Early this summer in Central Oregon, the healing of disabled U.S. military Veterans came in streams of three… three Vets from California joined three Vets from Oregon for three days of fly fishing on three iconic Central Oregon waters. And ironies of three notwithstanding, these soldiers valiantly served our country across THREE major U.S. military campaigns … Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam … now creating a special ‘triad’ of experiences, stories and memories they will cherish for a lifetime!
This Central Oregon campaign was sponsored by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), a national non-profit organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled Veterans through fly fishing and associated activities. Founded in 2005 at Walter Reed Medical Center, Project Healing Waters was formed on the simple premise that fly fishing helps heal the wounded body, mind and soul. This organization is unique in that it depends on volunteers to teach classes and lead fly fishing outings on a long term, sustainable basis.
The cadre of Project Healing Waters Veterans were treated to fishing Oregon’s Crooked River, Upper Deschutes River, and East Lake during the second week of June thanks to graciousness of the Sunriver Anglers fly fishing club, a half-dozen local fly fishing guides, and three volunteers. Veteran participants Luke Bachan, Nick Beyer, and Kevon Franklin from PHWFF-Martinez, CA joined Veterans Wade Ruch, Asa Stamps, and Reid Walch from the PHWFF-Bend, OR program.
They were also joined by two volunteers, David Lipscomb and Brian Miller from the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing club based in Walnut Creek, CA along with Sunriver Angler member and photographer Phil Fischer of Silver Hilton Photography. The Veterans were housed in two donated Sunriver homes where they were very comfortable and secure. The California volunteers stayed at the home base of Phil & Nancy Fischer, who also hosted the welcome and farewell dinners for all participants. The Veterans were guided by local guides John Olschewsky (The Hook Fly Shop), Mary Ann Dozer (Fly Fishing Pursuits), Bob Smith and Justin Church (Fly & Field Outfitters), and Jeff Perin and Steve Erickson (Fly Fisher’s Place).
These guides generously donated their time to ensure our Veterans never forget this outing. No question, their expertise helped the Veterans improve their casting, presentation, and overall experience on the water. The Veterans all gushed over the professionalism, patience and exuberance the guides exhibited for this sport, with their comments directed at the great times they had with their guides.
THREE PERFECT DAYS
The Crooked River is a prolific tailwater fishery about 1 hour 15 minutes northeast of Sunriver. A tributary of the Deschutes River, the Crooked is located on the high desert plain and flows deeply through a spectacular basalt gorge. The Crooked offers eight miles of ‘Wild & Scenic’ water easily accessed for wadeable tailwater fishing, with a staggering number of fish per mile. At each bend in the river riffles, pocket water, runs, and flats abound. The native redband rainbows and mountain whitefish are all wild and can provide a day of non-stop action on this unique, beautiful and productive river.
In the shadow of Mount Bachelor and The Three Sisters range, the Upper Deschutes River originates 35 minutes west of Sunriver, beginning as a freestone spring creek that meanders from Little Lava Lake around eight miles to Crane Prairie Reservoir. This is a beautiful high alpine setting through pine forests and grassy, lupine-filled meadows with big brook trout and wild rainbows finning in crystal clear water. A quintessential mountain stream, the Upper Deschutes holds some of the most picturesque brook trout water you’ve ever seen!
At a 6,400-foot elevation, East Lake is about 35 minutes southeast of Sunriver. Nestled within half of the Newberry Crater National Monument crater, East Lake covers over 1,000 acres with an average depth of 67 feet. The large hatches on this lake can generate a day of nonstop action to an astonishing number and variety of fish. Large browns, rainbows and kokanee salmon provide for some exciting fishing.
While fly fishers are known for a predilection toward slight exaggeration, these Veterans caught over 200 fish during their three days. It started with many rainbows and whitefish on the Crooked River, followed by big brook trout on the Upper Deschutes, and ending with many rainbow trout, brown trout and kokanee salmon at the net on East Lake. No exaggeration – we have photographic evidence! As an avid photographer, Phil followed the crew for three days, documenting time spent having fun and healing on the water. Also a master fly tyer, Phil presented each angler with a fly box containing key patterns for each fishing venue.
