Vets take to the water for fishing at Camp Hale |

Vets take to the water for fishing at Camp Hale

Competitive fly fisherman Devin Olsen of Team USA, right, coaches Val Roberts, left, an Air Force veteran, on where to cast his line during a Project Healing Waters event with competitors from this weekend's America Cup fly fishing tournament Wednesday at Camp Hale.
Dominique Taylor | |

CAMP HALE — Men and women returning from war ask themselves the same question: “What do I do now?”

How about going fishing?

Project Healing Waters brought a dozen military veterans to town from Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. They fished, they laughed and, like the name says, they healed a little.

It was lost on none of them that they were healing and fishing on Sept. 11, one of the most scarring days in American history.

Jordan Cable is one of those guys. The former Marine was deployed to Afghanistan, where war was everything you’d expect … everything.

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“It’s a lifesaver,” Cable said over lunch Wednesday at the Nova Guides lodge at Camp Hale. “I was in a bad spot, having nightmares that wouldn’t stop. This is a release. You can sit on the bank of a river and it all rolls away with the water. No cell phones, no technology.”

“You don’t have to catch fish. It’s great just being out here with the guys,” Cable said.

Nova Guides set up this trip, the second annual.

“We want to give back just a little bit to these soldiers. It’s the least we can do,” said John Knight, of Nova Guides. “There’s a lot of good fishing and a lot of new friends.”

The Healing Waters guys showed up Tuesday evening and some of the America Cup competitors volunteered to teach the vets a few of the basics: How to pick the right flies and how to read the water. One of them fished until 3 in the morning.

Woody Kiehl is a guide with Vail Valley Anglers and volunteered to be part of this event.

“We teach ’em to catch fish. We try to give them something they don’t already know, something new for their bag of tricks,” Kiehl said.

One Healing Waters member called Monday from his job in Texas to say he was coming. He climbed in his car after work and drove all night from Texas to Fort Carson, arriving a couple hours before the group was scheduled to depart for Vail. He has some anxiety issues, so he insisted on also driving to Vail.

They stayed in Nova Guides cabins and hit the Eagle River about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Late Wednesday morning Knight told Cable about a dozen times it was time to go in for lunch.

“Just one more cast,” Cable called back about two dozen times.

After several minutes, Knight said that it really, really, really was time to go in.

Cable grinned and explained that this really, really, really was his last cast. Then he hooked a 20-inch brown trout. He declared with a huge grin that, yes, that could be his last cast of the morning.

Mother Nature’s powers

Project Healing Waters has scores of affiliates around the country, dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled active and veterans through fly fishing and other activities.

Fort Carson’s Healing Waters program does fishing trips — about 20 a summer, said Gordy Rothoff, who helps run the Fort Carson program.

In the winter they do fly tying and rod building classes. The guys improve their fine motor skills tying flies. They learn patience by building rods because it’s time consuming and demands close attention to detail. And they learn a little about fishing. But mostly it’s Mother Nature who heals them, Rothoff said.

“Some of these guys were deployed three or four times with just a short break in between,” Rothoff said.

Some of them have been soldiers since they were teenagers; it’s the only life they know.

“They’re trained up, but they’re not trained down,” Rothoff said.

The military is getting better, Rothoff said, and is assigning some of them to Warrior Transition Battalions, helping them transition to civilian life.

“Fishing, water and nature can sometimes do more than the docs can,” Rothoff said.

Healing Waters is for any branch of the service from any war, and it’s for a lifetime, Rothoff said.

They travel together on Healing Waters trips, and sometimes they phone each other and go fishing.

“That’s the ultimate, something they can do for the rest of their lives,” Rothoff said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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