Sunday, May 18, 2014

8th Annual PHWFF 2-Fly Tournament - Day 1

I first became involved with Project Healing Waters through friend and fellow fisherman, Rob Snowhite. I started to follow them via social media a few months ago and through that I received my PHWFF pin and stickers to slap on my YETI, car, fly boxes and pack. Not only to I fully support and believe in what PHWFF does, but it means a lot to me when healing is involved. As someone who has worked in the medical field for the last 5 years and someone who truly believes that our returning troops and vets need healing, I really am enthused about Project Healing Waters.

So when I met Dan Morgan (PHWFF's social media guru) at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset this year, the ball started to roll. When PHWFF invited me to my first event, their 2-Fly Tournament down at Rose River Farm in VA, I think the word "yes" came out of my mouth before I finished reading Dan's invite email.

Packed up for the weekend.

So lets rewind a little bit before we get to the actual event. For those of you who aren't familiar, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings. The 2-Fly Tournament is the organization's headline event to raise awareness and funding for its 163 programs in 49 states. 

Rose River Farm owner and Chairman of the Board for PHW, Douglas Dear, shows his character through his giving. Not only was Douglas one of the most accommodating hosts I've ever had the privilege of having, but has a heart bigger than most, especially for "serving those who have served". Click here to read a little bit more about the venue, Rose River Farm, one of the most spectacular hidden gems of the Mid-Atlantic (and after being there, I'd venture to say of the US). With some of the most easily accessed, intellectually managed, and scenic water I've ever seen, RRF was the PERFECT venue for any event, especially a Project Healing Waters event such as 2-Fly. 

So now on to the tournament...

This year was PHWFF's 8th year holding the 2-Fly Tournament. The way 2-Fly works is, military/veteran participants are partnered with a professional fly fishing guide from among the most notable names in the sport. The names that came into play from the guiding side of the team were amazing, an all-star lineup to say the least. Those can be read about here, in our "Meet the Guides" post. The ranks and experience that came into play from the military/veterans side of the team were even more impressive, from USMC Captains to US Army Specialists with tours all over the world. The time these soldiers and vets put in to protect our freedoms are unmeasurable and their sacrifices heroic. From the moment I pulled into RRF, my mind was blown. I was surrounded by mountains, could hear the sounds of the Rose River, had not one bar of cell service, and felt the grace of those around was perfection.

As some of you saw on the TLTFF Instagram Feed, I started the day off around 5:30am on the Potomac River chasing shad. At around 10am I packed up and made the hour and a half drive down to Rose River Farm in Syria, VA. I was able to dodge traffic and rolled in at around noon (after stopping for some local BBQ and to snap a few photos of the scenery). When I pulled in, I stopped to check out the Rose River, "some of the purest water in the State of Virginia. It is regularly tested for both water quality and aquatic insect populations. The natural fish food is abundant and the fish grow fast! With strict catch and gentle release fishing our trout population stays strong year round." Simply put, it was breathtaking. I stopped at the event tent and picked up my press pass and name badge before heading up the hill to the barn where everyone was eating lunch as an intermission to the Bluegill Tournament. 

The Bluegill Tournament was the kickoff event for the weekend. It started at 11am and ran until 3pm. It was held at the Rose River Farm pond as a fun “pre-tournament” event for PHWFF participants and anglers competing in Sunday's main event. The pond is massive, somewhere around an acre to two acres with a smaller pond above it. Both are stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill with the upper pond having some rainbow trout.

I immediately met up with Dan of PHWFF with a great amount of stoke and was told to simply "have fun, let loose". When I got down to the pond I bumped into Cory "Rutheless" Routh of Ruthless Outdoor Adventures, an avid follower of our blog via social media and all-around phenomenal angler and person. It was awesome to finally meet him and shake his hand. Cory and his wife brought down their all-star lineup of Hobie kayaks for everyone to try and, if they desired, the heroes to take out to fish on. After talking to Cory, I looked over to see friend William Heresniak of Eastern Trophies (one of the 2-Fly guides) dropping his drift boat into the pond to take out some of the heroes as well. This was my first real interaction with the soldiers, and I honestly felt a sense of pride being around them, I mean, they fully represent this country and what it is all about, it really was a humbling experience. It was amazing seeing heroes casting from wheelchairs, with prosthetics, and not only catching A LOT of fish, but casting exponentially better than myself...again, humbling.  

Over to my right, there was a camera crew interviewing and filming some of the participants, and "judges" running around measuring fish. A loud "fish on" came from across the pond and Staff Sergeant (ret.) Brian Christensen ARNG was hooked up into something big. The Bluegill was landed and to almost everyones disbelief, it measured in at 11", a VA state citation. As the action heated up and fishing continued to get better, I found myself like a child, running around taking pictures, cheering for everyone and getting more and more stoked with every hookup. 

Photo credit: Cory Routh

At around 1:30pm, Rob Snowhite aka The Fly Fishing Consultant, one of the 2-Fly guides as well as great friends of us at TLTFF, pulled up and was immediately ready for some fishing action. He had guided a client across the Potomac from me that morning and got into some great fishing. So the itch was in full throttle with him, as it was for me from my banner morning, so we decided to crack a brew and head on up to the pond. Rob brought his Tenkara USA rod while I had my new Orvis Helios 2 5wt. On the first cast, Rob lost his line and fly in the pond. I quickly unhooked my fly and started to cast out to try and hook his line before it sunk. On my second "line recovery" cast, my rod doubled over and after a brief but great fight, I landed a 17" Rainbow Trout.

