Vail Valley’s Project Healing Waters hosting fly casting competition for injured military vets |

Vail Valley’s Project Healing Waters hosting fly casting competition for injured military vets

Free program for vets provides physical, emotional and mental healing on the river

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing helps injured combat veterans find some peace of mind. The local chapter is hosting the Rocky Mountain South regional casting competition, beginning 9 a.m. Saturday in Freedom Park.
Photos courtesy of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
Project Healing Waters For the local Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing chapter, call Billy Bortz at 970-390-0038. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has grown to:
  • 219 programs in all 50 states and Germany
  • 8,307 veterans
  • 4,001 people around the country volunteer their time and talent
  • 4,902 fly tying classes
  • 1,214 rod building classes
  • 1,464 fly casting classes
  • 1,214 fishing education classes
  • 1,605 fly fishing outings
For more information about the international organization, go to

Heroes need healing, too.

Several injured military veterans will gather Saturday morning in Freedom Park in Edwards for fun and fishing. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is hosting a fly casting tournament.

Like so many others, Billy Bortz thought his fishing days were through. He thought his prosthetic leg would keep him out of the water. Like so many others, he thought wrong.

A couple of years ago the local VFW’s Pat Hammon put Bortz together with some folks from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. In minutes they had him in the water with a fly rod in his hand. By noon he was in the river up to his waist.

“I can do this!” Bortz said.

“It’s a shame you don’t have a chapter in Eagle County,” the PHWFF folks said.

“I can do that, too!” Bortz said.

And that’s how the local chapter started.

Along with fishing, the vets get together to learn fly tying and rod building. Come spring they’re in the water.

“So many of these veterans programs are one-and-done. That’s good, but that’s it. These guys come to classes every week,” Bortz said.

Saturday is the Rocky Mountain South Regional Division casting competition at Freedom Park. It starts at 9 a.m. and goes until it’s done or the entrants stop having fun.

They’ll have hula hoops with a 9-inch pie pan that’s the bullseye. Hit the bullseye and you get extra points. The winner goes to a national tournament at Freedom Ranch in Montana.

Founded by fishermen

Founder Ed Nicholson served a long and distinguished career in the United States Navy. He landed in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005 and, along with medical care, his paradigm shifted a little. Nicholson had a close-up look at the wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nichols loves the outdoors, especially fly fishing, and thought other vets would love it too. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was born. The programs are offered at no cost to disabled veterans and disabled active duty military service personnel.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it’s not the fish they’re after.”

They seek healing: physical, emotional and mental. Being on the water helps them find it, Bortz said.

“With the concentration it takes to fly fish, tie flies and build a rod your brain does not tend to wander into some place it might if you’re suffering from PTSD,” Bortz said.

It’s year-round support, classes and outings. 

“We provide the lifeline that connects disabled veterans with our volunteers and programs in a long-term healing relationship,” Daniel Morgan with PHWFF said. “We strive to serve those who have made great sacrifices in their service to our great nation.”

It’s even under the VA’s umbrella as part of the 2018 MISSION Act, which opened more health care options for veterans.

“The changes not only improve our ability to provide the health care veterans need, but also when and where they need it,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in making the announcement. “It will also put veterans at the center of their care and offer options, including expanded telehealth and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that is right for them.”

For Saturday’s Freedom Park tournament, Solaris and the Inn at Riverwalk are donating rooms, and Hayden Outdoors and Ali Leonard along with Kirby Cosmo’s in Minturn are providing meals. Minturn Anglers is the sponsoring fly shop and does all the classes, Bortz said. Their guides do this for free. Kate Ruark is the local PHWFF is the assistant program lead.

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