Sunday, June 1, 2014

8th Annual PHWFF 2-Fly Tournament - Day 2

An apology is due first and foremost for not having this post up sooner, but unfortunately TLTFF crashed and all of my drafts were deleted, including this post, Day 2 of the PHWFF 2-Fly Tournament. But no worries, its here, and better than my previous draft!

Click here to get caught up or re-read Day 1...

I found that the disadvantage to having no cell service and a broken power button on my iPhone, is that your phone dies quick trying to find service and therefore your alarm doesn't go off. But, thats why I brought Rob along. About 2 minutes prior to when my alarm should have gone off, I heard a deep "Morgan, you up" which abruptly had me out of my mummy bag and packing my tent faster than green grass through a goose. Literally within 15 minutes of waking up, I was changed, the (10'x8') tent was packed, and car was loaded.

I threw my phone on the charger and drove over the hill, with a gorgeous sunrise in front of me coming over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and parked near the tent for the day. I couldn't help but notice the Maserati that pulled up next to me, after a quick picture I headed over to the tent for some breakfast (the catering was top-notch, from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast and lunch Day 2 were AMAZING) and a meet and greet over a cup of joe with people I hadn't met yet.

Douglas of RRF hopped on the mic and began to review some details of the tournament and begin to get people organized. The feeling of excitement in the air was easily felt, it was extremely calm but you could tell the anglers and guides COULDN'T WAIT to get their feet wet and the first cast under their belts.

Everyone knew their assignment and waited for the horn to blow at 8am so they could hit their beat. Prior to the start, Lisa Mei Norton, a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant sang the National Anthem, it was the perfect start to the day.

At 8am, the horn blew and the teams were off. There were a total of 10 beats with teams fishing 3 of them at any given time. The teams consisted of two guides and two anglers than fished the beat at the same time during their heat. Here are the rules per PHWFF, so I don't butcher them...


The 2-Fly Tournament will field up to twenty four teams; twelve Pro/Vet teams will comprise two veterans with a professional fly-fishing guide. Only the veterans will be able to fish. The professional guides cannot fish but should concentrate on assisting the veteran team members. The remaining twelve teams will be made up of two amateur fly anglers.


  • A. Contestants will furnish their own fly fishing equipment.
  • B. The type of rod and fly reel is the choice of the individual contestant.
  • C. The use of fly floatant, lead weight, leaders, or other accessories will be at the discretion of the contestant. Only floating fly lines are permitted.
  • D. No real or artificial fish attractants, such as scents, are allowed.
  • E. Traditional strike indicators are allowed.

Event Flies

  • A. Only two flies of any conventional pattern (dry, wet, nymph, streamer, etc.) will be allowed per contestant through the duration of the 2-Fly Event. A total of four flies will be allowed per team. If a contestant loses both flies during the event or the fly angler is finished for the day unless the other team member donates a fly. The same is true for a team that loses all four flies.
  • B. The rule committee considers that it would be impossible for a veteran (a veteran fishing on a Pro/Vet team!) to lose a fly.
  • C. Flies must be tied on a single barbless hook, or on a hook with the barb pushed down.

Fishing Procedure

  • A. Federal and state rules and regulations governing the waters to be fished will be strictly observed.
  • B. The river will be divided into twelve fishable beats.
  • C.All teams will fish two beats, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each beat will consist of one and a half hour increments, unless the lose all their allowed flies. Teams will be assigned via a drawing their fishing beat for the morning session and during the lunch break will be assigned a new fishing beat for the afternoon fishing session.
  • D. Both team members can fish at any one time but teams are strongly encouraged to consider only allowing one team member to fish, depending on the size of the fishing beat.
  • E. Each fishable beat will be assigned Steam Monitors who will confirm and validate each caught trout on a scoring sheet. Stream Monitors may assist the veteran teams on an as needed basis.
  • F. All trout species will be counted in the scoring. No "Fall" Fish will be counted. For a trout to be counted as "caught" the Stream Monitor needs to see the trout being landed and released with as little impact to the fish as possible.
  • G. Each team may only have three caught trout measured by the Stream Monitor during the tournament.
  • H. Fishing hours on the Rose River will be from 8:00 AM until 4:30 PM.
  • I. If a contestant's fly becomes caught in brush or in a snag, it may be recovered and reattached to the leader. The contestant may continue fishing in the event. The contestant can be disqualified by the Stream Monitor for any unsafe practice used to retrieve a fly.
  • J. Daily scoring ends for the contestant when his two flies become irretrievably lost. The contestant whose fishing has ended may continue to support his team member through advice and other encouragement.


