December 20, 2017 By Alex Miljus
Fishability UK Supports Ex-Forces with Fishing Therapy
Arriving at a secret private location for a day of fishing therapy with Fishability UK seems right given they’re all ex-forces personnel and these feels ‘Bond’-like. Peter meets a grinning Alex with a huge hug as he hands me a car pass “Morning Alex, stick that in your window so you don’t get towed. ”I follow him and the sound of banter to find Katy and Chris from Finygo chatting and laughing with some of the guys. “Fancy a brew and a hotdog?” Roger the Chairman and Co-ordinator asks me. Following him into the kitchen area I’m amazed at how well it’s organised and setup. I shouldn’t be though.
Fishing as Support
Fishability UK uses fishing therapy as a support mechanism for ex-forces personnel who find it difficult to rehabilitate back into mainstream activities. Everyone either has physical or psychological wounds. There are no paid members, no paid expenses, everyone is there to help each other. The biggest difference in the support they get from Fishability UK vs other forms of therapy happens naturally from being with like-minded people, the banter and fishing. They’re helping each other with everyday problems but in a quiet, peaceful surrounding. They can talk about things that happen to them – why they’re in the position they’re in, everyday problems too. They’re not judged. They’re with their peers. It’s a natural, familiar environment so the support can happen more easily than in a forced therapy situation. And all ex-forces with visible or invisible wounds are welcome to join at any event, free of charge. Even if they don’t fish.
I join the others outside and meet Ian Gemson from Smart Carping and now a Finygo consultant. Ian gives up his time to help the guys. He’s such a gentle generous man and his support helps the guys improve their fishing and in turn increase their confidence. Suddenly I see Bones walking towards me and find myself in a bear hug with the 6ft 6inch gentleman. I first met Ross, Peter and Bones at World Carp Masters 2016. It was there I learnt Bones was on HMS Sheffield when it was hit by an Exocet missile and destroyed during the Falkland’s conflict. He told me a little about his experience and to this day I am still in awe of what he’s achieved with his life. Fishing, Fishability UK and the guys have been a major support for him, along with his gorgeous partner. “You’ve never caught a pike? I’ll help you.” My worry quells as the big gentleman gets me one of his rods and sets me up.
When did it all Start?
“Several years ago, at Tyrwhitt House, we would spend two weeks there at Combat Stress, that’s where Frank, Bones and John started Tyrwhitt House Angling Society. Without Frank it wouldn’t have gone anywhere.” Peter later explains. “He’s an ex two para man and saw the impact a fishing environment had for him and others.” Frank would repair old equipment they’d bought at car boot sales, so people had tackle. They got Peter by encouraging him to paint and take photos, as he’d never fished. On his first day, he had to step in when both of John’s rods screamed off “It’s yours now, reel it in!” and with Frank’s help Peter landed a golden orfe! “From that point onwards, they got me hooked!”
A lot of Therapy Happens Without Speaking
“You can’t have fished if you’re asking me why it helps!” Says one of the guys laughing. “Look around you! There’s no one to bother you, it’s beautiful and you can relax.” That may not seem like a big deal. But it is. Some of the guys have PTSD, it can be very isolating, and they lose confidence often feeling incapable of achieving anything. Fishing therapy helps them, even in small steps, like learning to tie a knot. They learn to become self-sufficient, helping each other to fish better and sharing tactics. With it, their confidence grows. “There’s a lot of therapy here that happens without speaking. The acknowledgement comes from a look. You know, that person knows.”
Nothing Better than Like-Minded Banter
Most important is the humour and banter as they share tips around the bank. Anglers share a humour that’s similar to military humour. There’s a misconception in the military that mainstream don’t give a damn ‘they won’t understand you’. “Having you guys here means a lot. We can see you understand, appreciate us and you want to spend time with us” Peter says. Being around like-minded people and their peers is a familiarity that’s critical. It gives them a feeling of security and trust. “You guys join in the banter and the guys feel natural around you”. My face breaks into a huge grin as I see Ross “Oh so you are going to say hello to me?” he says as I’m wrapped in another bear hug.