A MOUNTAIN OF HEALING
After a hard day on the water, the Veterans and volunteers would head back home for some mouthwatering dinners prepared by the Veterans. After dinner, they gathered around the living room to reflect on the day’s fishing, tell a few stories, swap fish counts, and open up on how Project Healing Waters influenced them in their individual journeys of healing. In so doing, they found themselves in a new ‘tribe of comrades with whom to share their feelings and forge new relationships. It was at one of these dinners that Asa Stamps introduced the “Mountain Book” a small green journal dedicated to these and future Project Healing Waters participants.
“The Mountain Book is a tradition in the 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. This Mountain Book will serve as a record of Project Healing Waters events and is being passed from group to group as each pursues a mountaintop of healing.” Asa recollected: “One of my last memories of the Mountain Book is patrolling to the top of Garhab Gar on the road to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Some of the very first soldiers to fight across this terrain near Kabul had erected a flagpole with the United States flag and had left a 50 caliber ammo can with a small green book and a pencil. Everyone who had summited that peak had their name in it. I saw it as another indelible connection to soldiers before and after me … the last names were mostly the same as people that had served with me. Much like any family we may not share the same names, but we are connected through the same bonds.”
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 nation’s fighting men and women we so proudly call Veterans. Thank you for your sacrifice. This mountain book and its photos are to be entrusted to the next healing waters group and passed on.” The Mountain Book is an anthology of lives touched: maybe one day connecting Vets who were in the same unit as family with shared experiences. With the tradition of the Mountain Book, these Vets have found a new tribe and peace on the water. The Project Healing Waters volunteers are the glue that can keep it together.
This trip truly offered “Three Perfect Days of Healing” in the high mountain desert. The stark beauty of the Crooked River against vibrant green high canyon walls was amazing. The scenery and wildlife of the Upper Deschutes was like a picture postcard. And East Lake lived up to its reputation as a premier mountain fly fishing destination. We sincerely thank these gentlemen for their service to our country. All the local volunteers really appreciated capturing the wonder and the amazement of the Veterans observing this beautiful place they call home. It was refreshing to see such awe-inspiring country through the eyes of our participants, knowing that this positive experience is now permanently etched in their memories.
Born in Los Angeles, CA, Kevon was raised in a household and diverse community where many differences were celebrated. A single father of 5 children now, he stems from a family in which all men have served in the U.S. Armed Forces … his father and brother in the U.S. Marines Corps, another brother in the U.S. Air Force, and his eldest son is active duty the U.S. Air Force overseas. Upon his enlistment in the U.S. Coast Guard he served as Seaman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Conifer, later transferred to a Search & Rescue Law Enforcement unit. Kevon’s desire to help others led him to become a Corpsman for the remainder of his military career, trained in Field Management of Chemical & Biological Casualties, then certified as a Preventive Medical Technician at the Naval School of Health Sciences.
Medically retired in 2008, Kevon continues to serve fellow Veterans in a rehabilitation capacity, with a focus on mental health. Currently a Peer Specialist at the Martinez, CA VA Clinic, he facilitates a variety of recovery groups within the VA system. This is where he discovered Project Healing Waters and the great impact it has had for many Veterans. New to fly fishing, Kevon became involved in PHWFF by promoting the program within the VA, attending meetings, and now in Central Oregon finally picking up a rod himself and catching his first fish on his first cast!
“What I enjoyed most was being outdoors, hands-down! Nature reminds me of how we are all connected to the land, skies, waters, animals, and especially each other. It reminds me to stop, breathe, and appreciate those things”. Project Healing Waters helps put things in perspective, he says. “Life can feel overwhelming at times … managing a family as a single parent with service-related disabilities is a challenge.” PHWFF shows that it’s okay to ask for help, let your guard down at times, and put vour trust in others. The project immerses Vets in the outdoors surrounded by nature, listening, talking, and fishing with fellow people who can relate to their own experiences. “I know now I don’t have to carry the weight of my life on my own. I never would have guessed that fly fishing could have such a profound impact on how to see things. This was as close to a perfect three days l’ve had for a long while.”