  • A. To be counted in the score, the release of a caught trout must be witnessed by the Stream Monitor. Each of these trout will have a value of two points.
  • B. Each team will be allowed to select three (3) trout to measure during the day. All trout not selected for measurement will be released immediately, preferably without removing them from the water.
  • C. Measurement of trout shall be done by the Stream Monitor while the trout is in the water whenever possible. The Stream Monitor will measure the trout with the tournament ruler. Any trout which measures ½ inch or greater is rounded to the next full inch by the scoring committee. For example, a measurement of 21 ½ inches equals 22 inches for scoring purposes. The stream monitor will measure and record the exact fractional inch and allow the scoring committee to tabulate the final value. Fish are measured from the tip of the nose to the tip of the relaxed tail. The tail is not to be pinched.


  • A. A $1 penalty will be assessed for any fish killed or ruled by the Stream Monitor to be unable to survive. The fish will not be counted as a caught fish.
  • B. Any contestant that hooks his teammate, a competing team member or a stream monitor will be assessed a $10 penalty.
  • C. Any contestant that foul hooks a trout (on a location other than the trout’s mouth) by snagging or other hook set will be assessed a $1 penalty.
  • D. All penalties will be collected at the end of the fishing day and donated to Project Healing Waters as a contribution from that angler.
  • E. The Stream Monitor is responsible for monitoring teams for any rules violation or un sportsmanlike conduct and will notify the Rules Committee of any such occurrence. The Committee will rule on the violation within one hour after receiving it. Penalties will vary with the violation, from sanctions, to nullifying daily scores, to disqualification from the event. Violations will be considered only from the Stream Monitor who is responsible for the assigned fishing beats where the rules violation or behavior was observed.
As you read above, "only two flies of any conventional pattern (dry, wet, nymph, streamer, etc.) will be allowed per contestant through the duration of the 2-Fly Event". Hence the name of the tournament...This was my favorite part. There was a common theme to patterns used by the teams, a lot were pink or white, and almost everyone used a wormy. Not only did a lot of the anglers use the wormy, but caught a lot of fish on the wormy. One gentleman that fishes the Rose River often said it was the pink color that attracted the fish, something the fish like there in the Rose River. 

I started off close to the tent at beat 4 where angler Staff Sergeant (ret.) Kevin Grabert, ARNG and guide William Heresniak were fishing with teammates, angler Staff Sergeant (ret.) Brian Christensen, ARNG and guide Joel Thompson. Within seconds of walking up to the beat, Grabert was hooked up on a nice Rainbow. As Grabert brings the fish into Heresniak's net, I notice movement out of the corner of my eye and see Christensen is hooked up as well. The guides talked back and forth ultimately deciding to have Graberts fish measured.

I decided to move upstream to see more action after snapping a few photos to see how angler Fire Controlman Second Class Andrew Laffey, US Navy and guide Rich Farino and teammates, angler Sergeant Justin Burdette, US Army and guide Justin Wilson. I have to say I was amazed by Burdette. Burdette lost both of his legs below the knee after being hit by a 107 rocket during his third tour in Afghanistan. Justin can cast better than I ever could standing up, and he does it sitting down...amazing. Laffey was also inspiring, he had such an amazing attitude. I watched him lose two massive fish and instead of reacting like I would (throw a rod, cuss, or throw a temper tantrum) he just shrugged his shoulders and shot this next cast to the next fish. Both anglers hooked up relatively quickly and brought in measurable fish.

I decided to move upstream a little more to check out some of the sponsored anglers and found Joshua Williams of Dead Drift Flies, yet another inspirational angler. He was possibly the best caster of all the anglers of everyone at the tournament. I watched him tuck multiple casts under a low-lying tree brach and lay his fly up in the perfect lane for a massive rainbow. He was fishing a pink streamer that got a lot of looks by multiple fish.

