Veterans fish with Healing Waters

Project Healing Waters takes veterans of all armed services branches out for fly fishing.

“People really need somebody to do stuff with and we volunteer for that,” Steve Thompson said.

Thompson, program leader for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, spoke to West Knoxville Optimist Club at Season’s Café Thursday, May 26, about activities offered by the organization, volunteer opportunities and benefits of fly fishing for veterans.

He said the organization was dedicated to physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities.

“This is our office … This is where therapy happens,” Thompson said in reference to a picture he showed of people fishing in the mist-covered water of Clinch River.

Thompson said Living Waters fishing guides do not focus on gaining details of veterans’ lives. “We do a lot of listening. We don’t ask any questions,” Thompson said.

However, he said guides do often learn life lessons from the people with whom they fish. He gave different examples of people he met through the program whose stories he learned.

“It’s hard to be stressed in that situation,” Thompson said about fishing.

When Thompson first started the program in Knoxville it had three participants. He said as of his talk, it had 73.

“We keep finding more and more, and they keep recruiting their own,” he said.

Thompson’s interest in fly fishing was what first got him interested in Project Healing Waters. While he said initially he just wanted to make a donation, the organization approached him with the idea of starting a program in Knoxville.

“People ask me what I do all the time. I tell them I fly fish, and then they say ‘Wow, you fly fish for a living?’

“Then I say ‘You didn’t ask me how a paid for it, you just asked me what I did,” he said.

Thompson owns a small business selling creamers and sugars to convenience store distributors.

Some outings involve boats or rafts while others involve fly fishing from the water.

He said the group fishes primarily on the Clinch River. He said Project Healing Waters also includes meetings with free fly-casting lessons. He said the organization was relationship based rather than event based.

“When you’re dedicated, you’re really dedicated. You have to make a personal commitment, personal sacrifices, sometimes, to get a program like this going,” he said.