By Harry Desmond, Owner/Operator, Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing 

I will never forget the moment when it dawned on me that fly fishing would be a major part of my life. I wasn’t necessarily sure whether that meant it would become a lifelong hobby or that I would somehow work my way into the industry. You might think that moment would be when I netted that elusive first big fish by making the perfect cast and matching the hatch just right, but that wasn’t it at all. 

The moment came when I was standing in the middle of the river not even casting. I was in Yellowstone National Park, where I spent 10 years of my life. I was standing in the Lamar River Canyon watching the sun go down with Electric Peak framed in the background. One of the biggest caddis hatches I had ever witnessed was working its way up the canyon with the backdrop of a hot pink sunset and the magnificence of Electric Peak in the distance. The lighting from the sunset made the caddis look like gold flakes shimmering in the sky moving up the river and over my head. It was absolute eye-candy that I had the pleasure of getting completely lost in. It all became a part of me. It is moments like these, whether while fishing, hiking, or any other time in the great outdoors, when it feels easy to find the beauty and stillness in the moment and let everything else absolutely wash away, even for just an hour.

After years of teaching and guiding fly fishing, I keep finding myself emphasizing that aspect of the sport. I mean, is it really about the fish? Or is it about melting into and becoming one with your surroundings and losing yourself for a while? It’s watching the water temperatures and how shadows are moving, how birds and bugs are behaving, and generally strategizing approaches to the water. These are the things that help me to dissolve the day-to-day grind and lose myself completely. And these are some of the many aspects we help share while on the water with anglers. 

An older Black man with a gray beard sits on a boat cradling a bass to display for the camera.

In mid-June of this year, BRFF had the great honor of collaborating with a program called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS is a national nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, that offers a wide variety of assistance to families of America’s fallen heroes. One of their assistance programs this year involved traveling to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and spending a couple of days fly fishing, as well as hiking. TAPS Men’s Program Director and surviving father, Jon Ganues, and I talked a few times before the trip to see if this collaboration would be a good fit. After sharing our mission statement with Jon, TAPS decided the partnership was going to work. Again, is fly fishing really all about the fish? As fly anglers, we have all had that moment where we have completely lost ourselves and have forgotten about the day-to-day while on the water. We felt this was an important aspect to share with the TAPS participants to offer healing to these survivors. 

We had the opportunity to take 20 anglers over two days onto the Housatonic River to show them what fly fishing was all about. We started with casting instruction and went all the way to basic entomology. With the Housatonic summer fishing starting, we decided to go after smallmouth bass. This is my favorite time of year on the Housatonic. The smallmouth bite can offer quite a bit of action on both top-water and sub-surface. Not only did all anglers catch fish,  but they all caught multiple fish! It was very rewarding for all who participated, including the guides. 

For me, what was most rewarding was what I personally learned from the trip, or rather what the experience reaffirmed for me, how healing these trips can be for folks. It took me back to how it felt to look down that canyon on the Lamar River 20 years earlier. Jon and I reflected on this during our time together on the river. We discussed the importance of living in the moment and how important that feeling is for all of us, especially for those who have lost the most. 

We look forward to sharing time and water with TAPS again in the future. I will also be looking to collaborate more with organizations that are focused on the mental health benefits of what we do. While I love netting a big fish as much as the next angler, it’s the healing power of nature that really keeps me guiding year after year, for myself and the anglers I take out. 

If you are an organization, group or individual looking to collaborate in this way, drop us a line!