I headed back downstream to the tent to peel off some layers as the temps climbed up from the 45 deg F we woke up to to around the mid-60's. The bite slowed down a bit but it was time to check out the lower beat where angler Capt. Kim Smith, USMC and guide Rob Snowhite and teammates, angler Staff Sergeant Chris Matthews, USMC and guide Harold Harsh, USMC (ret.). 

This was one of my favorite teams of the tournament, with constant stoke in the air and a concentration on the fish and angling only marines could have. Smith was casting a wormy that had paid off prior to my arrival and Matthews a streamer. Matthews hooked up on a rainbow down the beat that came unbuttoned before the net. Rob decided it was time to take the wormy off and move on to his Bacon Streamer pattern, a massive black wooly bugger-esque coneheaded fly tied with rooster and sili legs. They began to cast downstream into a gorgeous hole stacked with over 40 fish. There were a lot of follows but not a bite. With seconds to go, Smith got hung up on a rock. As the horn blew to end the round at 9:30am, Rob decided to salvage the fly and when he stepped into the water, the fish spooked in every direction. As his jaw hit the ground, he pointed to a certain fish that slowly emerged from the grouping that was AT LEAST a 22-24" rainbow, the biggest rainbow I had ever seen. We all gasped and sighed as the realization of that fish potentially being caught slipped away (due to the team fishing a different beat in the afternoon section). 

We all hopped on the John Deere Gator and headed back to camp for a brief break. I grabbed a water and prepped for the next round. The horn blew at 10am and the teams hit their beats for round two. I started upstream, watching angler Sergeant Major Jeremy Bruns, US Army and guide Eric Stroup and teammates, angler Specialist Kyle Pletzke, US Army and guide Mike Hatfield fish beat 2. The bite had definitely slowed down but the fish were there.

One of my favorite aspects of the Rose River is the fact that it is managed better than any other river I had been to. The fish are happy, healthy, and catchable on a vast range of patterns from wet to dry, while still presenting themselves as a challenge. Hats off to Douglas and RRF for such phenomenal management.

I headed back downstream after talking to Jim Bensinger of Fiber Flies Dubbing (check them out on Facebook as well). Jim is an awesome guy and makes some amazing products. I bought some of his alpaca dubbing at one of the shows this year and love it. It has great movement in the water and doesn't hold water well, making the flies easier to cast. This is one of the flies he had tied with the alpaca dubbing and gave to me when we talked about fly fishing for shad, love it.

I headed downstream after chatting with the Bensingers to beat 9 where angler Staff Sergeant Bill Bingham, US Army Res. and guide John Gay and teammates, angler Specialist Robert Busch, US Army and guide Phil Gay were getting into some fish. Beat 9 had been tough during the morning session but seemed to heat up as the other beats slowed down. It was great watching the camaraderie of this group as the brother guides handled their anglers and put their vast knowledge into play.

I headed down to the last beat, beat 10 from 9 to see how angler Corporal (ret.) Jake Blizzard, USMC and guide Wes Hodges and teammates, angler Corporal (ret.) Mike Escarcida, USMC and guide Michael Simon, were doing. The bite was slow for them as well, but they did manage to put some fish into the nets.

I hopped on the Deere again to avoid the long trek back to the tent to meet up with everyone for lunch as the horn blew again to end the second round at 11:30am. Lunch was served and it was a damn good one.

Before I sat down to eat, I managed to catch a glimpse of Walter Morse (pictured above), one of the sponsored anglers, fish beat 4 for awhile. He had the fish dialed in, especially during a difficult bite. He was catching fish left and right, what seemed like every third cast. Most were the cookie-cutter stocked 'Bows but a few came out much larger in size, easily 17-18".

After lunch, I had the privilege of catching up with Lefty and casting a wide range of TFO rods with him from 5-9wt, and current rods to some that should make their way into the spotlight soon and were in the final prototype stage. Every single time I see Lefty, watch him cast, or talk to him, I walk away from the experience as a better fly angler. The thing that was different this time, was I had one on one casting time with him and was able to adjust my cast significantly and learn a few more advanced casting techniques. Lefty gave me personalized feedback and made me feel great when he said "you've got a great cast Morgan, thats for sure. Its not perfect, but its pretty damn good.", completely made my day until I saw something even more special. Lefty working his magic and giving Capt. Smith and Sgt. Burdette casting lessons.

