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Thirst Colorado: "Real Men Reel Therapy"

By the Thirst Team


COLORADO NON-PROFIT IS IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH WITH EACH CAST


By Kyle Kirves


In “A River Runs Through It,” perhaps the greatest novella ever written about fly-fishing, Norman Maclean, writing of his Presbyterian pastor father, says, “To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”

Fishing the Good Fight Fishing the Good Fight is a Denver-based non-profit supported by a small staff, a board of directors, and committed volunteers. The first 2024 retreat in Salida in April is sold out, but registration is still available for other Colorado retreats from May through September. The group also offers weekly discussion sessions and other programs. Scholarships also are available. If you or someone you know is affected by mental health disorders and is ideating on suicide, contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners, or simply dial 988 to speak with someone today. 

Substitute the phrase “mental health” for “eternal salvation” and you might be close to a succinct statement of the rationale behind Fishing the Good Fight. The non-profit headquartered in Colorado aims to bring men to better, more fulfilling lives through a thoughtful blend of fly-fishing and therapeutic sessions. 


The group, founded in 2019 by Jennings Hester, seeks to aid the growing number of men combating anxiety, depression, isolation, and other conditions that affect their lives and the lives of those around them. Many of these men have no idea how to ask for help – or worse, see asking for help as a sign of weakness. The sense of community and the therapeutic aspect of nature itself intrinsic to fly-fishing helps break down those preconceptions. 


“We provide a very unique opportunity for men to really open up at our retreats and tell their stories and share their experiences in really vulnerable ways,” says Jim Flint, executive director of Fishing the Good Fight. “It goes a long way to helping men feel not so alone in getting help,” he says. “At our retreats, you can see the profound impact not just of men opening up about their struggles, but the listening that happens too. Everyone arrives at a feeling that we’re all in this together. Those are really powerful moments, and they’re what drive us in doing what we do.”


Indeed, certain studies produce some alarming statistics. Nearly one out of every eight men – approximately 20 million Americans – report having experienced or are experiencing mental health struggles. And even though the suicide rate for men is three times higher than women, women therapy seekers outnumber men three-to-one. You don’t need a calculator to figure out the situation is out of balance. Fishing the Good Fight seeks to remedy that with activities that already appeal to men – fishing with a friend, being outdoors and getting deep.


Scary concepts for some men? You bet. Thankfully, men’s mental health seems to be enjoying something of a rare spotlight moment, too. In ways that have historically been attributed to other aspects of fitness like hitting the gym or being a rec league athlete, therapy and opening up seem to be catching on. While quick to say that he himself is not a mental health expert (he leaves that to the members of Fishing the Good Fight’s board who are), Flint credits two things with the sudden awareness put on men’s mental health.


“A lot of professional athletes, strong role models, and other celebrities have come forward with their stories of struggle. I think that has helped men see themselves in those people. I also think COVID created, by necessity, a lot more resources out there around things like telehealth and virtual therapy,” Flint says.


Fishing the Good Fight’s appeal does rest in its decidedly non-virtual experience. “There’s also a lot of research around just simply exposing ourselves to the natural world and then being on the river and watching the water flow and and what that does for our senses for calming the mind,” Flint says. Anyone who’s been casting in local waters can understand that – it’s a mindfulness practice that lends itself to right here, right now thinking. 


Fishing the Good Fight’s retreats are core to their mission. Several times a year, FtGF hosts what they call “epic fly-fishing adventures.” Yes, you will grow your skills as a fisherman and have a great time on the water. But more important than the catch that goes back in the water are the life skills and connections that you will take with you. You’ll learn to recognize toxic thinking patterns and warning signs of mental distress and how to cope with those symptoms even while you’re learning to read water for trout dens. It is a journey of discovery that, like the water itself, is about more than just the reflection of life on the surface. It’s about the currents and the trends underneath. As you can tell, fly-fishing is a profound metaphor for self-discovery and enlightenment. 


All of this perhaps contributes to the appeal of Fishing the Good Fight. Unlike other therapies, there’s something to be said for a fly-fishing retreat to settings of pristine beauty and the welcome respite at day’s end of being in a lodge-like setting. With Fishing the Good Fight’s retreats, these outings become even more meaningful. 

Don’t worry if you don’t know a reel seat from a line guide, or a Royal Coachman from a Wooly Bugger. Flint explains that the retreats welcome fly-fishers of all skill levels – from beginner all the way up to accomplished anglers.  


“Pardon the pun, but we use fishing to hook guys on the programs,” Flynt says. “We provide an extremely high-quality experience whether they are brand new to the sport or experienced. They will improve their skills and their health as great outcomes of all of our programs.” 


With apologies to Norman Maclean, trout, as well as mental health, come by grace, and grace comes by heart, and taking heart just got a little easier. 


This story is in our March-April print issue. Click here to read the full magazine.

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