Trout waters proved to be most healing during a fishing event for veterans this past week.
Three years ago, Project Healing Waters first made arrangements with Roy and Cathy Magarigal at Big Moore's Run Hunting and Fishing Preserve to set up a series of angler outings for veterans and councillor/aides from Veterans Administration facilities in Buffalo, Batavia and other VA hospitals.
The Third Annual PHW Fly Fishing event saw beautiful weather in a most beautiful place from Tuesday to Thursday at Big Moore's Run, a high-mountain creek draw or "run" coursing through 504 acres that include a four-acre pond and a descending valley that forms curving draws down to river bottoms just east of Coudersport in Potter County, Pa.
The county's handle "God's Country" applies here. The Eden-like setting in Big Moore's Run serves as just one feature of eastern Allegheny Mountain country set high enough to be a bit closer to heaven.
Twelve veterans signed on for the three-day outing that finished Thursday evening with a prime rib dinner shared with hosts and volunteer counselors. Coordinators Dave Saulter and Tracie Edwards thanked sponsors and the Magarigals for their continued efforts and support.
Dr. Pete Ryan, president of the God's Country Trout Unlimited Chapter since its inception in 1978, ribbed some participants and pointed to gatherings such as this as a prime source of involvement for veterans and all seeking solace and enjoyment in the outdoors.
He also pointed out the pinnacle-like prominence of the geography. "At the highest point in the mountains here, a large raindrop could hit a rock, split into three droplets. One could flow north into the Genesee River and eventually reach Lake Ontario. One could head southwest into the Allegany River and end up in the Mississippi River. One could flow southeast into the Susquehanna River and end up in the Chesapeake Bay."
Ryan worked with all anglers and assistants throughout the three-day program. His mid-day fly-tying sessions on Wednesday and Thursday at the Austin-Costello Sportsmen's Club gave both vets and their helpers a good handle on building the fly and bug life imitations that work best on area waters at specific times of the fishing year.
The Austin-Costello club has a policy many clubs might consider. Around its bass- and trout-filled pond, the club posted large, red-lettered signs, "No Fishing Under Age 15."
During the tying sessions, Ryan had the use of a camera at his tying vise. The lens focused on his hook and showed the tie on a TV screen. He and other experts could view the tying progress as they put together sinking and floating fly patterns.
On Wednesday, the group tied the "Green Weenie" and a soft-hackle fly. But it was the Thursday session that got all hooked into both sinking and floating flies that will work on streams right now.
The bead-head pheasant tail nymph sinks; the parachute sulphur dun floats. After the tie, Ryan explained that both could be tied apart near the end of the tippet (leader) so that one sinks and the other floats as an "indicator fly," that is, one that tells where the fish are biting.
The "Rusty Spinner" is another late-spring fly pattern that mocks the spinner stage of mayflies. Finally, a "Black Foam Beetle" looks like the many land (terrestrial) bugs that fall into the water during the summer when trout have fewer aquatic bugs to bite.
All 12 vets received a wooden-boxed kit of all tools and a quality vise on which to tie, plus an assortment of tying materials to make more of these fly patterns.
They work. When I arrived at the Big Moore's Run pond late Thursday morning, Jim Schwertfeger, Lovejoy-area angler, fished next to Bill Swartz of Clarence Center. Swartz used a 00-sized rod that weighed less than a half pound and felt like the ideal panfish puller. "Even a 6-inch trout will have this one bent over," Swartz said as he flipped a bug fly into the pond.
But Schwertfeger had the good hand on hooking and releasing terrific trout. A wooly bugger accounted for a 17-inch brown. "That one was so nice that I'm going to do a replica mount," the amateur taxidermist said as he sent out a black stonefly nymph that got the attention of a 14- and an 18-inch rainbow trout.
Fred Bansmer of Wales had a handle on one of each, a 'bow and a brown.
Batavia angler Wayne Greenman, on his first Healing Waters outing, caught and released five trout during his stay.
Larry Smith, of Darien Center, sat up front during the tying sessions and finished off some fly patterns deadly to fish this late spring and summer season. Lee Acriszewski of Skaneateles traveled farthest to this event. Acriszewski works out of the Batavia VA Hospital and, on his first outing, hooked into 12 fish.
After the catch count, tying successes, new and old friend meetings and generous donations from area businesses, TU chapters, and a rousing thank you to the host Magarigals at Big Moore's Run (patrout.com) and PHW (projecthealingwaters.org), David Saulter ended the final ceremony proceedings with the announcement "Let's go fishing."