He was teaching Smith a better roll cast technique, especially when your up against a tight bank and Burdette lessons on how to cast a bomboo rod. This wasn't just any bamboo rod though, this was one hand made by one of the custom anglers that "Big" John Miska (head of the PHWFF bamboo rod program) managed to have made. I may be wrong but I believe Big John gave a rod to every participant, it was pretty amazing and his rods, true works of art. If I owned one, I would never fish it, just hang it over my tying table to enjoy as eye candy everyday.

I noticed SSGT. Kevin Grabert was tying flies under the tent so I stopped to watch for awhile and learned a bit about tying bream flies and nymphs with jig head hooks, pretty cool. His flies were beautiful as well!

Douglas hopped on the megaphone to let everyone know the fly fishing clinic was going to be held down on the private pond near beat 9 so everyone headed down to watch Lefty with more of his amazing lessons and teaching ability. I ran into Ed Felker of Dispatches Potomac (also the head photographer for PHWFF and the 2-Fly Tournament) and finally was able to catch up with him. Ed, Luis and I have been chatting via Facebook for months now. Some of you may remember his fumbled fish photo contest that we helped promote. Ed is an absolutely amazing photographer and an equally phenomenal writer (check out his blog, you'll really enjoy it). He and I chatted and took photos during the clinic and had a blast talking about everything form C&O Canal carp to fishing the Potomac and even trying to get the best shot of Lefty casting at us from across the pond.

While chatting with Ed and enjoying the scenery back at the tent, the horn blew indicating the start of the second session for the first group of teams. Ed and I scurried on to continue our coverage of the event.


I headed down to beat 9 to catch up with Laffey/Farino and teammates Burdette/Wilson. The fishing began to heat back up and Laffey was immediately on fish thanks to precise casting and great guiding. I had a blast watching fish eat from the far bank and seeing Laffey having such a great time. He really loves the sport and his attitude makes everyone around him glow.

That dark spot Burdette is casting at are the stacked fish I spoke about earlier.

The competition heated up as the morning scores were posted and reported to the groups. But I was pretty blown away by how everyone reacted...without a reaction. They were having so much fun, winning didn't mean much. It was great, despite the pressure, everyone continued to smile and fish without a flinch.

I moved upstream to beat 2 where I spent the rest of the session going back and forth between beat 1 and 2 watching the Smith/Snowhite and Matthews/Harsh team and Christensen/Thompson and Grabert/Heresniak team respectively.

The bite was back on and beat 2 was fishing well. By the time I had gotten up to beat 2, Smith had already measured one fish and landed multiple, including a native Brookie. As the round came to a close, Kim was casting like a maniac, with precision and skill to just the right spot. Her line came tight and another native Brookie was in the net.

As Rob unhooked it, she was already casting again. Rob turned around for this quick shot before releasing the fish.

When the Brookie hit the water, Smith's line came tight again but unfortunately the fish was lost. I headed up to beat 1 to see what was going on up there to see Grabert casting at a grouping of three 'Bows under a tough branch.

I looked at my watch and realized there was about 15 minutes left before the end of the session. Smith was casting at a visible fish with a wormy and with 3 minutes to go, she hooked up...and lost the fish. The team needed one more measured fish to max out the session. With the next cast and literally a minute left, Smith was hooked up. After a quick fight, the fish was landed and nobody, I mean nobody, could have picked a more beautiful fish to measure and end the session on.

With a smile from ear to ear, Smith walked up the bank and headed back to the tent with Rob giggling right next to her. It was a pretty epic moment and I'm sure one of Smith's highlights of the weekend. We all headed back to the tent as 2pm rolled around and the other teams hit the water. I stuck around the tent for most of the final session catching up with Rick Pope and the rest of the TFO gang as well as Ed Jaworowski and Beau Beasley (some of you may know him for his books, he's also the organizer of the VA Wine and Fly Fishing Festival) recapping the weekend and talking about whats in store for the remainder of the year as far as fishing goes.

