An Atlantic salmon pattern in progress is displayed by Brett Bruel of Renton, a member of a tying guild for the classic salmon flies. (Mike Benbow)

An Atlantic salmon pattern in progress is displayed by Brett Bruel of Renton, a member of a tying guild for the classic salmon flies. (Mike Benbow)

Arlington angler lends helping hand to wounded veterans

Retired colonel Jesse Scott invented a device to help those with lost limbs tie fishing flies with one hand.

By Mike Benbow / Special to The Herald

ALBANY, Ore. — In 2006, Arlington’s Jesse Scott was concerned about the growing numbers of wounded military members returning from places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where explosive devices are common.

A retired Air Force colonel, Scott started volunteering at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, helping wounded soldiers, many of whom had lost or damaged limbs, with their occupational therapy.

“They were making wallets … Boy Scout stuff,” Scott said.

So the avid fly fisher started a fly-tying program even though few of the young men he was working with knew or cared anything about fly fishing. They tied a lot flies with garish colors that didn’t look like something a fish would eat, Scott said, but he noted it still gave them a sense of accomplishment.

A small baitfish pattern tied and displayed at the fly fishing expo in Albany, Oregon. (Mike Benbow)

A small baitfish pattern tied and displayed at the fly fishing expo in Albany, Oregon. (Mike Benbow)

Then Scott met Marv Johnson, a master sergeant with a bullet through one arm, who actually wanted to catch fish with the flies he made in therapy.

So Scott went into his garage with a handsaw and a power drill and developed a functional fly-tying vise with alligator clips and extra gadgets that allowed Johnson and others to tie effective fishing flies using only one hand.

Scott was in Oregon earlier this month displaying the device at the Northwest Fly Tyer and Fly Fishing Expo in Albany. He calls his invention the Evergreen Hand, named after the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club in Everett.

Jesse Scott of Arlington shows the device he invented to allow people to tie fishing flies with only one hand. (Mike Benbow)

Jesse Scott of Arlington shows the device he invented to allow people to tie fishing flies with only one hand. (Mike Benbow)

Since inventing the device, Scott has received help from a group of fly anglers more skilled in engineering and manufacturing. Boeing provided engineering time valued at $250,000. Home Depot provided materials. A nonprofit group, Olympic Peninsula Fishing Innovations, was established.

And a device called the Casting Partner was developed to help people with only one functional arm and hand cast a fly line and bring it in, hopefully with a fish attached. Scott said the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion have been very generous, as have many individuals.

“We refined the process and reduced the cost,” Scott said.

A tier applies glue activated by ultraviolet light to lock in a plastic eye on a small baitfish pattern. (Mike Benbow)

A tier applies glue activated by ultraviolet light to lock in a plastic eye on a small baitfish pattern. (Mike Benbow)

The end result is that since those days in Scott’s Arlington garage, OPFI has provided more than a 1,000 of the fly fishing and tying devices free of charge for people who need them, and not just veterans.

Scott said the devices have gone to other countries as well, including Chile, Germany, Japan, Canada, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

“Feedback has been hard to get, but we do hear from some of the users,” Scott said. “We heard from one little boy who lost his hand in a farming accident. Now he can continue fly tying.”

Scott said fishing and tying flies are fun, relaxing activities that help heal the mind body and spirit.

Scott’s booth was one of many at the fishing expo in Albany, which is sponsored by the International Federation of Fly Fishers. It’s the largest such event in the Northwest and offered some 200 fly-tying demonstrations, dozens of venders, casting demonstrations and a number of classes.

World fly casting champion Maxine McCormick, 15, provides casting tips at a recent fly fishing expo in Oregon. (Mike Benbow)

World fly casting champion Maxine McCormick, 15, provides casting tips at a recent fly fishing expo in Oregon. (Mike Benbow)

Among the featured casters was Maxine McCormick, 15, who won gold medals in the world championships in England in 2018 in both accuracy and in two-handed casting. Her two-hand cast went 189 feet.

She also made a silver medal in one-handed casting for sending her fly 161 feet, twice as far as what would be considered a very good cast.

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