“I thought I was going to learn how to cast with a fly rod,” Gina, the stranger with whom I was sharing a room in a delightful guest house on Rangeley Lake, confided. “I had no idea what this was all about.
Like Gina, most of us were not prepared for our session of Casting for Recovery. The actual process of casting a fly line is beneficial to healing and preventing atrophy of the chest muscles that can occur following various treatments for breast cancer. We each were in a beautiful section of our state (CfR is a national organization). We had instructors and were anticipating meeting our personal guides for the culmination of the event, fishing in nearby waters. We thought it was about the casting.
Fly fishing itself is a therapeutic activity. One must live, Zen-like, in the moment. Unlike bait fishing, where the fish can be willing to hook himself by eating the offering, we are presenting an artificial meal. Fly fishermen must be constantly on the alert to set the hook if given a chance, because as soon as the fish begins to bite it will realize the fly is not food and reject it. Being focused eliminates the opportunity to worry, to stress, to do anything other than be. We leave the waters refreshed.
Because most participants are brand new to the sport, this calmness is one of the surprising benefits. Another shock is how close we get to each other, our guides, our support people. For many this is the first experience we have with sharing our particular commonality. Our families, although they care and try to help, thankfully do not share what is happening to us. At Casting for Recovery we meet people who do.
It is a program each woman can attend only once, and many who have gone through the experience yearn to do so again. Thanks to Fly Fishing in Maine, some of us have that opportunity! When the reunions began, attendance was limited to the Mountain Princesses (those who attended CfR in Maine), but several years ago the offer was extended to former participants in other eastern states. Maine is the only state with such a program!
Last year when I got the chance to attend my first reunion I thought it was about the fishing. As the weekend continued I learned it is about much, much more. The most moving segment was at the dinner on Saturday night when each person spoke about their day. Although encouraged to tell fish tales (aka ‘lie’), after the laughter-producing banter there was often the poignant reality of the new relationships. Many guides said it was the highlight of their year. Some began volunteering because a family member had cancer, and their stories were moving.
My guide, Ben Redmond, is the current president of FFIM, and we were partnered with Dan Tarkinson, who created the group, and his sport, Elaine, brand new to fly fishing and at her first reunion. I find it impossible to describe the silliness and camaraderie we developed during our truck rides and river walks.
The generosity of the Rangeley/Oquossoc community is overwhelming. Ken Beaulieu, who organizes the event, told us that he had barely sent out notice of this year’s date when he began receiving offers of help. Restaurants provided a buffet for the Friday night reception at the Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum; a Portland microbrewery provided specialty beers. Private landowners invited groups behind their gates to fish restricted areas. A float-plane trip was donated to one sport and her guide. A variety of lodging was provided at reduced rates. One group has consistently donated their time and effort to preparing a barbecue dinner on Saturday night, and the Cupsuptic Campground let us use their enclosed picnic structure for the party. Throughout the winter, fly tiers throughout the state produced hundreds of flies for the women who came. The entire region opened their businesses, their homes, and their hearts to us. We were embraced by the kindness of strangers.
Author’s Note. This article appeared in Bangor Daily News’ The Weekly on June 21. I have added pictures. Only one (That big!) appeared in the paper. The 20th anniversary of Casting for Recovery in Maine will be celebrated on August 4. Between now and then, I will doubtless be sharing more about this incredible organization as well as Fly Fishing in Maine, which has been hosting the reunions for the past 13 years.
Author became a Mountain Princess in 2016.