Luke comes from the small farming community of Exeter in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Here his family ran a business and a farm while he was growing up. A combat Veteran, Luke joined the U.S. Army in 1969, serving 4 years in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 101st Airborne Division, attaining the rank of Sergeant. Upon his discharge in 1971, Luke attended the University of California at Davis. Currently residing in Brentwood, CA he is married with four married adult children and five grandchildren with hopes of at least that many more. After a lengthy career in the Business and Services industries, Luke sought help from Veterans Affairs for several longstanding problems. After gratefully receiving that help, he was able to reciprocate and help other Veterans by transitioning from patient to staff. He recently retired as a Certified Peer Support Specialist working at the Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Center at the Martinez, CA VA Clinic.
(Photo) Veteran Luke Bachan takes a break in the jungles of Vietnam.
Luke joined Project Healing Waters in 2013 to learn fly fishing and facilitate other Veterans to join the program. Now experienced in recovery on both sides, Luke is both a Project Healing Waters participant and volunteer, often taking a lead role in fly fishing outings. He feels strong that Project Healing Waters’ mission is one of rehabilitation and recovery, but one must first have hope to heal. “When I talk about what makes a trip most enjoyable, no matter how beautiful the location or how large and plentiful the fish, the answer is always the people involved and my relationship with them. While Central Oregon was beautiful, the fish were large and plentiful, and the food was excellent, this trip gave me hope. The bonding with fellow Vets, the natural beauty, and the adventure inspired me to action … to keep my body in shape, become a better angler faster, and learn more about the habits of bugs and fish. My hope was flamed into desire and purpose.”
(Photo) Veteran Luke Bachan intent on the end of his line waiting for a sipping rise.
“I appreciated the graciousness of everyone at Phil & Nancy’s home in Sunriver … they are great people in Oregon! I had to laugh at Nancy’s comment when the Golden State Warriors lost the NBA finals, we were all watching .. ‘Ok, – put on the Hallmark Channel!’ It was funny but expressed a good point: you cannot walk in remorse at a setback, you have to move forward!”
Born on Veteran’s Day in Los Gatos, CA, Nick grew up on the water in Discovery Bay, CA. Upon enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 2005, he served 6 years aboard the USS Harry S. Truman CVN 75 as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Handler 2nd Class and also worked in the Shipboard Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection Services. After sea duty, Nick was transferred to the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, VA where he worked as an Airfield and Municipal Firefighter. Upon completion of his second enlistment, Nick moved back to his hometown Discovery Bay with his wife (also a U.S. Navy Veteran) and two children. He is currently studying for his Bachelor Degree in Aeronautical Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Nick discovered and joined Project Healing Waters in 2018. This was his first time ever getting involved with fly fishing. Enjoying this new skill and developing new friendships is what makes Project Healing Waters special to him.
“I enjoyed meeting and being with new people and fishing new waters. Even though a ‘river is a river’ they are all different. I enjoyed most cooking a special steak dinner that was loved by everyone. It’s always good to get together with like-minded comrades … even though we’ve been through a lot, we can still connect with one another and show that we support each other.”
(photo) Nick and guide Bob Smith work the dry flies.
“Project Healing Waters has the right approach by getting us together in rivers, in nature and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. This makes opening up to one another easier. I know it may be difficult for those of us with physical disabilities, but talking it out alongside nature is a great way to help those of us who have an overactive mind and need a chance to just focus on being one with the land. I remember mostly images of emotions on the Vets’ faces. I remember the pain I saw when we reflected on troublesome times of war. The next day on the water it was replaced with joy as fish were hooked and landed. There was a range of emotions and logistics to catch fish target, determination, focus, anticipation, excitement, victory, mission accomplished!”
(photo) A beautiful mountain whitefish, also known as a ‘Central Oregon Bonefish’ … this species is an indicator of the overall health of the river … judging by the numbers of whitefish, the river appears very healthy.
