Helping Veterans on the Stream
February 05, 2020 5:00 AM
by Centre County Gazette, Connie Cousins
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Although anyone is welcome to come to Jamie SanFilippo for her fly-fishing expertise, she is especially pleased to help a veteran learn the sport.

On a brisk cold January day, she willingly donned waders and gathered equipment to teach a lesson. With her was a client, Dustin Pease, who has been fly-fishing with her guidance since last fall. They worked hard to catch a fish that cold morning on the water, and although they didn’t catch anything, it was easy to appreciate the beauty of the stream and the attention to detail that SanFilippo showed.

SanFilippo has operated her own company, American FlyFishing Company, since 2013. She has fished her entire life; for a little bit more of a challenge, she bought a fly rod and she was hooked.

SanFilippo is also president of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“Yes, I have had Joe Humphreys as a mentor,” she said. “He is a well-known figure in the fly-fishing world. He was the first president of the chapter. As to why I decided to start my own business — I wanted more independence and to be unique. I wanted more freedom in my life.”

SanFilippo has a degree in kinesiology from Penn State and is the director of community outreach for the Centre County YMCA. She also teaches fishing for seniors and children — even preschoolers.

The Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited operates a Vets Service Program, which meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at the Spring Creek House, 1088 W. Water St, Bellefonte. The fly-fishing experience is free for veterans, including the equipment and the licenses. SanFilippo is a streamside mentor for the program.

Veterans are also able to stay at the Spring Creek House. To learn more about the Spring Creek House as a B&B, call Jim Lanning at (951) 231-8000.

Studies have shown that being on the water and fishing is beneficial and therapeutic, especially for those suffering from PTSD. Anxiety and depression can also be helped by the experience. Peace and quiet prevail along a stream and the concentration involved with fly-fishing has its own relaxing effect.

Sgt. First Class Pease is an active-duty soldier serving in the Army.

“I started last fall,” Pease said of his experience fly-fishing with SanFilippo. “I heard about the program and decided to try it. We catch fish just about every time. She is very good at what she does and has patience. Having to concentrate and being out in the water is relaxing. It is beautiful and I love being out here. I probably come two to three times a month.”

Pease, who is married with two kids, has nearly 20 years in the military. He has served two deployments in Iraq, from January 2003 to April 2004, and from November 2008 to November 2009.

Besides the love of fishing, SanFilippo also has a passion for conservation.

“It’s very important to me,” she said. “As people learn to fish, they are drawn into the conservations efforts — whether they want to or not.”

It seems like fishing would not be so attractive or productive in the midst of winter. But, as SanFilippo explained, “There are many small native brook trout in the streams and higher elevations. The Trout Unlimited program is all catch and release, so there are plenty for the fishers — men and women. My students are a 50-50 mix of men and women. 2019 was my first full year as a guide. My teaching style is somewhat backwards from what you might expect. I first take people out and let them catch a fish. After that, we start at the beginning to learn about waders, equipment and how to cast. Next, I concentrate on knots and flies. Most of my clients are beginners, but if not, I work with them from where they are.”

SanFilippo said she teaches a style of fishing called “European-Style Nymphing, or Euro-Nymphing.” Fly-fishermen in Czechoslovakia, Poland and France perfected Euro-nymphing and fly anglers adopted their tactics and began to win tournament after tournament. Soon, the technique invaded North America and companies now build special rods for it. Fly-fishing uses the weight on the line to cast a fly. Euro-nymphing anglers use the heft of their nymph (usually weighted) to propel the fly to the target.

Articles about the technique say that it is the best way to get to know a river and that you will notice the small differences on a river’s bottom and hook more fish.

To book SanFilippo as a guide, visit americanflyfishingcompany.com, email [email protected] or call (570) 240-1896.

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