Responsibility of Care
The Golden Ticket Fishability UK received from Steve and Sandy for WCM 2016 was a worry. Who do you send to make up the team? As much as it was an incredible gift, it came with a responsibility of care. There is a certain amount of care for each other, but mostly the duty of care is with the organisers, especially Roger. There’s a huge amount of pressure in traveling abroad not knowing the environment or the type of people you’ll meet. But when Ross, Bones and Peter went to WCM everyone there went beyond themselves to make them feel naturally a part of the competition and even help when they hadn’t brought enough bait for the giant lake.
This year Ross and Peter returned to WCM as marshals to help Steve and Sandy. We met Ross’s partner Rachel, an absolute angel with a wicked sense of humour. They helped as much as they could and at least as much as the others. I won’t forget the look on Peter’s face when he won a week’s fishing in France, a pot luck draw for the marshals. Everyone in the room could feel his shocked joy. “I’d never won anything before. Having gone through all the things I’ve gone through you never expect anything nice to happen again.” That same emotion was felt again as the South African team started singing Happy Birthday to Ross joined by everyone in the room. It wasn’t the special treatment, it was knowing he was one of us.
Money Helps but Your Donations Mean More
A few years ago, Tyrwhitt House Angling Society needed to become more official so Roger started Fishability UK to ensure they could continue fishing, sourcing insurance and with the right equipment so they felt safe, including the most well equipped first aid kit, fire extinguishers and a defibrillator. They raise funds, but they are only used to cover necessities like insurance, bait, food, tea and coffee. There are no paid members, there are no luxuries or frivolity. They’ll often drive each other to get to fishing venues as they can’t cover the costs of all travel. Money helps, but donations in terms of access to places to fish is invaluable. “By allowing us to fish a location, not paying for it but giving us free access to their property, that means so much to any service man because it means they want us there.” I ask Roger if they have to buy tackle and bait “Sometimes, we do get donations of tackle but it’s bait and terminal tackle we need the most. We could also do with another venue or two to fish, especially on the river, that’s easily accessible.”
Keep as Calm as Bones Catching Pike
Bones was the perfect teacher for me. While the banter never stopped, his patience saw my casting improve “Release the line just a little later”. We took turns trying to lure them using my fake roach. Roger looked on and gave me gentle encouragement. Bones told me more about what it was like to work after the Navy, trying to get back into the mainstream. The nightmares that he still has. “But my mind is calm when I fish. I’m relaxed and it’s often the most relaxed I’ll be, until I met my lovely missus. She is calm, she supports me, and I don’t feel as if what I’m going through is unusual.” My calm turns to excitement as I answer Bone’s question “Yep, I’m on!” I reel in the pike as Bones nets it for me and we get it onto the bank. Under his and Roger’s guidance I turn it over on the unhooking mat and straddle it so it’s safe. Roger shows me how to keep the jaw open as Bones removes the hooks and then returns him to the water. “If you stay calm, the fish will stay calm and it’ll help them to recover quickly when they’re back in the water.”
Finally Get to Fish with Ross
After a hearty hot lunch cooked by Roger, Katy helps him wash and clean up as Ross teases me that I still haven’t fished with him. “Now’s your chance Alex!” I grab my chuffing large mat and net and I head off with him and Toby to checkout a few swims. At one Ross tries to fish out my long-nosed pincers from the water with my net, while I just try to stay upright on the floating pontoon. He laughs watching me freeze as he gives it a little wobble and helps me up onto the bank. We try a few more spots and get some knocks but not much interest. “Is that as far as you can cast?” Ross calls to me laughing. “At least I landed a pike, cheeky!” Ross and Bones were so generous giving me lures and spinners and boxes to hold them in. When I said it was too much I got that look “Really!”.
If you’re a veteran or know a veteran with visible or invisible injuries, someone suffering from long term illness or struggling with drink or drugs, they’re all welcome. They don’t have to fish, they can just enjoy the peace, the banter and relax in great company at any of the Fishability UK events in the South of England, free of charge.