthy fish, healthy people.
A California-based conservation non-profit, California Trout (CalTrout), is actively working to secure protections and meaningful management measures for spring-fed rivers and the source waters they produce. Working with researchers from partnering institutions, they are conducting detailed assessments and analyses of spring water discharges from Mt. Shasta-Klamath rivers including the Fall so that they can establish existing flow conditions and observe how they change over time. This research is being used to better understand just how important these source waters are in replenishing California’s water supply. And by applying the scientific data to real-world management scenarios, CalTrout is enabled to better advocate for spring waters protection.
CalTrout is engaged in additional conservation efforts for the Fall River and its trophy fishery. A multi-year, comprehensive study is researching the population dynamics and genetics of Fall River rainbow trout, led by members from CalTrout, the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Fall River Conservancy, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Since 2013, the groups have conducted annual fish-tagging events on the Fall River in which trout are gently equipped with small Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags. Thousands of fish have been tagged which enables researchers to track their movements throughout the entire basin and throughout all seasons. In addition, a very small fin clip is taken from each tagged trout to study their genetics.
The data from this project is being used to better understand how the Fall River functions as a cold water refuge for its important trout fishery. Moreover, collecting this scientific information is critical since it actively influences conservation management decisions, such as CDFW’s changes to the state’s trout-fishing regulations. CalTrout has engaged, and continues to do so, with CDFW and the Commission to ensure that wild trout populations are conserved, and that California’s best ‘special regulation’ waters retain their unique character and fishing experience. For the Fall River, CalTrout and others applied the science to policy and petitioned CDFW to designate the entire river as catch-and-release (no take) with single barbless, artificial lures only.
‘Protecting the best’ is a key part of CalTrout’s mission, and there’s no argument that the Fall River is one of the best. Rivers like the Fall that yield consistent, reliable, cold-water flows are particularly important not only for the habitat they provide to aquatic species, but also for helping sustain the state’s water supply and offering natural resilience to drought and climate change.
It’s effortless to see why the Fall River attracts so many. The valley is beautiful, the water is crystal clear, and the trout are big and wild. With this waterway being so incredibly valuable to threatened cold-water fish and to the humans relying on stable water sources, conserving the Fall River must always be a priority.
Recently, a group from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) joined folks from CalTrout on a Fall River fishing trip. CalTrout’s Michael Wier captured aerial photos and film of the outing. Val Atkinson’s presence was certainly a highlight, given that he is one of fly fishing’s best-known names. He is also a close friend to CalTrout, often joining events and project tours to document the scene. Through his photography, CalTrout has been able to artfully convey the importance of protecting such stunning natural places around California. And according to Val, the Fall River is one of his favorite places to fish in the state: “I love the pastoral beauty of the spring creek settings, and I enjoy fishing for trout with dry flies. It’s my favorite home river fishery.”
Michael Wier is the roving Field Reporter for California Trout, which helps to protect California’s Trout, Salmon, Steelhead, and blue ribbon waters. Growing up in the Sierra Foothills, Michael was always close to nature, learning to fish lakes and streams and tie flies at a young age. He spent 15 seasons guiding for the Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters and fishing the waters of the Truckee, Carson, Walker rivers and surrounding waters. In 2001 Michael started BURL Productions, specializing in adventure and outdoor films. He is also an Ambassador for Patagonia Fly Fishing, Smith Eyewear, Loon Outdoors, Galvan Reels and Outcast boats.
“It was a pleasure spending time on the water and working with Project Healing Waters and the great group of folks they brought this year. They picked a spectacular week to visit, with perfect weather, glassy calm mornings, slightly breezy afternoons, and plenty of sunshine. Those glassy conditions in the morning can make the fishing a bit tough, but it did make for some great images. My favorite part of the outing was seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they caught a fish, especially given how much they have been through.”
CalTrout would like to acknowledge Catch Magazine for their efforts helping to tell stories about the amazing places that people can travel to in fly fishing. With more people knowing and caring about those places, there’s more recognition and desire to restore, protect, and heal them.
Sergeant Jacob Sitter, U.S. Army, Korean War Veteran (1952-1954)
“Healing Full Circle is dedicated to the man who taught me to fish and to laugh … rest in peace Uncle Jack! – Brian Miller
R. Valentine Atkinson
To experience Val Atkinson’s photography is to be instantly immersed into the special moments he has captured with his eye and his camera around the world. An internationally acclaimed fly fishing photographer and artist for over four decades, Val has encountered destinations, people, and fly fishing waters that many of us can only dream about. To journey through his imagery is to take a trip of a lifetime with light, composition, and moments. Val will take you on adventures to some of the world’s most evocative and romantic fly fishing destinations. From the headwaters of New Zealand’s wilderness rivers to his home waters of Hat Creek and Fall River in California, Val explores the world to create visual stories that make you feel “I want to be there.
“My personal goal is to share the beauty found throughout this world, bringing fly fishing and nature to life right before your eyes. As Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘A good story is one you can feel’. That is what I want to convey with my photography. I want you to feel what it is like to be in that image, in that particular moment in time. As a photographer, my time spent with service veterans who have given much for our country is truly special. It was indeed a privilege and honor to capture the special moments of camaraderie that developed between them as they enjoyed a quiet, peaceful, and reflective time fishing the Fall River … memories to last a lifetime.”