When you talk to Rivers of Recovery (RoR) vets who just finished their first fly fishing trip, they use very similar words to describe the experience.
Spiritual. Peaceful. Calm. Therapeutic. Restorative.
That’s the foundation of any RoR trip. And after their first exposure to fly fishing, many participants are hooked.
“Fly fishing is a gateway drug,” jokes Dan Laffin, head of the RoR chapter in the northeastern United States and a former participant. “We’re taking the barriers way by providing the education and equipment.”
And it doesn’t end when the boat docks. “We foster the addiction,” Dan said. “We encourage people to bring another vet and pass it along.”
Breaking Through the Resistance
That personal connection is a key part of the program’s success. Because it’s not always easy to convince new participants that the experience is going to be a positive one.
“Just this year we had a vet who was going through some rough stuff,” Dan said. “Right up to the beginning of the trip, he wasn’t sure he was going to come. He thought, ‘another stupid veteran event where they hug you and say thank you for your service.’”
But the vet got out of the car and onto the boat. “And now he’s completely obsessed with fly fishing,” Dan said.
Levi Crawford had a similar experience. “There are so many people who are hesitant to go on the trip. They’ve become a recluse, a homebody. I don’t think being reclusive is good for anyone, particularly young people these days.”
The healing nature of the sport is part of the appeal. “We had a guy who said this was the first time he didn’t need alcohol to fall asleep,” Levi said. “Fly fishing is good for the mind and good for the body.”
Connecting with Other Vets
The RoR experience extends far beyond the actual boat. “You can lounge around the fire, play games and meet new people,” Levi said. “Army, Marine, we’ve all got stuff in common. It’s good to hear other people’s stories.”
Those stories include intense experiences on the battlefield, which have left vets with psychological or physical disabilities. But fly fishing is a sport where physical limitations don’t matter. “We had a guy with three fingers combined, and we figured out a way for him to hold the rod,” Dan said. “He was catching 20 fish a day.”
These stories foster the support of other veterans and donors who are looking for a way to give something back.