Project Healing Waters to auction fly boxes during Fishmas Party

Navy veteran Dawn Gwin ties a fly at Western Anglers Fly Shop as she readies fly boxes for a silent auction at the annual Fishmas party and Winter Solstice celebration on Thursday, sponsored by Grand Valley Anglers. Gwin tied several of the flies for the auction. She recently placed fourth in a national fly-tying contest sponsored by Project Healing Waters.

Navy vet Dawn Gwin, project co-leader for the local chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, admires some of the 18 boxes of fishing flies to be auctioned at the Grand Valley Anglers Fishmas party Dec. 19. Gwin arranged the 18 fly boxes, some of which include her hand-tied flies. Proceeds from teh silent aucton will benefit the Project Healing Waters program.

Dawn Gwin paused, thoughtfully taking census of the neatly arranged fly boxes arrayed before her.

“I have different boxes with flies for different fishing situations,” said Gwin, reaching across the array of boxes while sitting at the well-appointed fly-tying table at Western Anglers Fly Shop. “I’ve done 12 boxes so far, and have more to do.”

The exacting task — at last count up to 18 boxes — is a special duty for Gwin, a Navy veteran and project co-leader for the local chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

The flies, some in specially embossed aluminum Project Healing Waters fly boxes and others in boxes donated by Grand Valley Anglers, an affiliate of Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers and the local PHWFF sponsor, will be sold at a silent auction on Dec. 19 during that group’s annual Fishmas Party.

Money raised in the auction will go to local Project Healing Waters projects and outings.

As explained on the Project Healing Waters website, the program provides disabled veterans and disabled active military personnel with more than a recreational pastime and the simple skills of learning to cast a fly rod, tying flies, or hand-building a fly rod.

The program, founded in 2005 by Viet Nam veteran Ed Nicholson at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., also provides veterans the encouragement to adapt and to overcome challenges while enjoying the outdoors in the company of other veterans.

The local program is based out of the Grand Junction VA Medical Center and is one of 157 such programs in 48 states.

There are between 28 and 31 active members who have completed the one-year program in the Grand Junction chapter, Gwin said.

“Plus, we now have about 18 new members,” she said. “It’s always changing.”

The hundreds of flies Gwin has been sorting and fastening into the foam-lined boxes were donated by local tiers, Western Anglers and from the veterans themselves.

Some of them were tied by Gwin, including some streamers, wooly buggers and beetles, a tribute to a skill she readily acquired three years ago when she was recuperating at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center and a novice in the Project Healing Waters program.

Starting with no prior fly-fishing experience, her tying has improved to the point several of her flies recently placed fourth in Project Healing Waters’ new national fly-tying contest.

She dodged the accompanying compliments, saying simply, “I had a great mentor and instructor.”

That mentor, as many anglers in the Grand Valley might expect, has been Carol Oglesby, a member of Grand Valley Anglers and an experienced fly-casting instructor widely recognized for her fly fishing and teaching skills.

“I met Dawn three or four years ago through our volunteers working with Project Healing Waters and we became fast friends,” Oglesby said. “I helped her a bit with her casting and mentored her in a way, but the whole group had a share in all this.”

Oglesby said proceeds from every item in the Fishmas auction, including items donated by Western Anglers and other area businesses, will go to the local Project Healing Waters chapter.

The laborious work of picking through the donated flies and matching them to the many boxes has been a labor of love for Gwin.

Leaning forward, she reached for one of the boxes bearing the logo of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and explained the variations in fly design and use.

“You can see how different the flies are,” she said. “Here’s a box with flies for the Gunnison River and here’s one for Grand Mesa.”

Squinting at the neatly arranged line of flies, some of them mote-sized specks on microscopic hooks of steel, she sighed.

“I had to use tweezers to put some of them in the boxes,” she said, laughing. “They’re pretty small.”

The Grand Valley Anglers annual Fishmas Party and Winter Solstice celebration is Thursday at the Irons Restaurant at Tiara Rado Golf Club. Reservations are required. Donations and auction items may be left at Western Anglers Fly Shop, 413 Main St., 244-8658.


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