AUGUSTA — Linwood Brayall and his grandson Jordan Meunier have spent a lot of time casting for fish in the lakes and streams around Kennebec County, but it could be that some of their best times will come as they prepare for their next big trip.
Brayall, a Vietnam War-era veteran, and Jordan, a 14-year-old Gardiner boy, will spend the next several weeks building a fly rod as part of Project Healing Waters’ program at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus.
“How fast it gets built depends on how many mistakes we make,” Brayall said. “It’s a lot fun. It’s something he and I can do together.”
Project Healing Waters, a national organization that uses fly-fishing and related activities to rehabilitate injured veterans physically and emotionally, has had a chapter at Togus since 2007. Indeed, Togus was the first hospital in the veterans system to offer the program, said Dave Hedrick, director of the Kennebec Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, which provides volunteer instructors. Hedrick, a Vietnam War veteran, said about two-thirds of the volunteers are veterans, and several of them were wounded. Most of the volunteers have been with the program since the beginning.
“I haven’t lost many volunteers,” Hedrick said. “We get as much out of it as the veterans do.”
The fact that the volunteers have military experience, and often combat experience, helps them connect with the veterans.
The program, open to any veteran with any disability rating, meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at Togus. Sessions include instruction on how to fly fish, including the science of fish and their habitat, as well as fly tying and fly rod building.
The group takes four trips per year, going to Grand Lake Stream, Eustis, Jackman and Greenville. Thanks primarily to donations from national suppliers as well as Maine guide services and camps, all of the programs are offered to the veterans at no cost.
Most of the dozen or so veterans working on their fly rods Wednesday have built at least one other rod through Project Healing Waters, but Herb Macomber of Waterville was working on his first rod after taking part in the program for more than a year. Macomber, who was on active duty during the Vietnam War, went fly-fishing for the first time last year. Unlike fishing with a rod and reel, fly-fishing requires proper technique to present the fly to the fish in the most realistic manner possible, he said.
“You’re continually involved with it,” he said. “You’re doing something the whole time. To me, it feels like more an art than a hobby.”
Dwaine LeChance, also a Vietnam-era veteran, was about four weeks into building his first fly rod. He got involved with the program a few months ago when he happened to walk by a class after an appointment.
LeChance said he is eager to put what he’s learned about fly-fishing to use, but that’s not all that kept him coming back for the class.
“Half of it’s just being with the other vets,” LeChance said.
Brayall has been with Project Healing Waters for about two years and has already built a rod. The one he and Jordan are working on will belong to the boy.
Jordan is eager to try out the new rod with his grandfather.
“I like to catch fish,” Meunier said. “It’s peaceful.”
Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org