Friday, February 4, 2011

In His Own Words: Casting for Recovery

I seem to be in the anger phase of my grief these days, and so everything that I think about Sawan has a negative slant, and I hate that.  I hate how negative I seem to be about him on this blog lately.  So as I was thinking about what I would post today, I wanted to make sure I was reflecting on something positive, on something that I really loved about him.  A couple of months ago I found this article that he wrote for a friend’s fishing web site and I’ve been saving it to share on here.  He was so amazing as a guide, as an angler, as a communicator, and also, I think it’s so interesting how he talks about grief, and how the ways that he grieved his mother (right and wrong) prepared me in so many ways for how to handle losing him.  I didn’t do any editing, this is his article in his words, and this is the photo that he had chosen to go with it.  Enjoy.

Casting for Recovery
I hadn’t been thinking about my mom that morning, but as anyone who has lost a love one can tell you, sometimes thoughts of them can just creep up on you. A song or a smell or a random encounter can send you into the grieving process even years after they’re gone. I had lost my mother to breast cancer five years prior. It was a difficult time for me, and the grief demons still haunted me sometimes, and actually, they still do on occasion. 
      So there I was going about my usual duties in the fly shop when in walks Dana Rikimura. Dana is one of the coordinators for Casting for Recovery here in Colorado. I had heard of the program where guides volunteer to teach women recovering from breast cancer how to fly fish, but never researched it or knew how to get involved. Dana was asking for gear donations for an up-coming retreat, and I immediately started asking how I could get involved. I told her briefly that I had lost my mother to the disease and was interested in volunteering. She got my email address and told me someone would be in touch. True to her word, it wasn’t long before a woman named Kris Tita contacted me and asked if I would like to be a “river helper” at a future retreat. A “river helper” is basically a guide for the day. I emailed back and told her my whole story, she was moved by it and invited me to the very next retreat they were having. It was to be located at the famous North Fork Ranch just outside of Bailey Colorado.
     I was excited and nervous at the same time. I had done some guiding before, not a lot, but some. I knew the program was full of volunteer “professional” guides. I wanted whomever I guided to have a memorable experience and in my naïve state I was convinced that meant catching fish. Would I be able to get someone on fish? Or, would I fumble through everything while everyone else did? The morning of the retreat I awoke nervous that I wouldn’t “stack-up” against the other guides, but as I drove into the mountains I had an epiphany. This day was not about me. It was about the women who had decided to try something different in an attempt to experience life in its entire God-given splendor. I was just a medium through which that could be accomplished. So, I decided to just allow God to work through me and hopefully together we could give someone a splendid day.  
     I arrived at The North Fork Ranch early on the day of the guide. It is located on the north fork of the South Platte River. They own about a mile or so of river where they have stocked some big fish, mostly Rainbows, and done some river improvements to maximize trout habitat. Kris and Dana were there to instruct us on the procedures for the day and assign us our ladies. The hosts at the ranch provided coffee and breakfast for us. The ladies had been there all weekend and the guides only come in for the last day of the retreat to help out. Group pictures are taken and then everyone spreads out on the river to start fishing.
    That first day I was assigned Maggie. Or maybe, she was assigned me. Either way, we were to be partners for the day. She was an elderly woman who had never fly-fished before. I remember asking her that morning what her value was for the day. Was she dead set on catching a fish or was the over-all experience what mattered? She responded like the gentle woman she was and said she wanted to have fun, maybe learn a little, and if catching a trout was somehow managed in the process, so much the better.
     I had walked the river when I arrived that morning in order to scope out where the fish would be and look for easy places to stand, cast, and hopefully net a fish. We walked to a spot on the river where I had seen a couple of fish in the morning. We talked and introduced ourselves and shared our stories a little. I rigged her rod for her and explained what I was doing and why I had chosen the flies I had. We were going to be nymphing (using flies that drift in the current under the waters surface) that day and I put on a big fuzzy indicator so that we could detect strikes. We began with an easy short-line cast into a promising looking area. She struggled at first, but after a quick demonstration she was placing those flies exactly where I asked her to. I’m not sure how many drifts through that pool she made, but it wasn’t long before WHAM her indicator disappears into the icy depths of the river. In my excitement I practically screeched “lift, lift, lift!” The next thing I know, a beautiful rainbow trout comes leaping out of the water in front of us. Now, I have seen many a trout clear the water in my days but I can’t ever remember being more excited about it. I have a still photo in my memory of that fish glistening in the sun tethered to a little old lady who could have been my grandmother. She fought the fish well and followed my instructions perfectly, and before we knew it, I had sixteen inches of beautiful, spotted, pure muscle in the net. I looked up at her and saw an expression of pure joy on her face. I’m sure that it mirrored mine.
    When someone catches a fish on one of these retreats it lights up the river with congratulations and excitement. The other women up and down the river hoop and holler and scream things like “way to go”. Someone invariably comes running over with a camera to get a snapshot of the moment and there is an overall feeling of genuine joy. We took a quick photo and returned the fish to the cold, clear water from whence it came. We caught a few more fish that day, but nothing sticks in my mind like that first one.
    I had a quiet moment in my own head where I thanked God for providing us with a fish to catch, and then another one where I thought of my Mom. A few days before she passed away she asked me to make her a promise. I was expecting something dramatic. But, what she said was “promise me you’ll never stop fishing, it brings you so much joy”. I told her not to worry, I was sure it was a promise I could keep. Part of that experience for me now is the joy I receive in teaching others.
    I have since done six Casting for Recovery retreats. Every time it brings something a little different. Each woman has her own story and her own personality; her own challenges and her own demons to conquer. But each and every time we catch fish together it brings a sense of accomplishment and an appreciation for the beauty in life. The spring retreat is around the corner and I can’t wait to offer my time, skills and heart to the day.

Sawan Nail     


  1. Brought me to tears and i could almost hear his voice in my head. I miss that sweet clam voice. Love you.

  2. Not clam voice... calm voice... wow. I mean, he liked clams, so.... xo

  3. @Kendall, Thank you.
    @Cold...I don't think I actually ever ate clams with him...well, maybe chowder, but he never met a fish he didn't like...he was more of a mussels kind of guy. Especially the kind at sushi places, with the mayo on them. Now I'm hungry.

  4. I love this post Noel. It seems as if he was a really special and thoughtful man. I almost feel like I know him from reading your blog. It is a nice way to keep his spirit alive and pass it along to others.

    PS-It is perfectly fine to be cranky sometimes. I certainly am! Hahaha!