BETHEL — “Anyone can tie flies,” said Sean McCormick of Blue Heron Fly Fishing as he plucked hairs from a piece of deer hide at Saturday’s Western Maine Fly Fishing Expo.

He said he has taught the art to many people who did not think they had enough manual dexterity to learn it, including veterans who have lost the use of fingers or even a hand.

The annual event, sponsored by the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited and held at the Bethel Inn Conference Center, drew dozens of vendors and an enthusiastic crowd, all eager to put winter behind them and plan for the upcoming fishing season.

McCormick, of Whitefield, is a master Maine guide who offers both wading and drift boat trips in central Maine, as well as fly-fishing and fly-tying lessons.

He explained how he selects which fly to use, depending on what natural species his quarry is most attracted to on any given day.

“All of my fishing is catch-and-release, so I don’t cut them open to see what they’ve been eating,” he said.

Instead, for non-lethal sampling, he uses a pump resembling a miniature baster that gently removes the contents of a fish’s stomach to examine them without injuring the fish.

“I’ve actually seen an insect’s wings dry off while I was looking at it, and seen it fly away,” he said. “So that guy got a second chance.”

Fred Kretchman of Kittery Point is a lifelong fly fisherman, and has been building, repairing and restoring bamboo fly rods since 1993.

Each of his rods is individually handcrafted from six wedge-shaped strips of split bamboo that he planes on special equipment in his shop before gluing hem together, resulting in a completely seamless appearance.

“My tolerances are about a thousandth of an inch,” Kretchman said. “I don’t want the rod to show any gaps where it’s glued.”

When a customer brings him an antique bamboo fly rod for restoration, he said, “My goal is to keep the repairs as unobtrusive as possible.”

That often means custom dyeing the silk thread used to rewrap the guides to exactly match existing thread that may have been coated with multiple layers of varnish over the life of the rod. If sections of bamboo require replacement, he painstakingly matches the finish to the original.

“You don’t want that repair to be the first place someone’s eye goes,” Kretchman said.

Recreational fishing has increasingly been recognized for its therapeutic value, and several organizations represented at the Expo focus their activities on the healing aspect of spending time in nature with supportive companions.

The Maine Stream, founded by a group of disabled veterans, aims to help other veterans improve their physical, social and emotional well-being through recreational fishing.

The organization holds monthly meetings for veterans in both Portland and Augusta, conducts fly-tying classes and sponsors numerous fishing events throughout the spring, summer and fall.

At the Maine Casting for Recovery booth, Program Coordinator Bonnie Holding and volunteer Mary Wilson of Bethel described the physical and emotional benefits of the fly-fishing retreats their organization sponsors for women in treatment for or recovery from breast cancer.

“The gentle casting motion of fly-fishing mimics the motions of physical therapy for women recovering from surgery or radiation,” Holding said. “And the support they get from each other is just amazing.”

Founded in 1996 in Manchester, Vermont, by a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon and a professional fly fisher, Casting for Recovery is a national nonprofit, offering annual retreats in 47 states.

The Maine retreat is held at a different sporting camp each year, and allows 14 women to experience a healing wilderness weekend where they not only learn to fly fish, but also form supportive connections with other breast cancer patients and survivors.

This year’s retreat will be held at Red River Camps, a traditional sporting camp deep in the northern Maine woods that welcomes fishermen from May through October each year.

Owner Jen Brophy grew up at the camp, which her parents operated beginning in 1979. After a decade of working as an engineer “in the big city,” she said was thrilled to return and become the second generation of her family to operate Red River Camps.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited will sponsor Fly Fishing 101 at the Gould Academy Field House. The program will feature talks and demonstrations of equipment, and is open to the public at no charge.

“It’s free, and we’d love to have anyone, of any age, attend,” said John Wight, who will be discussing aquatic entomology.

John Wight shows Gracie Poland of Oxford how to wrap thread to tie a fly. Wight is a member of the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which sponsors the annual Western Maine Fly Fishing Expo.

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