Fly fishing retreats offer men with cancer chance to enjoy nature, learn, share journey

Standing knee-deep in a pristine stream and basking in sunshine, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of nature, is a dream day for someone who enjoys fly fishing — but the experience can produce a lifelong, and perhaps life-saving, effect on men diagnosed with cancer.

Reel Recovery is a national non-profit organization that conducts free fly fishing retreats for men living with cancer.

reel recovery syria, va
Men participating in a Reel Recovery fly fishing retreat, in Syria, Virginia. (Courtesy Stan Golub)

Co-founder Stan Golub says the “benefits are many,” for cancer patients who spend a weekend fly fishing in a remote locale, with other men who are in similar situations. The next local retreat is May 1 through May 3, near the Shenandoah Mountains in Syria, Virginia.

“Getting men out into nature is very important when they’re often confined to hospital rooms or  their homes dealing with treatment,” Golub tells WTOP. “Most of our retreats are in beautiful places very peaceful, very calm, and that in itself is a healing experience.”

Golub said most of the men on the retreats have never tried fly fishing, but they’re paired with an experienced fly fisherman. “Just being able to learn something new gives them a new perspective on their life — that’s there’s still things to live for.”

Immersing themselves in trying to snag trout is freeing, said Golub.

“During that time, they’re actually cancer free in a sense — cancer is out of their heads, and they’re not thinking about it in their bodies,” he said. “They’re paying attention to fishing to the nature to the birds flying by and it really shifts the focus.”

In addition to enjoying nature and the sport of fly fishing, “Perhaps most importantly, we have what we call ‘courageous conversations,’ where they can share their stories with other men who are going through similar experiences.”

Besides the often-grueling physical challenges of cancer treatment, Golub said the emotional effects can be overwhelming.

“Many, many men have never really talked to others about their cancer journey,” said Golub. “They feel very alone. They’re tough — they’re men — and they don’t like to talk about this stuff.”

During the retreat weekend, in addition to fishing, men share their stories, fears, questions and hopes.

“Despite the travails that they’re going through, and the suffering and pain that they may experience, they can find those moments … where they can actually experience joy and pleasure and keep living,” said Golub.

The next Virginia retreat is May 1 through May 3, and applications are still available on Reel Recovery’s website, said Golub. Any man, who has ever been diagnosed with cancer is eligible to participate. Each retreat involves up to 14 men.

“Our retreats are held at Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, which is right at the base of the Shenandoah mountains and is just a beautiful, beautiful place,” said Golub. “We fish on a private river called Rose River Farm.”

Golub said the program is completely free for participants.

“All you have to do is get there, and then all the meals, lodging, fly fishing equipment and instruction is all taken care of.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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