Project Healing Waters 2020

New Mexico Trout,  in conjunction with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. (PHWFFI) and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque, NM has initiated a PHWFFI Chapter in a Albuquerque, NM. Our first year in operation was 2009.

Point of contact

Please contact Dave Patton at 505 681-0835 or, if you are interested in any aspects of the NMT Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) program. Additional information is available on the PHWFFI web site.

PHW Mission

NMT’s PHWFF program is designed to follow the mission of the overall national PHWFF program.  Our goal is to share our love of fly fishing and cold water conservation with veterans to assist with their rehabilitation from medical conditions associated with service to the country.  All costs are covered and all equipment is provided for eligible veterans.  To be eligible requires that a veteran have an approved VA Disability Rating and currently be in treatment at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center.

The NMT PHW program was launched in May 2009 in conjunction with the PHWFF national office and the local Albuquerque Veterans Administration Medical Center.  All support for the program is provided by volunteers, most of which are NMT members.

We conduct a program that addresses fly tying and casting in the cooler months of February through May, a fishing program for large and small groups from June through November, and fly tying again from October through December.  In addition, we mix in fly fishing educational sessions that include topics such as knot tying, reading the water, wading safety, aquatic insects, and fly fishing equipment.  The program meets once a week for most of the year and we switch to meeting twice a month from June to September.  This allows us to provide fly fishing education information when people are out of town either fishing or on vacation and maintain contact with the veterans in our program.

The basic weekly schedule for 2020 can be found below.

Fly Tying

PHW volunteers and veterans
Project Healing Waters at the Albuquerque VA

Our fly tying phase is where we introduce ourselves to most of the veterans in our program; some veterans have been with us for over 5-7 years.  This is a testament to the quality of the program and the generosity of the many NMT volunteers that give their time to support the program.  The picture to the right shows a happy participant in our fly tying program.

The goal of the first portion of the fly tying program in February to March is to teach fly tying basics, using a variety of classic fly patterns that gives participants an exposure to all of the basic tying techniques they need to tie almost all fly patterns in use for trout fishing.  We do offer some level of repetition because new veterans are always attending the fly tying phase.  The second part of the tying program from October to December is designed to review what was taught earlier in the year and offer new materials to expand the fly types of flies participants can construct themselves.

Fly patterns we teach offer participants a list of flies they can use to cover all major aquatic insect hatches.  These include Adams dry fly for mayflies, the Stimulator for stoneflies, the Elk Hair caddis for the caddis fly, a basic thread midge, the Pheasant Tail for subsurface mayflies and the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear as a subsurface attractor.  In the fall we add new materials such as foam and synthetics to tie a variety of flies such as the Chernobyl Ant and the Copper John, a popular subsurface attractor that uses wire and a bead to help sink the fly faster.

Tying Schedule 2020 (Wednesdays)

February 19 and 26; March 11, 18, and 25; and April 8

Fly Casting

Our casting program is conducted in the classroom and outdoors on the VA grounds and is designed to help veterans achieve the level of casting skill necessary to make fishing outings we take a positive experience.

We start the casting portion of the program with a description of the fly rod, reel, fly line, leader and tippet and how all of these elements work together to get the fly to the fish.  We cover all of the basic casting techniques for typical stream fishing. These include the elements of casting, the forward casting stroke, the backward casting stroke, loading the rod, line lay down on the water, roll casting, making strike when the fish takes the fly, common casting mistakes and how to correct them, and how to avoid bushes and trees on the back cast.

Casting Schedule 2020 (Wednesdays)

April 15, 22, and 29 and May 13, 20, and 27


Arguably, this is the most fun part of the overall program. We fish at lakes, ponds, and streams in New Mexico.  We take our group of veterans first to the Brush Ranch on the Pecos River where we can get access to the water for the first time to review casting and give participants an opportunity to catch fish with a fly rod.  The picture below is from Fenton Lake, but shows that the scenery is worth the trip all by itself.  We take smaller groups of 2-4 veterans to the Pecos National Historical Park as well, if water levels and fires cooperate.  Our program goes to the San Juan River 5-6 times between June and November.  These trips are for 2 nights and 3 days of fishing to give everyone a chance to get to know other participants and get a real feel for fly fishing.

photo of fishing on Fenton Lake
Fishing on Fenton Lake

The San Juan is our primary summer/fall fishing location.  We normally take 4-7 veterans and 3-4 NMT volunteers to the San Juan.  These trips provide an extended opportunity for veterans to get in a fishing groove with the opportunity to catch large brown and rainbow trout.  The two pictures below from a trip to the San Juan show that the fishing is good and we try to eat well also.  Participants are also able to develop stronger relationships with other veterans, which helps veterans stay in the program.  The veterans will typically have purchased fly rods with reels through our program by this point and will be able to pick up fly fishing boots and waders though the Los Pinos Fly and Tackle Shop; however, all equipment is provided for anyone that needs it.  The program provides flies and other materials as required, but many veterans will have purchased their own fly fishing vests, tools, leader and tippet by the time we make our first trip the San Juan.  These trips are so enjoyable, we are never sure who has the most fun.

PHW lunch PHW-vet-with fish






Fishing Schedule 2020 (Wednesdays for Group Outings)

The river fishing schedule is flexible due to weather conditions, water flows and temperature and availability of volunteers to support these outings, but our first trip to the San Juan should in June, depending on the flow out of Navajo Dam.  We will do group outings at Brush Ranch again this year starting in early June through September.  Trips to the San Juan and local waters such as the Pecos National Historical Park will be disseminated at meetings, by e-mail, and by phone as required.  Here are the 2020 dates for our trips to Brush Ranch.  Again, these are all Wednesdays.

June 10
July 8
August 12
September 9

Fly Fishing Education

During the summer and fall months from June to September, when everyone is busy, we meet twice a month on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the each month.  As mentioned above, we cover general fly fishing topics to help fill in gaps in the overall fly fishing knowledge of the veterans in our program.  In addition to the topics mentioned above, we lay out what it takes to start fly tying at home, and show and demonstrate fly fishing equipment (e.g., vests, waders, boots, fishing tools, and sunglasses).

All-in-all, we deliver a very comprehensive fly fishing program and the number of veterans attending our program has grown every year.