Fly fishing program hooks veterans

Members of Healing Waters at a fly tying session in Green Bay, August, 30, 2016. (WLUK/Mike Murad)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- A fly fishing program in Green Bay is casting a line to help wounded veterans cope with the stresses that come with service.

It’s called Healing Waters, and this is the first year for the program at the VA Clinic in Green Bay.

Not much beats a relaxing day of fly fishing. But for this group, it’s about rehabilitation as much as recreation.

Scott Reinhold served in the Army from 1983 to 1985, when he was given an honorable discharge for medical reasons.

He says although he still has chronic pain and physical limitations, the mental obstacles are the ones that keep him up at night.

“I’ve got PTSD, I’ve got survivor’s guilt," says Reinhold. "At one time the depression got so bad I was ready to take my own life.”

Years ago at his lowest point, Reinhold discovered Healing Waters in Appleton. The national group is a non-profit dedicated to rehabbing active service members and veterans through fly fishing.

Reinhold believes it helped him survive through structure, tranquility and camaraderie. But it eventually had to shut down when attendance dried up.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself because this program is really important to me," says Reinhold.

Earlier this year Reinhold heard about a chapter which was getting off the ground at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Green Bay.

He was hooked again.

It offers a class once a week where flies are tied. But ties are also formed by those who share another common bond.

Every few weeks, members of the group put their flies to the test.

A fish pond in east Green Bay provided the perfect practice recently. And it’s all thanks to the property owner who’s making a difference of her own.

When she heard the vets were searching for a new spot, she invited them to use the land.

“I think I get more enjoyment out of it than they do in the long run," says Katelyn Conard. "Seeing them happy and knowing what they did for us, it just makes it so much more worth it.”

Reinhold has become the lead instructor of the Green Bay group. And he has a very personal reason for keeping it going.

After the program was discontinued in Appleton years ago because of dwindling membership, Reinhold learned some tragic news. The last veteran to show up on a weekly basis had taken his own life.

Reinhold vowed that would never happen again as long as he could help it.

"I don’t care if there’s only one person coming here. I’m going to be out here,” says Reinhold.

Because even on a day when the fish aren’t biting, a fishing line can still be a lifeline.

Healing Waters operates through grants and donations. If you'd like to contribute, the chapter in Green Bay provides all the materials needed for fly tying and fishing. It's free to veterans, and those on active duty, disabled or not.

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