While casting about for a column topic, I landed a big one. Many of my columns are catch and release — a moment of joy, then back into the water, to be forever forgotten. But the subject of this one — Casting for Recovery — is a keeper.
I started angling for a way to write about Casting for Recovery (CfR)a few years ago, when I heard about the program that pairs breast cancer survivors with fly fishing instruction, to leverage the healing power of connecting with nature and the therapeutic benefits of the gentle motions of casting.
CfR is a 25-year-old 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and has a presence in all 50 states. The Washington state branch was founded in 1999 and, like the other state branches, is funded entirely through support from individual donors. There are a dozen or so paid staff at the national CfR headquarters, but the state branches are run entirely by a network of volunteers — more than 2,000 of them.
Supported by organizations like the Methow Valley Fly Fishers and the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, CfR has held retreats in the Methow Valley in the past. The retreats are two-and-a-half day opportunities for the survivors to have a “free” weekend — free of charge and free from the stresses of medical treatment, work, and home — and to “experience something new and challenging in a beautiful, safe environment.”
A medical facilitator, a psychosocial counselor, participant coordinators, and four fly fishing instructors trained specifically for CfR accompany 14 women to each retreat location, so that in addition to fly fishing, the retreat includes gatherings and group discussions, psychosocial time, fly tying workshops, and other sessions. “It’s a real privilege to be serving these women,” one of the volunteers told me.
This year’s fly fishing retreat was held on a doozer of a rainy day at Moccasin Lake, a location that was secured by Methow Valley Fly Fishers member Teri Beatty, who had participated with CfR as a fly fishing instructor in Oregon. The rain seemed to deter no one, most notably the fish.
Because CfR was hosting another retreat in a different location that same week, the Methow Valley retreat didn’t have enough waders for all participants, but a challenge like that is mere child’s play for a cancer survivor. Using some giant black plastic garbage bags, the women created serviceable and oddly fashionable waterproof pants, which came in handy while pushing through soaked reeds on the lake shore and while perched on sodden seats in the boats.
As women wandered around the gathering area brandishing rods with flies and hooks on the end, one volunteer cautioned, “Watch your tips!” The women all stopped in unison, paused for a beat, and then burst out laughing. “We thought you said something else,” one of them said. “We are breast cancer survivors, after all.”
The Methow Valley Fly Fishers turned out in full force to support the fishing day, including providing a hot lunch for the participants and retreat volunteers. They brought boats, good humor, and a profound enthusiasm for sharing the joy of fly fishing in the Methow Valley. Soon after the first boat launched, cheers could be heard from the middle of the lake. A fish was hooked — and so were all who participated in the day.