Living alone in his studio apartment in Port Angeles, Don Edwards did not resemble the type of individual most people would normally associate as a test pilot for the latest innovation from the engineers at Boeing.
Edwards had secluded himself in his one-bedroom apartment for 15 years, watching television after a stroke had left him paralyzed on one side.
“It was an awful situation. He had very few friends and just sat there all day, every day alone,” said Dean Childs. “Luckily, we had something in mind that might help.”
Childs is president of Olympic Peninsula Fishing Innovations (OPFI), a non-profit organization created to help disabled veterans enjoy the thrill of fly fishing on the lowland rivers and lakes in the Northwest. Volunteers from OPFI started by teaching Edwards to tie flies, then fitted him with a Casting Partner, a wearable device that allowed Edwards to cast and fly-fish with his one working hand and his good arm.
Volunteers helped Edwards wade into a lake near Ft. Lewis for his first try at actually catching fish. The disabled man took to the adventure “like a fish in water” although he had never been fly fishing before, according to Childs.
“The biggest challenge with all of the first time users is not getting hurt,” Childs explained. “Individuals who are missing limbs or paralyzed have a tendency to favor one side, so their balance is always a little off when we first get them into the water.”
Childs does not give the Casting Partner full credit for Edwards’ recovery, but proudly pointed out that the disabled man has moved into a new apartment where he cooks meals for guests and has friends drop by on a regular basis.
When directors of the organization made the decision to make the OPFI products available to the 800,000 victims of strokes and other neurological challenges in January of 2015, Childs said he literally knocked on the door of the Boeing Company looking for help to improve and develop the final product. He invited them to a demonstration on a river near the Boeing facility in Everett.
While the demonstration was still going on in the river, several of the engineers gathered in the nearby parking lot to discuss revisions to the original design. Childs said the engineers from Boeing received permission to utilize the 3D printer at the company’s manufacturing facility to produce a prototype of the modified design.
The working agreement between Boeing and OPFI was made that day with a handshake at the edge of the river.
Childs said the airplane maker has saved his organization an estimated $50,000 in design and tooling charges for the changes. Modifications, he said, can now be made in less than a day.
“The original Casting Partner was made by hand, out of wood,” said Childs. “The 3D printer cut manufacturing time and the cost of each unit.”
The partnership with Boeing has allowed the non-profit to expand its offerings to veterans and other disabled individuals. The one-handed fly-tying device known as the Evergreen Hand was introduced in the spring of 2012.
The Evergreen Hand converts a traditional vise into a one-handed fly-tying tool. The mechanism, said Childs, has helped some users regain dexterity by reinforcing traditional methods of physical therapy. OPFI has shipped more than 500 Evergreen Hands free of charge to veterans and individuals with disabilities across the United States and Canada.
“Others simply enjoy the creative opportunity to craft their own fishing flies,” he said.
The group recently shipped an Evergreen Hand to a man in Europe who had broken his neck. The man had read about the innovative products online.
Videos of The Casting Partner and the Evergreen Hand as well as information on obtaining one of the devices free of charge are available at www.fisagain.org.
Fly fishing has maintained a loyal base of anglers in Western Washington because it can be done at virtually any time of the year, in the opinion of enthusiast Ray Miles of Puyallup.
Miles said Montana and the Yakima River in Central Washington are often touted as the premier sites for fly fishing, but the Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula offer reliable spots year-round to net the allusivesteelhead, trout and salmon. He recommended lessons for new fly fisherman before they attempt to cast their first line into the water.
“The trick is starting correctly,” said Miles. “You cannot learn fly fishing on YouTube. The lessons can cost anywhere from $75 to $100 an hour, but they’ll will save you untold hours of frustration.”
“Fly fishing is not something you can master on the first day at the water’s edge,” said Jim Kerr of Raincoast Guides on the Olympic Peninsula. “And probably not on day two or day three.”
Practice with a bare hook in a backyard or parking lot away from trees and overhead obstacles is imperative, said Kerr. Repetitive casting away from the water is also the perfect time to hone the skill of setting the hook with a quick movement that will secure the fish without ripping through the soft area around the mouth.
Miles emphasized that proper equipment is as important as technique. Fiberglass rods that recover from the bend faster are best for beginners and better for fishing the smaller streams in the Cascades. A nine-foot fiberglass pole, he said, provides a good battle for the fisherman and give the fish “a fighting chance.”
Saltwater fishing from beaches around the Sound can net resident silver salmon in the 15 to 20-inch range, according to Miles. He said beach fishermen who are patient have been known to land an occasional black mouth salmon large enough to keep. Knowing the tides in each area will also help increase the odds of catching fish and the safety of the fisherman.
Anil Srivastava, owner of the Puget Sound Fly Company on Tacoma Mall Blvd., said poor salmon runs caused by warm water and tribal treaties have left fly fishermen in some areas “fighting over the scraps.”
Kerr stressed that most fly fishermen tend to be so sensitive about conservation issues that they regularly practice catch-and-release.
The experienced guide said people from as far away as Japan visit Western Washington to try fly fishing for native steelhead. Kerr said cutthroat are caught every day within an hour of Seattle, but it’s rarely at the same spot for more than a few days in a row.
“Fly fishing in the Northwest depends on healthy watersheds and strong fish runs, so it is up to all of us to help protect these resources,” said Kerr. “Native fish are a precious resource. We must continue to work harder to protect them and their habitat.”
Mathew is the manager of Patrick’s Fly Shop on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle, the area’s oldest shop dedicated exclusively to fly fishing. He said individuals interested in becoming proficient at fly fishing need to practice and master one important skill.
With a wide smile, he explained that people new to the sport should become “expert at reaching for their wallet and spending large amounts of cash on lessons and equipment before they ever expect to catch a single fish.”
Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis. He is now a freelance writer who lives in Mukilteo dedicated to capturing the cherished stories of our lifetime so they can be preserved for future generations. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.