A tranquil landscape only found in nature. A peaceful mountain river rich with bass and trout. And the easy rhythm of a fly-fishing rod. The cadence – ten o’clock, two o’clock, ten o’clock – running through the heads of new fly-fishermen as they try to achieve the perfect cast. “It takes a lot of concentration, and clears your mind of everything else,” said Steven Tegtmeyer, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity Integrated Training Systems portfolio director and volunteer with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF).
Tegtmeyer, a Navy veteran and wounded warrior, had been fishing before, but never fly-fishing. A co-worker was bringing a new chapter of PHWFF to the Tidewater area and invited Tegtmeyer to join. It took him a year of consideration before he took the bait and attended. And then he was hooked.
Tegtmeyer attended a workshop and learned how to build his own fly rod and tie a fly. From there, he attended outings at local lakes, day and weekend trips to mountain streams in the Shenandoah Valley and a breathtaking trip to Montana, all funded by PHWFF. He discovered a sense of friendship and camaraderie not found anywhere else. “Family members can help you out physically, but they can’t always understand emotionally what you go through in a wartime situation,” he said. Other participants of PHWFF have had similar experiences – and that brings a sense of normalcy and unspoken understanding.
Tegtmeyer decided to start volunteering so he could share the fun and healing with others. “I enjoyed it so much, and really wanted to be able to share this with other veterans and wounded warriors,” said Tegtmeyer. “So I decided to volunteer and help others and teach them the things I have learned, and build that friendship and companionship that the program is all about.” Tegtmeyer jumped right in and began teaching workshops on fly rod building and fly tying as well as guiding many trips to local waters for group members.
PHWFF is a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting disabled veterans and active-duty military members, guided by the motto “healing those who serve.” There are 14 chapters of PHWFF in Virginia alone, and many more throughout the country. The workshops and outings provide an outlet for the veteran and wounded warrior community that brings a peacefulness that is a gift beyond measure.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person events stopped. The PHWFF groups were still active, however, and held virtual meetings, classes and live-stream events demonstrating how to tie a fly while viewers followed along at home with materials sent to them by PHWFF. As restrictions lift, the groups will get back to the healing waters.
“It’s not necessarily about catching the fish as much as it is about just going fishing. It’s finding peace and forgetting about the world around you. You don’t have anything else to worry about,” said Tegtmeyer. “It’s kind of our unspoken motto – it’s great catching fish, but it’s more about getting together and socializing, building friendships and camaraderie.”
Tegtmeyer received the Distinguished Community Service Award at the annual NSWCDD Honorary Awards Ceremony, and is among 105 individual employees and 36 teams honored with 22 different awards.