SUMMER LAKE, Ore. - Twenty veterans from around Oregon loaded waders, nets and flies into their cars Tuesday morning, coming together to fly fish at Summer Lake as part of a Central Oregon Project Healing Waters special trip.
Many of them have been tying flies in Bend all winter and spring,. getting ready for their annual summer trips.
"The toughest thing is coming home almost a completely different person, and not even knowing your own self," said Iraq War veteran Lloyd Baldridge of Creswell.
Project Healing Waters is designed for veterans like Baldridge who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Brad Emery, president of the Central Oregon organization. told NewsChannel 21 that tying flies and fly fishing is relaxing, but keeps veterans busy enough that they have to concentrate -- leaving little time for worrying or thinking about their traumatic past.
The project also helps physically disabled veterans with hand-eye coordination.
Baldridge said he takes his PTSD day by day. Some days are better than others.
But put a rod his hand, get him around fellow veterans and throw a fish in there, and it's a pretty good day.
"It really did help me a lot to get out, fly fish, focus on that and not other things that happened in my life in the past," Baldridge said.
Project Healing Waters is the Central Oregon chapter of a national group that helps vets heal -- physically and emotionally -- by taking them on fishing trips and getting them together with other veterans.
Emery said reconnecting with nature saved his life after he got back from Vietnam. And that's why he wanted to start a group on the High Desert, to help others.
"It's (coming back from service) not something you can just throw a pill at, but when you get to talking with someone who's been there, it relieves it a little bit," said Emery of the group.
It was the first Healing Waters fishing trip for Vietnam veteran Jim Rogers of La Pine, who attended his first fly-tying session last week.
"I came from a time when veterans really weren't honored very much," Rogers said. "It's not like Iraq ... and a lot of us didn't want to be involved with anything, because of that, and that's one of the reasons it took so long to do some of this stuff."
Baldridge says his PTSD won't ever go away, but he's getting better -- and in the end, it's not about the fish, but the people.
"We just need a nice peaceful place that's managed well, that we can come home to -- people that care. Give us that, and I think a lot of problems will be solved," Baldridge said.
Project Healing Waters has more fly fishing trips coming up, including one in Warm Springs in a few weeks.
The organization in Central Oregon began about three years ago and currently serves about 40 veterans.
The group and trips are free and are open to any veterans. If you would like to find out more about joining, or wish to donate supplies or cash to this cause, you can visit their website http://cophw.org.
The group ties flies each Friday at 1 p.m. at the Vet Center off NE Forbes Road in Bend.