The PTSD River Cure

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Chad Brown put down a gun and picked up a fly-fishing rod. The Navy veteran turned gear designer now wants kids and vets to heal each other on the great American waters that saved his life.

By: Patrick Symmes

So an Irish American, a Mexican American, an African American, an Asian American, and an Irish-Ukranian-Filipino American walk into a bar. Actually, it’s a breakfast bar. It’s zero dark thirty on a cold January morning, and we’re at a tiny café in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. After some coffee, we are going to chase winter steelhead.

But we don’t actually get to the steelhead, not yet. When the coffee comes, it’s still dark, and still winter. So the most multiethnic breakfast party in the history of Oregon sits down to talk. The sport of steelhead fishing has its own complicated rituals and lingo: there are “big sticks,” or double-handed fly rods, and “the D-loop,” a Jedi-style motion that can fling out a long, heavy line. Regular sticks are just oars. “Double Speys” and “snake rolls” are casting techniques from Scotland; “Scandis” are Swedish lines well adapted to these big Oregon waters.

Let’s deal with the fish right away. About 20 inches long, sometimes much more, steelhead are named for their dull silver, bullet-shaped heads, but depending on their life stage and the time of year, they can be silver-bright from the ocean or passionately colored like mutant rainbow trout. Big and strong, they have the habits of salmon, like going to sea and then, upon their return, refusing to bite a fisherman’s hook. They’re so hard to catch that they’re known as gray ghosts.


“You hear some anglers call them unicorns,” says Chad Brown, the black guy with the deep voice surrounded by fishing buddies. Unicorns are talked about but never seen. Chad’s been fishing for steelhead for four years and hasn’t caught one yet.

Steelhead are the real reason for this gathering, but Chad is the excuse. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran who participated in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, served at Guantánamo Bay, and saw combat during Operation Restore Hope, in Somalia, during the infamous Black Hawk Down era. That he came back with post-traumatic stress disorder is no news in this era—since 2001, more than 378,300 U.S. military personnel have sought treatment for potential PTSD from Veterans Affairs facilities—but he’s also an artist, designer, and educator who believes, he told me at breakfast, “in finding a way to radiate your pain outward to help others.”

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SF 11-year-old makes fly-casting history

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By Tom Stienstra
Tom Stienstra is The San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoor writer. E-mail:tstienstra@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @StienstraTom

An 11-year-old girl from San Francisco turned the fly-casting world upside down last week. Nobody who has heard this tale can quite believe it.

At the U.S. National Casting Championships in Long Beach, Maxine McCormick finished fourth in fly casting accuracy behind only the world’s best, made the All-America team and bested the all-time women’s mark. That’s right, at age 11, she had the highest women’s score in history. She also broke seven junior national records in different events.

To put it in perspective, casters are scored in accuracy on a scale of zero to 300 in three events. Maxine scored a combined 289 in three events for fly accuracy. That tied for the fourth highest among all casters, no matter age, gender or past achievements.

Maxine’s 289 beat the all-time record for women, 286, set in the 1990s by Canada’s top champion, Brenda McSporran.

Maxine McCormick
Maxine on the McCloud River about to release trout
“So what happened is that 11-year-old old Maxine just scored higher than any female in the history of the American Casting Association and was only outscored by Steve Rajeff, myself and father Glenn by just one point,” said Chris Korich of the Golden Gate Casting Club.

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Summer in Montana

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If you’ve never fished Montana in the summertime, here’s 2 1/2 minutes of footage showing exactly why you should. Shot by RA Beattie of www.beattieproductions.com


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