After laughing and shooting jokes back and forth with the other anglers, Rob has lost his line and I had landed a fish. It was pretty funny. Rob tied on some tippet material to his Tenkara rod and tied on another one of his damsel flies. We both casted for some more time, talking to those around us and introducing one another before Rob hooked up on a fat 17-19" Rainbow. I landed it for him and picked it up for a quick picture before releasing and starting to cast again. The horn blew and the tournament had ended. Rob and I threw a few more casts and landed another few 'bows and some nice largemouth before zipping down to the cars at the lower pond where the award ceremony was being held. Staff Sergeant (ret.) Kevin Grabert ARNG won the "Enthusiasm" award. The "Biggest Bass" (16.5") AND "Biggest Trout" (11.5") awards were both won by Specialist Kyle Pletzke US Army. The final award, the "Biggest Bluegill" award, was won by Staff Sergeant (ret.) Brian Christensen ARNG thanks to his above mentioned VA citation Bluegill.

Photo credit: Cory Routh

Everyone headed back to their rooms and hotels to clean up after the small ceremony and Rob and I setup our tents next to the pond as it would be our choice of accommodation for the weekend. It was perfect, right up my alley, camp out next to prime fishing water, in the middle of the mountains, and on one of the prettiest properties in VA. As a side note, next time I will be staying in one of RRF's Luxury Cabins, because those things are straight awesome! Once the tents were setup and we had changed clothes, we drove back to the river on the other side of the property to watch a sight that could never get old. At about 5pm, the PHWFF program participants were escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders from Culpepper. A cocktail reception, live folk music, and the silent auction followed. Luckily there was WiFi provided by VA Broadband at the dinner tent so I started to post photos on both Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

We sat down for dinner after looking over the silent auction items and chatting with role models and celebs such as Rick Pope, owner and president of TFO, Reed Doughty, professional football player (played for my team, the Redskins), Douglas Dear, Ed Jaworowski, Lefty, and more. I know I keep saying it, but it was amazing. But the coolest people I met, by-far, were the participants. Hearing their stories about triumph, healing, and even the fish they've caught that live in my dreams, set the mood for the rest of the night.

                                          A lot of greatness in this photo if you click to expand                              Reed and I at the dinner

Another guide for the weekend's tournament, all-around superior angler, manager of Urban Angler in Alexandria, and good friend, Rich Farino, showed up to complete the table with Rob, heroes, and I. Rich and I caught up, talked about life and drank "old fashioned"s with Rob as a pre-dinner beverage with our apps. 

The silent auction was amazing, full of gear that any fisherman would envy and write an absurd number on the sheet for. From swag from Cheeky Fly Fishing, to a YETI Cooler, a hand-crafted custom bamboo rod to boxes of flies I would want to shadow box before ever thinking of fishing and more (including a signed game jersey from Reed Doughty). It was amazing to see how much people were willing to spend on an item that they knew they could get for less just to know their money went not into securing that item, but to a good cause in PHWFF. As dinner was served, we all got up by table and filled our plates. The food was amazing, had I not been so high on stoke from the amazing environment and day, I would have crashed into a food coma.

We moved on to the rest of the nights events:

  • 6:45 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: Program featuring Keynote speaker ADM (ret.) John Harvey USN, who continues to serve veterans in Virginia under Governor Terry McAuliffe and Master of Ceremonies Major Nick Warren USMC who serves as a Presidential Helicopter (Marine One) Pilot.
  • 7:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.: Dessert Buffet under the stars.

We then heard some of the most inspiring testimonies from three of the participants; Staff Sergeant (ret.) Kevin Grabert ARNGCorporal (ret.) Mike Escarcida USMC, and one other, I apologize for forgetting his name. There wasn't a single dry eye in the tent when these brave men gave their testimonies. From combat and battles in foreign countries protecting our freedoms to battles here on the home front with PTSD and depression (to name a few) and how PHWFF quite literally saved their lives, gave me an overwhelming sense of pride in being able to sit amounts such devoted people (both from our military branches and PHWFF). 

Photo Credit: @PHWNOVA

The night concluded under the tent and Dan gave me a quick little sneak peek at the swag bag ash participant would be receiving the next day...

Rob and I headed back to our tents by the pond with a few beers, some bourbon, and the intentions of fishing the upper pond under the stars with mouse patterns. After a few casts, we decided the wind was too much and it was time to enjoy some good company by the fire. We stayed up and chatted, spoke of fishing tales and past years of 2-Fly before we hit the hay. It was hard not to look around and see more stars than I think I've ever seen, watch the fire glare off the RRF pond, and enjoy the company of good people. I reflected back on the day and realized I'm truly blessed to be where I am not only in life but with my fishing career. The day was one I'd never forget...but I soon found out its possible to have two of those milestone days in a row when the sun rose on day 2 of PHWFF's 2-Fly Tournament weekend...

Photo Credit: Ed Felker aka @Dispatches_Potomac

Stay tuned for Day 2...


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