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Helping to heal our military vets

03-14-13RodBuildingWebAs many of you may know, I serve as project leader in Sheridan for a national nonprofit organization called project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. The organization is “dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.” We are now entering our third year working with disabled military vets through the local Sheridan VA Medical Center, the Volunteers of America — Northern Rockies Freedom Hall veteran’s home and the VOA homeless shelter at the VA.

As we work our way through 2013, I will periodically give you updates as we move through our annual program of rod-building classes, fly tying classes, casting classes and bi-weekly fishing trips.
Two weeks ago we began a rod-building class at the VA where veterans are building their own fly rods.

All the fly rod “blanks” and assembly equipment are provided to the vets free of charge by PHWFF. Once their rods are done, the vets will also be given a free rod case, fly reel and fly line.
Fly rod building is a wonderful activity where a person can learn a few simple hand/eye skills to build not only a tool for catching fish, but a personalized work of art.

 

The word “rod-building” can be a bit misleading to some folks. It’s really more a process of “rod-assembly.”
The actual rod is referred to as a “blank.” The blanks are pre-built in a factory someplace where proper tapers have been designed on a “mandrel.”
A special graphite cloth is wrapped on the mandrel and then treated with resins to create the “blank.”
To build your rod from the blank, you first find the blank’s “spine,” which will be a straight line along the blank along which all the fishing line guides will be located. Then measurements are marked on the rod for proper location/placement of the line guides.
Then the builder will glue the reel seat to the base of the rod’s “butt section,” and then do the same with the cork handle just above the seat.
Finally the line guides are secured to the blank with wraps of thread and finished with a special flexible epoxy.
You can customize the looks of your rod by using different colors of threads on the guide wraps, and by choosing whether to “color preserve” any of the wraps. Without color preserver, a red thread, for example, will turn a dark translucent maroon against the black graphite blank. Combining colors of threads and preserver gives the builder an endless combination of possible customized looks to their finished rod.
Rod-building, obviously, is not just a therapeutic activity reserved for our military vets.
I’ve built about a dozen rods myself. Just like catching a fish on a fly you tied yourself, there’s nothing like fishing with your own customized rod. ­The attraction of building your own rod isn’t just limited to fly fishermen either.
You can just as easily buy and build your own spinning rod! Finally, since you are performing the rod-building labor yourself, you can save 25 percent to 30 percent over the retail cost of the equivalent rod purchased off the rack at your favorite fishing store.
Back to my veteran friends at the VA, we’ve now finished marking the spines and gluing the real seats and the cork handles. Next week they’ll begin wrapping their guides with threads.
Last week, as the vets began picking out thread colors and combinations for their rods, I could just see their eyes light up as they imagined the looks of their own customized, finished product.
Maybe you should consider doing the same for yourself, or with a son or daughter, at home. It’s great fun!

GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.

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