Our fly fishing guides contribute a great deal to the Rivers of Recovery’s experience.
From the initial awkwardness at the beginning to the deep (and sometimes difficult) conversations that arise later, our guides witness the full range of our vets’ experiences firsthand.
Greg Felt of ArkAnglers is a long-time River of Recovery outfitter, with his guides logging more than 600 fishing days with our participants since 2013.
On one hand, Greg says a RoR trip is like any other—the objective is to have fun, teach the guests some new skills, and catch some fish.
But on the other hand, Greg knows RoR trips are much more.
“Our guides are keenly aware that for this program, fly fishing is both a practice that the guests can embrace and integrate into their lives, and also a metaphor that they can embrace and integrate into their lives,” he explained.
For Guides, Every Day is Different
Typically guides approach each day of a RoR trip differently.
“This is especially true on the second day of fishing, when some of the off-river components of the program are starting to affect the guests’ perspective and emotions and priorities,” Greg said.“Our guides have to be sensitive to what is going on and ready to change the focus of the day,” he explained.
That can mean different things to different groups on different days.
“Sometimes the rods get leaned up against a tree for a while,” he said. “Sometimes we pull up at a rock, sit down, and talk about things. Sometimes we are waist-deep in the current, having just released a fish, the high-five has happened, and then something deeper rises to the surface. You can’t plan this stuff, but you have to be ready to change the plan to accommodate it.”
One of Greg’s favorite memories is a day at Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River, where the group ran 8 to 10 Class III+ rapids over the course of the day.
“Not only had the guys not fly-fished before, they had not run whitewater either,” Greg said.
Whitewater rafting forces one to live in the moment, Greg explained.
“By the time we hit the beach, it felt like everyone had forgotten their stress and their challenges and had simply spent a whole day just being present,” he said. “For the soldiers, that alone was a real gift. I came away feeling like we had given them a glimpse of their true selves, that we had reminded them of who they are and who they could return to being.”
River of Recovery is a Transformative Experience for Guides Too
It’s not unusual for the guides to find the experience as transformative as the participants.
“It may surprise people in more conventional careers that guiding can become as routine as any other job,” Greg said.
“One of the benefits to us from working with RoR is the reminder of what it is we really do, the potential in every day, and the amazing capacity of the river to carry off people’s stress and return them to their most fundamental self,” he explained. “Facilitating that process is incredibly rewarding and healing for us as well.”