While fly fishing’s positive effects on veteran recovery is widely supported by personal testimony, Rivers of Recovery wanted to prove it. So, we did a scientific research study to measure how fly fishing affects our participants, both physically and emotionally.
This research, designed by Department of Defense experts, was overseen by Dr. Gary Wynn of the U.S. Army Medical Department. It focused on combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD who went on a 2-day, 3-night residential RoR fly fishing retreat off the Green River in northern Utah.
Program participants were assessed for mood, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms of stress three times—1 month prior to the fly fishing excursion (baseline), the last day of the fly fishing retreat, and a 1 month follow up. Researchers measured perceptual stress, PTSD symptoms, and sleep quality.
Our findings suggested that the retreat experience was linked to a significant reduction in daily cortisol production when comparing the first and second days of fly fishing, attesting to the calming effects of the trip as a whole.
“Given the demonstrated and replicated findings pertaining to the psychosocial assessments, it is evident that this mode of outdoor recreation therapy predicts significant and sustained improvements in psychosocial wellness,” according to the final research report.
The results aren’t surprising to RoR participants.
Many of our veterans can attest to how transformative the experience can be. Derek McGinnis, retired U.S. Navy hospital corpsman and Iraq War combat vet, believes part of it is creating new positive memories. Those new memories in turn ease the participant’s focus on painful, traumatic, or difficult memories typical of war.
“Rivers of Recovery plants images in your head… the shoreline, the tree line, the fish, the boat,” he said. “I can picture my RoR trip perfectly. It creates a positive memory that I can go back to when I need to, and then carry on with the day.”
Opening the Door to Possibility
Derek now works at the VA, helping vets find a new purpose after they leave the military. He’s seen how something simple like a fishing trip can turn into something much bigger.
He explained, “Once vets do one thing, like participate in an event like RoR, we ask them, ‘What else can you do? What else do you want to do?’ It opens the door to possibility.”
Rivers of Recovery hopes to continue this research in the future. Read the full results of our study here.
Interested in helping us help more veterans? Here’s our list of great ways to start.