Each day the Veterans were served a hot lunch on the water. On Tuesday, Jeff Nakae and Jerry Hubbard of the Sunriver Anglers cooked up a spectacular hot chili on the Crooked River. On Wednesday, the PHWFF-Bend, OR program (led by volunteer Brad Emory) treated the group to bratwurst, potato salad and all the fixings at Mile Camp. This awesome meal was very welcome after a morning spent hiking the Upper Deschutes while hooking and fighting many fish. On Thursday, the group joined Sunriver Anglers for their annual East Lake outing and barbecue. Mike and Rynie Quan served up hamburgers, salads and Rynie’s famous desserts.
Born in Kailua, Hawaii, Asa spent his formative years in Tulsa, OK where his love of fishing came from trips with family and friends over the lakes, rivers, and watersheds of Oklahoma and Arkansas. He joined the Army in 1991, receiving his officer commission in 1995. Asa retired as Lieutenant Colonel in 2018 as a Deputy Brigade Commander. He served in Afghanistan in 2003-2004 during Operation Enduring Freedom and was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Bronze Star.
Veteran Asa Stamps patrols in Afghanistan.
Married and father of two children, Asa retired from active duty and his family moved to Bend, OR in 2018, making the transition from flatland life to the beautiful mountains of Central Oregon. Fishing had always been a mainstay in his life, but not until a tour in Afghanistan and fishing the cold waters of 11 Mile Canyon in Colorado did he feel the tranquility and peace of standing in the water with a fly rod and the beauty of casting a fly. Upon his retirement to Central Oregon, Asa took the opportunity to expand the experiences for his family in some of the best fly fishing waters in the world. Project Healing Waters has become a big part of their lives as they spend days out of every week together, sharing, fly fishing, and exploring all the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Vets from Martinez, CA … they were engaging and willing to share their lives with the group. Being with them for a week was like the first week in any unit … you meet the people, make new relationships and share your experiences. The setting and hospitality of our hosts were incredible.”
“For the first time, I was able to open up about my struggles and some of the afflictions left from spending the majority of life in the service. I was able to let go of a few things and realize that all soldiers have some of the same issues, and they don’t need to be alone in their struggles. The nightly AAR (After Actions Report) enabled us to forge special bonds and come together as a new tribe.” Project Healing Waters pays tribute to Veterans and soldiers who have served our country faithfully for over 250 years multiple generations that defended us in the best and worst of times. “Holy cow, these are people who have done so much!”
A Washington State native, Wade grew up in the Puget Sound area fishing local bays, lakes and rivers … a love of fishing passed down from generation to generation. Serving with the 10th Mountain Division, he served two combat tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and was awarded the Combat Spurs and Ranger Tab. He retired in 2010 as an Infantry First Sergeant at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisianna. Wade moved to Bend, Oregon in 2012 with his wife and two sons who are now attending Oregon universities. It was here that he was introduced to Project Healing Waters. The weekly gatherings soon piqued his interest and passion for fly fishing. He came to realize that time spent with other combat Vets or standing alone in a river offered moments of reprieve and personal reparation. As an active volunteer and accomplished rod builder, Wade has put many Vets on trout, bass, crappie and steelhead, sometimes using the rods he helped them build. He also introduces them to spey casting as an alternative form of casting for physically challenged Vets.
“On this outing, I enjoyed sharing Central Oregon with folks who normally don’t get to wake and go to sleep in the high alpine desert I so enjoy. I enjoyed the men I was around and their insights on their chosen service lives. I also enjoyed the years of experience on the water and how I could incorporate techniques and subtle gestures of an instinctive mend or delicate wrist cast under some trees.” He continues, “I’m not sure if my PHWFF participation helps or if volunteerism is more beneficial. As a Non-Commissioned Officer, I was a teacher and mentor for 18 of my 20 years… that’s what I am. I guess I feel needed here, not like an antiquated alpha male war machine, a byproduct of times best forgotten.”
(photo) Wade, with fly rod in hand, proudly wears his 10th Mountain Division insignia on his arm sling.
