Alan Teshima jokes that he didn’t take a single breath as he tied his first fishing fly. One year later, he now finds the craft relaxing.
Like fly fishing, tying flies requires too much concentration for the mind to wander, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. That’s why some local veterans find solace in it.
Teshima’s service in the Air Force, from 1972 to 1975, overlapped the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
“The closest I got to Vietnam was Okinawa (Japan),” he said, “which was fine by me. I had friends who died in Vietnam.”
Teshima retired a couple of years ago and didn’t have much to do. He visited the Central Oregon Vet Center, where he came across Central Oregon Project Healing Waters. It’s part of a national program for veterans and disabled active service members, to promote physical and emotional rehabilitation through fly fishing and fly tying.
Every Friday afternoon, any veteran may drop in and tie flies. The group arranges fishing trips, too. In May, they’ll fish the private Lake in the Dunes. In June, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs has invited them to fish the tribal side of the lower Deschutes River.
The program provides free rods, reels and fly-tying equipment.
John Kreft, of Central Oregon Flyfishers, is not a veteran but volunteers with the program.
“Just seeing these guys when they hook up on their first fish ... it’s awesome,” he said.
During last week’s fly-tying session, eight men each attempted to disguise a tiny metal hook pinched in a vise as a mayfly known as a blue-winged olive. They hunched over, using spools of thread to wind fur and feathers around the hooks.
“When we came back (from Vietnam), we weren’t ... treated real well,” said Brad Emery, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War who helped found the local group.
Emery credits his wife, hunting and fishing with helping him weather that rough period.
“After retirement, some of those issues bubbled back up,” he added.
Again, he turned to fishing. This time, he wanted to help other veterans, too.
On Friday, instead of telling the vets to “tie the thread off,” Emery said “dog it off.”
The once-quiet room erupted with questions: What does that mean? Where did you come up with this?
“It’s an Army term,” Emery said.
Questions gave way to guffaws.
“In the Air Force,” one man said, “we have far less crude ways of saying that.”
“I was in the Army for 15 years and I never heard that before,” said Kelly Davis.
As the jokes rolled, so did spools of thread.
Davis, who served three tours of duty in Iraq, said fly tying was a welcome distraction.
“It keeps me focused,” he said.
Though he’s never cast a fly rod, Davis said he looks forward to eating the fish he catches.
Some of the others groaned.
“Oh, no. Another fish-eater?”
Service branches divide the group, leading to playful banter. So, it turned out, do opinions on catch and release.
For Dick Coffman, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, the tricky part wasn’t learning any particular technique.
“It’s getting these meat hooks,” he said, raising his large hands, “to do it right.”
Then again, producing perfect flies wasn’t the point.
“It gets me out of the house,” he said.
“And he gets to learn a new language,” Kreft said, nodding to Emery.
“I’ll bet Dick knows some of my phrases, right?” Emery said.
“I’m not admitting nothing without my lawyer,” Coffman replied.
The men laughed, their eyes fixed on their vises.