SHERIDAN — For a dozen years, Joey’s Fly Fishing Foundation has lured kids from the simulated confines of World of Warcraft to Wyoming’s blue ribbon outdoors to master what some anglers refer to as the Zen of fly-fishing, in which sport becomes art and casting a moving meditation.
Through kaleidoscopic patterns of such flies and nymphs as Elk Hair Caddis, Blue Dun, Wooly Buggers, Holy Grail or Purple Haze, around 1,500 area children have learned how to craft custom rods, the arts of fly tying and fishing and nature conservation through foundation’s mentors and volunteers at workshops at their main street site or through outdoor fishing camps and events. Whatever terminology anglers may use to describe the sport’s mindful, quiet Zen qualities, it is an activity that articulates a synergy of casting with handmade rods, barb-less hooks, crafted flies and a philosophy of catch and release.
And you don’t have that gross, gooey guts mess of worm baiting a hook.
“My term is the source,” said Joey Puettman, founder of the Sheridan-area nonprofit that mentors youth through fly-fishing. “If you can tap into your source, what you can take from it will change your life.”
Tapping into fly-fishing’s transformative source and it’s inherent lessons of focus, patience, confidence and joy has helped children cast into their “stream of dreams” and hook lifelong passions. Students learn through the core rod making and fly tying classes as well as Joey’s four day adventure summer camp; Just for Girls fishing summer camp. Other major events are the Wyoming Game and Fish Cutt-Slam adventure and Joey’s Foundation’s 12th Anniversary and Fall Fly 7th Annual Fundraiser tournament, dinner and celebration.
“It’s for the kids, by the kids,” said Puettman, 37, who has guided and also fished international waters such as New Zealand, Mongolia, Australia and Belize. “We just hang out in their world.”
Since its infancy, the organization has helped change childrens’ lives through fly-fishing, working with schools and various youth service and community organizations to promote confidence, mentorship and positive life skills. At the heart of Joey’s are children such as Anthony Kindle, who when he started didn’t know the difference between a fishing pole and a rod. Now, he has nearly finished making Joey’s 300th fly rod.
“It’s a huge honor to make the 300th fishing rod,” said Kindle, 12. “I thought a rod just meant a fishing pole, but it’s a lot more than a fishing pole. When you make a rod, you put in the effort for that.”
Kindle said when he was younger, he had anxiety. When he started with Joey’s, it opened up a new world.
“It’s really like therapy and its something I’m extremely passionate about,” Kindle said.
Besides its milestone rod, Joey’s has rebranded itself with a new logo, redesigned website and marketing materials, program expansions such as YMCA Camp 307 in Buffalo. The nonprofit has also expanded outreach and collaboration with sponsors, community, corporate and nonprofit foundations along with staff, mentors and volunteers. This fall, plans will be unveiled for strategic projects and strategies to facilitate the organization’s growth and community work. This is a far cry from when Puettman at 23 years old began teaching kids fly fishing at Canyon Ranch in Big Horn from his old Ford Ranger, a 1981 ClackaCraft drift boat with secondhand fly-fishing rods and a plastic tote full of fly-fishing feathers, hooks and tools.
“We’re bursting at the seams. We’ve grown and expanded each year because we keep the kids first,” said Puettman, who worked with youth for several years as a mentor and program director at Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center in Sheridan.
While focused on the children, adults and families are also welcome to volunteer and participate as part of Joey’s ongoing efforts to encourage children to venture forth and fish the shallows and depths of this unique sport.
“We want our kids outside,” said Tina Krueger, principal of Steady Stream Hydrology and foundation collaborator. She also heads Just for Girls fly-fishing camp. “We want our kids off their cellphones, computers and televisions.”
As Puettman continues to grow, so does children’s ability to learn the art of fly-fishing, from the creation of the rod to successfully completing the coveted Cutt Slam challenge.