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Published: Sunday, 5/24/2009

Flyfishing for trout offers cancer survivors quiet peace

Pam Ackley Flowers of West Liberty, Ohio, wears a pink boa, an honor accorded Reeling and Healing participants for catching their first trout on a flyrod. Patti Schebil of LaSalle, Mich., takes a good look at her first trout taken on a flyrod. Pam Ackley Flowers of West Liberty, Ohio, wears a pink boa, an honor accorded Reeling and Healing participants for catching their first trout on a flyrod. Patti Schebil of LaSalle, Mich., takes a good look at her first trout taken on a flyrod.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

CASTALIA, Ohio - A deep, soothing calm akin to a spiritual massage attends the act of flyfishing for trout, from the graceful rhythm of a well-executed cast to the quiet peace of a clear-running stream that is home to this sleek, colorful family of fish.

Just watching them suspended in the current, lazily tailing at their stations, is entrancing. Trying to get one of them to sample a proffered fly is something else - even frustrating if you take it the wrong way and get too competitive. But in any case the process causes you to focus in the here and now, on the fish, the stream, the sunshine.

All of which is why there is a program called Reeling and Healing for women who survive bouts with cancer. Reeling and Healing came to Rockwell Trout Club here for three days last week, bringing eight cancer survivor-participants to streamside.

An eager staff of volunteers helped with everything from fishing instruction and coaching to therapeutic massages, jewelry making, scrapbooking, and such bonding activities as creating individual "memory pages."

"I would love to catch just one fish," said Pam Ackley Flowers, of West Liberty, Ohio. Her comment was overheard at breakfast the first morning of fishing.

Her very modest hope was rewarded a couple of hours later as she landed a fine rainbow trout, her first fish ever. "I've been so looking forward to it," Flowers said streamside, smiling over the trout gingerly nestled in her hands and semi-shrouded in a landing net. Moments later the lady donned a pink boa, a sign to her fellow fishers that she had indeed landed a trout.

Patti Schebil, a sailor from LaSalle, Mich., also donned the boa with her first trout of the retreat. "I'm a three-year survivor and now I'm a volunteer," she noted. Her excitement over the fish got her talking fast.

She helped make jewelry during evening sessions, using "lucky stones" from Lake Erie freshwater drum, or sheepshead, and from beach glass she has collected from shoreline walks.

Patti Schebil of LaSalle, Mich., takes a good look at her
first trout taken on a flyrod. Patti Schebil of LaSalle, Mich., takes a good look at her first trout taken on a flyrod.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"It's not only the trout fishing but the beauty of being here and forgetting about all of your health issues," Schebil stated. She spoke of sharing with other retreat participants "until after midnight about girl stuff," and scrapbooking, massages, and more.

Terri Cato, of Ashland, Ohio, volunteered to serve as nurse for the retreat team. She got a chance to fish and landed her first trout in the waning hours. "I'm so excited. I can beat anything now," Cato said.

She even held her rainbow trout up close and smooched it. "I lost three fish this morning because I got too excited. I caught one when I was four years old and then I fell in the pond. My grandpa never took me fishing again."

She enthused about her trout, a fine but average-size rainbow. "It's a monster," she said. "They don't make them this big at Ashland." Cato, like other women at the retreat who were being introduced to the flyfishing experience, was sure to thank her guide, volunteer Joe Spencer, of Toledo, for his patience.

Flyfishing can seem overwhelming at first glance - so many things happening in the cast, so much to remember - from technique to knots.

But Toledoan Dick Walle, spouse of Reeling and Healing president Judy Walle, and Tanya Collins, a former Fremonter now living in Chicago, broke down the mystery into manageable pieces in a brief classroom session.

"Fishing is something we all can do together," said Collins, an accomplished angler and caster. This week's retreat was dedicated to the memory of her dad, Robert Miller, a well-known and widely traveled Fremont angler who died of lung cancer last winter.

"The name of the game is, 'find something to

eat,' " said Dick Walle about a trout's mentality. He told his charges not to worry too much about details, and he suggested that each participant might learn something new as they rotated among the coaches.

"If you talk with three different fly fishermen about a given situation, you'll get three different approaches," Walle summed. The perpetual challenge in trout fishing, Collins added, whether in wild streams or set-piece venues such as a stocked stream in a trout club, is to find "what they fish wants to eat today." Such is the eternal trout riddle.

Reeling and Healing plans additional retreats this summer at Schmidt Outfitters in Wellston, Mich., June 12-14, and July 5-7, with a reunion retreat July 24-26. Another retreat is set for Rockwell here Sept. 20-22. For details or to register, visit the program's Web site on-line at reelandheal.com. or call the Walles at 419-536-2469.

"Our mission," summed Judy Walle, "is to introduce women in recovery from cancer to the healing powers of the sport of flyfishing by providing a unique outdoor experience, a renewed perspective, new friendships, and a very special source of hope."

Judging from the smiles, hugs, and good-bye chatter at this retreat's end, it appeared that "mission accomplished" would be an appropriate closer in this instance. That's quite a compliment to a sleek silvery fish that eats only what and when it wants to.



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