Johnny Walker (left) and his brother, Jerry Walker (right), took part in the Project Healing Waters North Texas outing in April. Johnny has been active in making the outings to Lake Fork successful and was a big reason the group was able to purchase a pontoon boat last year. Jerry is a vet who came to Lake Fork last year to fish and this year to help. The brothers are both veterans.

Warriors heal through fly fishing
Democrat Editor

I actually knew of Lew’s dad. It’s really a small world,” Geurke noted. “We tried to find ways to take veterans fly fishing. It is cathartic, you can do it on your own. It’s something as veterans of foreign wars we know about doing things that may seem to be a menial task, but you have to be attuned to them, or it could cost you or someone else their life.

“Fly fishing reminds you of those day to day things like checking your gear, making sure everything is in its place before going on patrol. You always find something you needed to tie down better or I need a little more of this or that. That’s what fly fishing is about, you have to stay in a habit to get a job done. If you continue to focus your energy and your mind ultimately you have a better chance to be successful.”

The Broken Bow area got where it was very busy, so the group looked to other fisheries to serve their veterans. “The busyness of Broken Bow somewhat hindered the amount of people we could serve so we looked around at other places for Project Healing North Texas. We ran into to Johnny Walker and I got to ride with him my first time to fly fish for largemouth bass,” Geurke explained. “Johnny is one the most unbelievable gracious and generous persons I have ever known. He and I have become pretty close friends. It ultimately came to Broken Bow was still there, but we bought a pontoon boat and it was down at Johnny’s campground and we could serve more veterans there.”

Walker has not been feeling well lately, but he still took part in the April event. “Johnny still had energy and pure dedication to make this special for people. It was also the first co-ed trip we had done. We had three females and three males this time. One of the ladies came from Nashville, Tennessee, another from Orlando, Florida, and the other from The Colony near Dallas,” Gehrke said. “All three of the gentleman were from North Texas and the metro-plex area.”

Walker is a veteran who has been active in Project Healing Waters at Lake Fork. In an interview with the Democrat last October, Walker talked about why this event is important. “We take any soldier from any branch of service, of any gender, and we try to get them out to different places and teach them how to fly fish. Fly fishing is one of those things where you must concentrate,” Walker stated. “It helps them to relax and it kind of pushes all that other stuff out of the way. It brings these soldiers together and helps them find what they need. They are able to start the networking process of healing.”

The group gathered on a Friday. “We all stayed up late to make sure everyone made it safely and had a good place to stay at Oak Ridge Marina. We were out on the water early on Saturday,” Gehrke said. “It doesn’t always come down to the fishing. For some, it’s just the opportunity to be on a boat and see a beautiful lake.”

Project Healing Waters is a soldier-centered organization and the veterans are at the forefront. “There is no other way to be. As soldiers you know there might always be something that goes a little bit haywire in combat but at the end of the day you have to adapt and overcome,” Gehrke said. “At our outing, they went out separately in different boats. People from Quitman and around the lake donate their time with their boats and the fuel. It comes down to people who may have been in the military or someone who is simply a patriot with a passion to serve the veterans. We have a lot of people volunteering to be boat captains. What it takes are people like Johnny (Walker) who simply want to give back to the veterans.”Gehrke said the dinner following the day of fishing is always a pleasure. “The dinner following the day of fishing is always great. The people at Highland Shores are just wonderful. We broke bread and the people there just make you feel special,” he said. “I want people to know this organization is for everybody. If someone can’t get here because of some of the struggles of life, we will find a way for them to get here. If someone has any apprehensions about coming to take part in this, just say the word and we will make it happen.”

Lake Fork Fishing Outing

April, 2016

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The people of Highland Shores RV Park and those involved in the Project Healing Waters event April 23 had a great afternoon of visiting and sharing experiences after the day of fly fishing.
They come from across the nation, or they might come from next door. Veterans from any branch of United States armed forces make up Project Healing Waters. They are heroes, some with physical wounds, others with emotional scars.

The North Texas Project Healing Waters is one chapter of a nationwide organization which was started in 2004 when retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson came up with the idea while recovering from an operation at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Project Healing Waters North Texas was founded by Lew Duckwall of Lake Dallas. The former Gunnery Sergeant was electrocuted while serving on a mission in Iraq. He was a combat engineer who served 20 years. It was a fly fishing expedition in 2009 that led Duckwall to form the chapter. In an article in the Denton Record-Chronicle Duckwall said, “There is nothing more serene or healing than being in the middle of river. It’s very soothing and non-threatening.”

The North Texas chapter originally had outings for veterans at Broken Bow in Oklahoma. In the past few years they have had outings at Lake Fork. Highland Shores RV Park on the east side of Lake Fork has hosted these outings with a big barbeque dinner on the Saturday evening following the vets time fishing on the water. Army combat veteran Ryan Gehrke, Plano, became helped with the recent Lake Fork excursion. Geurke and Duckwall had a common thread. “Lew’s dad was a fly fisherman from the Catskills of New York and I am originally from the northwest side of Pennsylvania.