Veterans Find Camaraderie, Calm in Fly Fishing

Raoul Cordeaux launched NJ's chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a national nonprofit serving 8,000 disabled active military members and vets.

project healing waters fly fishing
Veterans hold up a striped bass caught during one of the organization’s salt water outings on Barnegat Bay. Courtesy of Raoul Cordeaux

A love of fishing combined with a desire to help disabled military personnel sparked Raoul Cordeaux’s interest in forming a New Jersey chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

A lifelong fly fisherman, the Spring Lake Heights resident was at a fly-fishing show in Somerset in January 2016 when he dropped by the Project Healing Waters booth. The organization was launched in 2005 in Maryland to serve wounded military members. It has since grown to include 230 programs nationwide and serves 8,000 disabled active military members and veterans. A nonprofit, it is supported by individual and corporate donations.

Cordeaux never served in the military, but worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian for 30 years, part of the time at Fort Monmouth. “During my career, I had the privilege of working with many fine military personnel,” he says. “I thought, What better way to thank our service men and women than giving back to them through the sport of fly fishing?

Project Healing Waters Fly FishingWith fliers distributed and paperwork filed, the Jersey Shore Program was launched in April 2016, with Cordeaux as program lead. The group, which meets monthly, serves a dozen or so participants. Volunteers including Cordeaux, all expert anglers, assist the members, whether they’re new to the sport or just want to learn its finer points.

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“One of the more powerful pieces of the program is the interaction between the members fishing alongside each other,” says Cordeaux. “They know what experiences the others have had. There’s a common bond.”

When weather permits, the group catches trout, sunfish or crappie in lakes and streams, and striped bass, bluefish or fluke in the ocean and saltwater bays. During the cold months, the group meets inside at the Spring Lake Heights Community Center, where they learn to tie flies and listen to guest speakers.

Members get together with the four other New Jersey programs for regional events, such as trout fishing on the Musconetcong River or fishing from boats in Barnegat Bay. The national headquarters in La Plata, Maryland, offers several opportunities each year for out-of-state trips, all expenses paid, for local members.

“Fishing has a calming effect,” says Anne Maker, a veteran from Browns Mills who suffers from PTSD. Maker was new to fly fishing when she joined the program three years ago, after serving 39 years in the Air Force. “When I’m outside fishing or tying flies, I can focus on what I’m doing, and that quiets what’s going on in my mind,” she says.

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