Unaccomplished on the river with Project Healing Waters
I recently had the distinct privilege of spending a weekend with a gathering of amazing folks for the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (Northwest Region) 5th Annual 2 Fly event in Ellensburg, WA.
The weather was spectacular, if not a bit warm for the last Saturday of summer, as the Yakima River beckoned 24 teams to come hither in an attempt to take home honors in two categories: the biggest fish; and the most fish. Team 8 consisted of myself as the rower/judge, a volunteer from PHWFF, and a veteran. As it turns out both gentlemen in my boat were veterans.
I mounted my own recon mission the day prior to the 2 Fly event, hoping to get things dialed in so that I could display my superior knowledge of the river and put my team on many and large fish. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that they didn’t know anything about me—most notably my fishing prowess on the Yakima River—or they’d have likely requested another boat. My Friday mission revealed that the Yakima was typically finicky: only two small fish were caught all day, using a wide variety of flies in an attempt to crack the code. The next day would prove to be even more challenging as anglers are limited to just 2 flies.
On point in my boat was Jeffrey Brown, US Army Lt. Colonel, Infantry, and Deputy Director of Personnel for the Oregon Army National Guard. Stationed at the stern was Jesse Scott, US Air Force Colonel (retired). We put in at around 1030 hours and would fish until the tournament closed at 1500. No pressure—we had plenty of water between Red’s and Big Pines in which to catch many and large fish. And in a less imperfect world we would have done just that.
Both Jeff and Jesse were armed with an October Caddis pupae and a size 20 Lightning Bug dropper. The rules of the game are such that if an angler loses a fly, they must fish the remainder of the day with their one remaining fly. If they lose both flies, they’re SOL. There are more intricate details which allow an angler to continue fishing, but it involves trading fish caught for additional flies. Despite some precarious tangles with stream-side brush, Jesse retained both his flies for the duration of the event. He may not have caught a single fish, but he did keep his flies so there is some victory in that. Jeff lost his dropper during the first half of the day so he fished a solo fly until there were 20 minutes left. With only one small fish on his score card, I suggested to Jeff that he trade his fish for another dropper and fish confidently for the remaining few minutes. Since a single, 9-inch fish was likely to earn him neither the biggest nor the most fish, Jeff agreed. His score card now read “zero”, but he once again had a full set of flies and got down to business. Within 10 minutes he indicator went down and his line drew taught. “I’m snagged on a rock,” he announced. There was no sign of life whatsoever at the far end of Jeff’s line—every indication that he was, indeed, snagged—and snagged good—on a rock. Damn. We were not going to lose both flies after all this so I pulled into the slow water near the bank, and rowed upstream to relieve the tension on the snagged fly. As soon as we came around above the “rock”, a very respectable fish jumped within just a few feet of the boat. Nearly simultaneously, Jeff’s line went slack and his flies came free. It was one of those “HUH?!” moments. The likely scenario was that he’d hooked the fish, which immediately swam under a rock. The less likely scenario is that Jeff had snagged a rock and as we drew neear, the fish jumped so it could give us a flying fin gesture.
In the end, the score card for Team 8 registered “0” for the number of fish caught, and had the guys in my boat thought that I was a guide, they would have also thought that I wasn’t a very good guide. It was a tough day, but both Jeff and Jesse have done a fair amount of fishing so they understand that there’s more to fishing than catching fish. And that’s what Project Healing Waters is all about: getting out on the water, engaged in comradery and enjoying, as Jeff put it, some “hydrotherapy”.
About Jeff Brown:
Jeff’s military career began in 1990 as a traditional National Guard Soldier. In 1995 he came on active duty in the Oregon National Guard. Jeff attended Officer Candidate School in 1998 before being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. While at Fort Benning, GA, he attended Infantry Officer Basic Course and Ranger School. In 2002 Jeff was deployed on a Multinational Forces & Observers mission, where he spent 6 months on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. While there his jobs included that of battalion assistant training officer and company executive officer. In 2003 he was promoted to Captain and in 2004 he attended Infantry Captains Career Course, once again at Fort Benning. Two years later Jeff took command of 234 Engineer Company at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, OR. In 2007 he was promoted to Major and was deployed to Iraq as commander of 234 Engineer Company for a convoy security mission where his outfit provided support to logistical convoys traveling throughout central Iraq. In 2008 Jeff returned to Oregon, working until 2010 as the executive officer for the University of Portland Army ROTC battalion. From 2010-2011 he worked as Operations and Training Officer (S3) for 2-162 Infantry Battalion in Springfield, OR, and during 2012-2013 he was Program Director for Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) Program for the Oregon Army National Guard (ORARNG). In this capacity Jeff oversaw 500+ active duty Soldiers and Officers in the ORARNG whose duty it is to maintain the readiness and the traditional force and prepare everything so that drill periods are conducted smoothly and efficiently when the traditional Guardsmen report for duty. Since then Jeff has been the Deputy Director of Personnel for the ORARNG. He is second in charge of maintaining personnel readiness of 6100+ Oregon National Guard Soldiers.
Jeff’s favorite species of fish are rainbow trout, both the anadromous version as well as resident fish. He enjoys chasing lake-dwelling rainbows in British Columbia. He lives close to the Santiam River in the Willamette Valley and enjoys fishing some of the small streams in the valley for resident rainbows and cutthroat trout. He also enjoys the Deschutes River in central Oregon, although he admits that he doesn’t fish it near as much as he’d like. Having previously lived in southern Oregon, Jeff has a special place in his heart for the Rogue River and the Fall “half pounder” steelhead.
About Jesse Scott:
A 30 year veteran of the United States Air Force, Jesse began his military career as a jet fighter mechanic and then progressed through a career as a pilot, staff officer, and Commander. Most of his career as an officer was spent in Special Operations which involved travel to over 35 foreign countries including several years in combat zones. After retiring from the Air Force Jesse spent 10 years with Boeing as a customer training instructor. His final working years were spent as an Associate Instructor at Everett Community College.
Jesse co-founded the wounded veterans fly tying group at Madigan Army Medical Center and is the inventor and developer of the Evergreen Hand. The Evergreen Hand is a device that allows a tier who is missing a hand or arm to use fly tying equipment—it can also be used by persons who are partially paralyzed. Jesse won the 2009 Letcher Lambuth Angling Craftsmanship Award in recognition of his contribution to handicapped tiers. Please see this article in the Everett Herald about Jesse’s amazing invention.
He is the past president of the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club, a Stillaguamish Watershed Council member, and Youth Education Docent at the Museum of Flight. Jesse has a keen interest in tying classic Atlantic Salmon Flies and is a member of the Northwest Atlantic Salmon Fly Guild.
I had a great time spending the day on the water with guys. Thanks to Jeff and Jesse for their long service to our country, and to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing for their support for our military men and women.