Born in Medford, Oregon, Reid spent his early years in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon. These times were often at his grandparents’ ranch outside of Eagle Point where his interest in fly fishing was first piqued on a small creek. His family then moved to Bend, Oregon where he has lived for the last 27 years, continuing his passion for fly fishing (and love of baseball).
In 2006, Reid attended Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Upon graduation, he joined the Oregon National Guard Unit as a Combat Engineer. Reid was deployed to Iraq in 2009 where he received the Combat Action Badge and Purple Heart for wounds received in combat actions, including traumatic brain injury and shrapnel wounds due to an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. He was medically retired in 2014.
Reid was introduced to Project Healing Waters in 2011 where he met other Veterans who encouraged him down the fly fishing path he currently walks. While mostly chasing trout and steelhead in Central Oregon, Montana and Idaho are frequent summertime destinations that offer new challenges and techniques.
When chasing fish in a river, a spey rod or single hand Skagit are Reid’s tools of choice. His understanding of the art of casting and nuances of entomology have made him a valuable Project Healing Waters volunteer, mentor and participant in the Central Oregon chapter. Fly fishing has helped Reid calm his mind in difficult times.
(photo) Veteran Reid Walch hooks a monster brook trout while Daisy spots the catch.
He’s a solitary quy, fishing 100-200 days a year, mostly by himself. But he rarely goes fishing without his dog Daisy, a great healing factor in his life since coming home. His family and friends have helped him along this road, and he would like to thank them for everything they have contributed to his life. “I’m not terribly social, but I enjoyed most meeting new people on this outing. I appreciate the time and effort it took to put the trip together. I had the most fun on East Lake … still water is not something I’ve done often, so it was fun learning new water and techniques. Thanks for getting us all together and on the water!”
The Central Oregon Guiding community really stepped up to help this PHWFF event, and all selflessly donated their time.
Jeff Perin is the owner of the The Fly Fisher’s Place and guide service. He has been guiding Central Oregon since 1988 and has built his career fishing and guiding the Cascade Lakes and the Fall River. There is nothing Jeff loves more than the thrill of technical angling, and he enjoys showing customers the best of what our tremendous lakes and streams have to offer. Jeff guides on East Lake, Crane Prairie Reservoir, Lava Lake, Hosmer Lake, Three Creeks Lake and the Fall River. Jeff’s a sucker for a well-tied terrestrial because he has seen what they can do when other flies seem to fail. The Metolius River and East Lake are his two favorite Central Oregon waters, and Jeff spends as many of his days off as possible fishing both places. He spends a lot of time over the winter tying flies for the upcoming season, so you always know that you’ll have the best fly tied on for the day.
The resident old man at The Fly Fisher’s Place, Steve has been guiding with Jeff Perin for over 14 years. His angling experience includes both moving and stillwater aquatic environments across the United States and internationally. His primary focus is on the rivers of Central Oregon, including the Deschutes and McKenzie, but he maintains a strong and growing enthusiasm for stillwater fishing. He was instrumental in making the McKenzie River float trips a prominent option at the Fly Fisher’s Place. Steve is an enthusiastic teacher of both novice and experienced anglers, and he is an invaluable resource for learning new techniques and building the skill sets you will want in your angling adventures. He particularly enjoys teaching the element of spey casting for those majestic migratory fish. When plied with his favorite Scotch, Steve admits that standing thigh deep in the pulsing current of the Deschutes, swinging flies for summer run Steelhead is his favorite vice. He is also an excellent oarsman who has spent a lifetime understanding and anticipating the needs of fly anglers. His custom built 17×54 Willie drift boat is fully supplied with all of the equipment needed to fish the varied waters of Central Oregon. If you are a resident or a visitor and want to have a memorable and informative experience plying your angling skills in any of the aquatic environs of central Oregon, give Steve a call at The Fly Fisher’s Place.