3:30pm rolled around pretty quickly and the horn blew ending the competition. As the stream monitors and judges began to roll in, the scores were tallied and everyone was able to hang out a little big longer taking in the amazing weather and setting of the weekend.

Everyone got together and took a group shot (above) while we waited for the final tally to kick off the awards ceremony.

The results were in and everyone made their way into the tent. I took a look around and simply enjoyed hearing the fish stories, the laughs, and more importantly, the camaraderie between people who not only came from different branches and areas of our military and country, but who were complete strangers to each other just a few days prior. The way 2-Fly brought people together, as do all PHWFF events put me in awe. As Douglas grabbed the mic and began to talk, I was brought back to reality finding myself to have a smile from ear to ear. While Douglas was waiting to receive the final tallies in hand, he announced the "Smallest Fish" award which went to Corporal (ret.) Mike Escarcida, USMC for his 9" 'Bow. Escarcida won a custom bamboo rod from one of Big John's builders, lucky devil! They also announced the largest fish awards for both the sponsor level and participant level. Both of the largest fish were between 19" and 20", pretty large 'Bows.


 Drumroll please...and now for the winners...


1st Place - Angler Sergeant Major Jeremy Bruns, US Army and guide Eric Stroup and teammates, angler Specialist Kyle Pletzke, US Army and guide Mike Hatfield.

2nd Place - Angler Staff Sergeant (ret.) Kevin Grabert, ARNG and guide William Heresniak and teammates, angler Staff Sergeant (ret.) Brian Christensen, ARNG and guide Joel Thompson.

3rd Place - Angler Fire Controlman Second Class Andrew Laffey, US Navy and guide Rich Farino and teammates, angler Sergeant Justin Burdette, US Army and guide Justin Wilson.

Sponsored Anglers:

1st Place - Kevin Gilbert and Walter Morse

2nd Place - 

3rd Place - Joshua Williams and teammate

After trophies were handed out, it was time to go. I said my goodbyes, packed up the rest of my gear and headed to the car. I couldn't help but notice that Maserati was still parked next to me...but this time when I looked at it, something was different. Maybe it was the waders and socks hanging off the mirror and door handle. I didn't get to meet to guy who owns the car, but I believe I'd like him.

In what seemed like a blink of the eye, the weekend was over...Although it was a long one, I couldn't help but wish it wouldn't end. The friends I had made, stories I heard, lives I was touched by, and experiences I had had were something that I will never forget. I can honestly say the PHWFF 2-Fly Tournament was something that brought on a whole other level of love for the sport and human race. When I stepped back and truly thought about it all, I realized that fly fishing is more than a sport, its more than tying a bunch of feathers and fur onto a hook, and tying that hook on to a line, and hoping that artificial fly will find its way into a fishes jaw...its about love, camaraderie, understanding, patience, and most of all...healing. What Project Healing Waters is doing is more powerful than anyone can express in words, its something that should be experienced. I am extremely privileged to have been welcomed into this growing family with open arms, and to have the opportunity to experience such an amazing act within the community of fly fishing.

I pondered this and more during an uneventful 2 hour drive home. I thought about what was in store for the remainder of the year from a fishing standpoint and couldn't help but smile. I went through the schedule of events in my head, knowing the dates of most of the remaining PHWFF events thinking, "that one will fit in just right with the schedule". There's a lot of time left in 2014, and a lot of fishing to be done, including PHWFF events. And like a kid leaving from an awesome week of summer camp, I can't help but get excited when I think about meeting up with the PHWFF family again for more fun.

I want to take a second and thank Douglas Dear of Rose River Farm again for his amazing hospitality and I want to thank Dan Morgan of PHWFF for being an awesome contact and someone to constantly bounce ideas off of. I want to thank both of them for inviting me to come be a part of the PHWFF family and cover the event as well. If you don't already, please go give Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and Rose River Farms a 'Like' on their Facebook pages by clicking the links in their names and check out their websites by clicking here for PHWFF and clicking here for RRF.



  1. Great write up. You kept up the excitement all the way to the end, including the Marerait! LOL. Boom!