To me, fly fishing seems incredibly difficult. Wading in chilly waters, you patiently wait for a hungry trout to nibble on an elaborate gadget composed of hair or feathers. According to Jen Lofgren, the sport doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. “Besides,” she adds, “you quickly learn to love simply being outdoors, enjoying the tranquility and your beautiful surroundings. After all, trout don’t live in ugly places!”
Back in 1996, a fly fishing instructor took her friend, a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon, out for a day on the water. After practicing some basic casts, the surgeon realized the gentle upper body movements might be good therapy for the muscles of her cancer patients. She believed the repetitive motions would increase mobility for the women recovering from surgery or radiation. And a wonderful idea was hatched.
Image: Jen Lofgren
Based in Bozeman, Montana, Casting For Recovery offers fly fishing retreats, along with breast cancer education and support, to women at any stage of treatment or recovery. The retreats, stretching all across the country, offer women the chance to learn a mentally and physically therapeutic sport, while bonding emotionally with others in a similar life situation. And the entire experience is free of charge.
“Lucky to grow up in Colorado,” Jen is grateful to her outdoor-loving parents. “We hiked, backpacked, camped, and fished,” she says. From a very young age, she learned to respect and protect our resources.
After several years guiding and instructing fly fishermen and women, Jen went to work in retail sales for Orvis. Planning to be a sales associate in the fishing department – her plan anyway – she landed, hesitatingly, in the women’s clothing section.
Desperately needing an update, the women’s clothing line was “somewhat frumpy” and didn’t contain the same techwear and fishing shirts and dry release fabrics as the men’s apparel. Entering the management training program and growing with the company, Jen enjoyed contributing to the rebranding of the women’s clothing line.
While managing the Denver store, she began volunteering her free time to guide fishing trips for Casting For Recovery . She “absolutely fell in love” with the non-profit and their mission, and Jen is now a full-time member of their staff. Coordinating programs, guides, and volunteers in the Western Region, “Casting For Recovery is the most important thing I am lucky enough to be a part of,” she says.
Handling the trout with wet hands keeps their protective slime on the fish, not you. Thus, no fishy smell on your fingers! Image: Jen Lofgren
Although the disease has not touched Jen personally, I have a hard time imagining a kinder, more compassionate woman teaching a group of breast cancer patients to fly fish. As we easily chat about how very special our girlfriends are in both our lives, Jen points out “how anyone who appreciates the outdoors realizes the healing powers of nature.” And then combine that restorative feeling with the wonderful support the women gain by talking and sharing with one another. “For a lot of women, it is the first time they’ve talked with another person about their diagnosis,” Jen explains.
Fresh off a fly fishing retreat in Ketchikan, Alaska, Jen describes the women who attended as “especially hungry” for Casting For Recovery’s “information table.” Resources available to them, in their rural area, are few and far between. It is eye-opening to learn many of these women travel all the way to Seattle for their treatment – over 1000 miles away.
Growing up, Jen loved doing anything taking her outside – particularly on the water. Image: Missy Sprouse
As Jen introduces the women to fly rods and leaders and tippets, she especially enjoys sharing a gorgeous alpine stream with women experiencing the sport for the first time. It’s a “magical moment,” according to Jen, when someone catches their first fish. By the end of the 2 1/2 day retreats, many are kissing the sleek, muscular trout they didn’t want to even touch when first arriving.
When I ask how often she has a chance to fish, Jen replies with a huge smile. “As often as I can,” she laughs. She heads out at least once a week, all year round, even in the snow. Typically walking and wading, Jen fishes with friends or may also go solo. She prefers to fish for trout – and it’s always catch and release for her.
After reading The Feather Thief, the true story of a young man who steals a load of priceless birds from a British museum and uses the feathers for fishing flies, I am curious if Jen ties the bait she uses. “Although it is such a thrill to catch a fish on a fly you tie,” she admits, it is tedious work, and she buys her flies these days.
“I don’t consider myself a glutinous person, but you wouldn’t believe how many flies I have!” Jen laughingly confesses. And what’s the point of having all the different flies? Jen explains assorted flies are used for different water levels, water colors, locale, and air and water temps. Plus, different flies imitate the bugs, in various stages of their lives, the trout are looking to chomp on.
“I cannot tell you how the Casting For Recovery program moves me beyond measure,” Jen reflects. Just showing up to one of the fly fishing retreats takes courage. These women – single, married, young, old, wealthy, poor – don’t know a soul, head off to a place they know nothing about to learn a new sport, they share a room. “And the resulting connections and friendships – it is amazing what transpires in a short period of time.”
Tags: breast cancer, Casting For Recovery, colorado, fly fishing, giving back, health, Jen Lofgren, play
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