Over the past year, fly-fishing has firmly established itself as a potentially life-changing activity following the launch of Casting for Recovery UK and Ireland, a non profit support and educational programme which provides fly fishing retreats specifically tailored for women who have or have had breast cancer.
Casting for Recovery was founded in America in 1996 and has since spread through Canada and arrived in the UK and Ireland at the beginning of 2006. Although the link between breast cancer recovery and fly-fishing might not be immediately apparent to the uninitiated eye, Casting for Recovery provides a unique opportunity for women whose lives have been profoundly affected by breast cancer to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn the skill of fly fishing, “a sport for life.” Participants are offered the opportunity to meet new friends, and have fun, away from the daily pressures of life in a tranquil and relaxing environment, incorporating counselling, educational services and the sport of fly-fishing to promote mental and physical healing. Weekend retreats are provided to any woman who has suffered, or is suffering, with breast cancer, with medical clearance from their doctor, and each retreat provides full medical support alongside a psychotherapist and several fly-fishing instructors to offer a forum for women with similar experiences, learn a new skill and gain a respite from their everyday concerns. Retreats are fully funded by the Countryside Alliance and all fly fishing equipment and clothing is provided by Orvis UK, so there is no cost to participants.
The first retreat was held in September 2007 at Duncton Mill, West Sussex and was a huge success. Twelve ladies participated of all ages and the experience was wholly positive, with some catching their very first fish. Everyone learned the fundamentals of fly casting, entomology, knot-tying, equipment basics - but most importantly, participants spend time on the water practicing catch-and-release fishing.
Having successfully tested the waters, three more retreats have been planned for 2008 with the first one being held in March at the Arundell Arms in Lifton, Devon. It is wonderful that such a worthy initiative is finding a home in Devon for the weekend, and great thanks are extended to Anne Voss-Bark, owner of the Arundell Arms, who was so impressed with the initiative and its aims that she had to get involved. Devon seems like a natural backdrop for such a serene and soothing weekend, and offers ideal surroundings for participants to escape their daily concerns and relax with new friends and the waters of the South West couldn’t provide a better respite for participants. The momentum of the organisation can only be strengthened in the relaxing and tranquil Devon countryside.
Indeed, Casting for Recovery will also be paying a visit to Cornwall in the spring, taking a stand at the Caerhays Castle Open Day on 11th May at Gorran near St Austell. We are delighted to be bringing Casting for Recovery to this family day, which will feature fly fishing demonstrations as well as a diverse range of activities such as face painting, maypole dancing, laser clay shooting, a toy stall and even a novelty dog show.
Further retreats are planned for Builth Wells, Powys in April and back at Duncton Mill, West Sussex in September. Although the application processes are unfortunately closed for the first two, applications for Duncton Mill will be taken until late June. It is hoped that a retreat in Ireland will be confirmed later in the year.
All of this is possible due to the hard work and determination of Sue Hunter, Programme Co-ordinator of Casting for Recovery UK and Ireland, former England Ladies Fly-fishing Captain and breast cancer survivor. Sue brought the initiative over to the UK and Ireland following her own diagnosis, after fly-fishing was suggested by a friend to aid her recovery and she quickly developed a passion for the sport that she wished to share. The therapeutic benefit from the fly-fishing technique mimics the soft tissue and joint mobility exercises recommended following breast cancer, and enjoying the tranquil surrounding offered on each retreat, alongside the expert assistance offered provides a holistic approach to recovery.
The opportunities to be involved in such an initiative are few and far between, and Casting for Recovery UK and Ireland are always looking for more volunteers. Any gesture, however small, is greatly appreciated, from a few additional flies sent to help these brave ladies experience the sport for the first time, to fly-fishing instructors, medical practitioners, and greeters to work on the retreats themselves. Every action helps each person on the retreat, and is a wonderful chance to pass on and share in the enthusiasm for the sport beyond the norm.