(Men)ding Lines – Jimmy Harris
Welcome to Casting for Recovery’s (Men)ding Lines series. This month we feature Jimmy Harris, a longtime CfR Georgia river helper, donor and supporter. Read more as Jimmy talks about how he became interested in the sport of fly fishing and shares one of his most memorable CfR retreat experiences below.
Tell us about yourself and how you became interested/involved in the sport of fly fishing?
I introduced myself to fly fishing in the late 1970s. I had been an avid angler since my earliest memories of fishing the pond behind our house with my Mom. My dad would fish some but the hardcore angler in our house was my mother. In the 70’s I was teaching at a small university in Arkansas, living on Lake Dardanelle and a short ride to the streams of the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains. I bought a fiberglass Shakespeare 7 wt. fly rod combo, checked out the only book on fly fishing at the university library, and literally taught myself to cast. I became a fairly decent caster but I was a lousy catcher. I learned how to catch fish with a fly rod after moving back to Georgia and getting adopted by the local Trout Unlimited chapter.
When did you get involved with CfR and what makes you want to return as a River Helper to continually support CfR?
I don’t recall the year but CfR was just getting started in the southeast. I had been asked to volunteer for a retreat in Tennessee but something happened and the event was not held. About that same time, I was asked to help host a statewide event sponsored by Georgia Women Fly Fishers. Casting for Confidence was a one-day event based somewhat along the same model as CFR. I got involved with that event and really enjoyed it. Eventually, CfR planned a retreat for Georgia and I was asked to help find an appropriate venue, pull together the group of River Helpers, and provide a good resource for the fishing. I also volunteered to be one of the River Helpers. This was the moment I realized that CfR and all their volunteers were a special group doing amazing things. I was totally hooked from that point on.
What’s your memorable experience (with a participant or at a CfR retreat) that stands out in your mind?
There have been so many memorable moments during my time helping with Casting for Recovery. Every year there are so many touching moments but I do have one instance from a Stage IV retreat a few years ago. The participant I was helping had significant physical restrictions when it came to wading into the river. So I took a camping chair from my SUV and set it up mid-stream so she wouldn’t have to stand all morning. You could tell the anxiety was building as we helped her get down to the water. She was pretty quiet and I was concerned she wanted to back out of the whole deal. But she stuck with it and seemed to relax a little once she was comfortably in the chair. As a lifelong angler, I personally know the therapeutic value of moving water but I could literally see a sense of calm come over her. For about three hours we wore that spot out since it was not practical to get up and move to another one. But, with the rhythm of the water and the casting, along with a little gentle humor and the calmness that overtakes us all once we’re on the stream, we ended up having a wonderful morning. As we helped her from the chair to begin our journey back to the lodge, I heard her murmur, “What a magical morning this was. No harsh noises, no one yelling, just peace.” A poet couldn’t have expressed it better.
What words of encouragement would you give to a breast cancer survivor who is hesitant about attending a Casting for Recovery retreat because they don’t fly fish?
Watching participants and listening in on conversations has helped me notice that Casting for Recovery retreats are not about fly fishing. Sure, we’ve all heard that the movements you make to cast a fly rod have been shown to be very beneficial activities. But these weekends are much more about spending time with others fighting the same battle, about sharing stories of your journey, guidance on how to take care of yourself, and, of course, about peace; just peace.
Do you have a ‘lucky’ fly that you use on CfR retreat waters?
HMMM… I don’t believe I said. 😉