Veterans fishing organizations provide key services

By Bill Cooper
    Outdoor programs for veterans of the United States Armed Forces have been around for some time. They all have a kindred purpose: to get veterans outdoors to help them deal with the complications of having served.

    Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Maryland. PHWFF is dependent on tax-deductible, charitable donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, equipment, transportation, and related needs of its participants.
    PHWFF is unique in that our volunteers are teaching classes on an on-going, long-term basis. It is much more than a one day fishing trip. For many participants, the socialization and camaraderie of the classes are just as important as the fishing outings.
    PHWFF relies on Fly Fishers International, Trout Unlimited, and independent fly fishing clubs to conduct the program at the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the nation. PHWFF volunteers include experienced fly fishers and guides, all of whom donate their time and knowledge to conduct programs at Department of Defense facilities, Warrior Transition Units and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide.
    FB4V -Ready-Aim-Cast is a network of veterans and anglers joining forces to combat a national epidemic, suicide among our Nation's veterans and military personnel. Our goal is to help them heal through fishing and support them through their good and bad times. A few of us here are living proof of the positive effects that fishing has had on our lives. This has provided the inspiration needed to spread the word. Fishing provides peace, serenity and escape from the everyday hustle of life and those hidden wounds many of our Nation's veterans carry around. We are trading our pills for reels and going from battle buddies to fishing buddies. Whether you came here for help or to help, we welcome you with open tackle boxes. We got your six; nobody is left behind. Relax, reflect, rejuvenate, recover, and restore. Visi8t for more info.
    Maria and Rudy Castañeda are the coordinators of an organization called Heroes on the water. The Rio Grande Valley Chapter of this national organization helps unite veterans, active-duty military, first responders, and their families through kayak fishing. U.S. Navy veteran, Rob Sanchez said growing up he has always spent time outdoors with his family. “I was raised out in Los Indios so we did a lot of activities outside,” he said.
    According to Sanchez, kayak fishing has been good therapy for him. He said the experience has also allowed him to connect with other veterans, who have become family.
    Veteran Paul Williams said throughout his childhood, he saw how the importance of mental health was not present in his father’s military experience. “Men weren’t supposed to cry, weren’t supposed to show emotions and so I do have a lot of backlash from his time in the military,” he said. Williams said a lot of times when people who are in need of help turn to medication or drugs. However, kayak fishing has helped him cope with his feelings differently. “It takes away all the stuff around you and gives you the opportunity to relax and connect with what is out there in the world without the use of any sort of drugs,” he said.
    Rudy said studies have shown that there are 22 veterans that commit suicide every day. He said his biggest takeaway as program coordinator has been not to leave veterans to feel as if they have been left behind. “If I can save one veteran from committing suicide then I did my job and that’s my main goal,” he said. Visit for more info.
    The Fallen Outdoors mission is to organize outdoor adventures for veterans past and present, from every generation and from all branches of the military. Our aim is to connect Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines with like-minded individuals along with teaching them a skill and passion they can continue for a lifetime.
    The Fallen Outdoors began in 2009 at a remote outpost in Afghanistan with three soldiers; SSG John Bates, Spc. Eric Finniginamm and Spc. Eric Bakken. Year after year The Fallen Outdoors (TFO) grew and expanded, they put in every extra second they had while on active duty. Today the TFO serves thousands of veterans a year across this great nation. What started off as a simple idea to help veterans get outdoors has transformed into a lifestyle that the TFO nation lives and breathes every day. Visit for more info.
    There are many other organizations which provide fishing programs for veterans as well as opportunities for other forms of outdoor recreation. If you are a veteran, or know as veteran who could benefit from such programs, a Google search will show numerous groups who would be willing to help.
    Individual anglers can also help veterans get into the outdoors. Many are experienced fishermen, own boats and knows the best spots to fish. Many are also veterans. Sharing a day on the water with one of America’s heroes may change a life forever.
    I recently had the pleasure of taking Vietnam Veteran Jim DiPardo for a day of smallmouth bass fishing on the Meramec River. We had a great time together.
    “My day on the river was extremely relaxing,” DiPardo said. “Bill took me to one of his favorite fishing spots. “The scenery was unbelievable. Towering bluffs with ancient cedars and hardwoods seemed to reach the sky. It was like we were a million miles from civilization. We never saw another fisherman all day. And, I caught the biggest smallmouth bass of my life. Of course, a bigger one got away. But, the escape from all the pressures of life was the greatest thing of all."
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at outsidealways.