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Wounded veterans experience reel relaxation

"There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit and a pure serenity of mind." - Washington Irving

Irving's observation was Ken Griffin's inspiration for founding Fly Fishing for Vets.

"Anyone who's ever felt the rush of seeing a trout rise to a fly can tell you, there's nothing else like it. It gives a sense of peace and a connection with nature, which can bring about physical, emotional and spiritual healing in a number of ways," Griffin said.

"Fly Fishing for Vets provides wounded warriors and their families with a bit of relief from the stress of recovering from an injury or being permanently disabled. We believe in the healing effects that a peaceful setting among friends and family provides. And what better way to provide that than with a rod and reel?"

The foundation offers fly tying and casting lessons for vets new to the sport, and then on Veterans Day everybody goes fishing.

Families are welcome to fish along if they wish, but spouses may opt for a free day at a spa while children take part in free supervised activities like hiking or horseback riding. For their inaugural fishing event in 2008, more than 200 veterans and volunteers showed up, including the Georgia National Guard, which set up tents and heaters, and Dunkin' Donuts and Dave's Famous Barbecue, which provided food.

Gordon Walker of Lawrenceville is an active volunteer in the program. As a guide for River Through Atlanta, Walker is skillful both in fly fishing and reeling in participants.

"We give the wounded veterans a vest and a fly rod to keep. Most of these are donated by Trout Unlimited and Atlanta Fly Fishing Club," Walker said.

The main event for Fly Fishing for Vets occurs on Veterans Day, but Walker, whose daughter is a Marine, takes veterans who are able out in small groups all year round. He is also involved with Project Healing Waters (www.projecthealingwaters.org), and teaches fly tying classes at the Veterans Hospital.

"It's very therapeutic, even if they can't get out to fish," Walker said. "We have one woman who has use of only one arm and she shows up regularly."

Greg Morgan, manager of Orvis Sporting Traditions at the Forum in Norcross, is also on board with this patriotic project.

"We help educate the public about the program and help recruit volunteers. And if anyone wants to make monetary donations, we'll gladly accept them. We've had some very generous donors, who we're very thankful for," Morgan said.

The second annual family fishing event will be on Nov. 1. The Chattahoochee will be stocked with 5,000 trout and sponsors will donate food and fishing related freebies to help provide veterans and volunteers some gentleness of spirit and serenity of mind. To get involved, visit www.flyfishingforvets.com, e-mail Walker at gowalker@hotmail.com or call Orvis at 770-798-9983.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.