John is guide and part owner of The Hook Fly Shop in Sunriver, Oregon. He is often the friendly voice you hear when you call The Hook. When not out guiding, he is busy running the shop. John enjoys guiding groups and families along our Central Oregon rivers. John is a great teacher and patient guide with a dry sense of humor. A passionate fly tier, John has a deep appreciation for the history of fly tying as well as fly fishing. During the cold and snowy offseason in Sunriver, John often leads an evening fly tying jam in the Hook Fly Shop called “Trina and Lying.” In 2016, he was named Fly Tyer of the Year by the Oregon Council Federation of Fly Fishers.
Justin has been working the waters of Central Oregon for years. From the highest lakes to the Lower Deschutes, Justin has put in the hours to get after it, 365 days a year. He specializes in the Cascade Lakes, the walk-In fisheries at the Crooked, Upper Deschutes and Fall Rivers as well the mighty Lower Deschutes for redbands. Justin possesses that amazing, unbridled enthusiasm we all love to be around on the water. After years working as an architect, he decided to take his lifelong passion for fly fishing to the next level. Having lived all over the country, including Montauk, New York; Savannah, Georgia; Florida, Oregon, and Idaho, he has always had a passion for fishing. He started fly fishing in the saltwater, sight fishing rocky jetties and flats for stripers and redfish. After moving to the Northwest a decade ago, Justin became infatuated with fishing the region’s mountain lakes, freestone rivers and tail-waters. He recently built out a camper to travel the continent with his family searching for beautiful places to cast a line. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and excitement, teaching, and helping people catch more fish! His favorite thing is seeing client’s face when they make the perfect cast and hook the trout of their lifetime! Fly & Field Outfitters
Mary Ann Dozer is an accomplished fly fishing guide for The Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters, Oregon, guiding on several lakes and rivers in Central Oregon. This high energy passionate fly fishing woman has worked hard bringing her love of fishing to women and men throughout the United States. She is a Fly Fisher’s International Master Casting Instructor, also on the FFI Casting Board of Governors, and on the R.L. Winston Rods Pro Staff Team. She has volunteered with Casting for Recovery for 15 years. Mary Ann considers casting an art form and is known for her enthusiasm and expertise as both teacher and guide. “What struck me so much is how gracious Project Healing Waters is and how appreciative the Veterans are of the guides. What also struck me is how respectful the Vets were to me as a woman guide, how much they gave to our country, and how much we owe them.”
With over 30 years fly fishing experience, Bob Smith is a Central Oregon guide with Fly & Field Outfitters in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified FFF Casting Instructor, having taught hundreds of men, women and children and witnessing many an “ah ha” moment as they execute their first successful cast and beyond. Bob was first introduced to fly fishing on the challenging waters of the Upper Sacramento and McCloud Rivers, Hat Creek and the many other rivers and lakes of the Mount Shasta area in Northern California. His big break came in 1995 when he was fortunate enough to move his family to Bend, where he continues his pursuit of anything that swims on the many beautiful rivers and lakes of Central Oregon. Bob’s strengths as a guide are his patience, experience, enthusiasm, deep understanding of local waters, and the innate ability to alter his guiding/teaching style to fit the needs and personality of his clients. He’s also been told he’s a “natural teacher” with a pretty decent sense of humor.
Phil Fischer is an avid photographer, fly fisherman and fly tier who retired to Sunriver in 2010 to be near the fabulous scenery and fly-fishing waters in this area. He is passionate about photography and has spent many days afield capturing wonderous scenes and fly fishing beautiful waters near Sunriver. His early experiences fly fishing were spent in the high Sierra in California, where he loved flipping a small Adams to willing brook trout. Phil has traveled to many fly fishing locations throughout the world to cast a fly rod and capture photographs of beautiful scenery. The oft-used phrase “trout live in beautiful places” perfectly describes Phil’s enthusiasm for the high Oregon Cascades around Sunriver. He has 50 years of experience tying flies, teaching fly tying and fly fishing. He owns Silver Hilton Photography (silverhiltonphotography) Phil has published numerous articles and photos on fly tying and fly fishing. He is currently a Whiting Farms Pro Team member and features many of their hackle products in his fly patterns