Fishing buddy Mike Pratico (left) discusses casting technique with participant Russ Smith of Londonderry, New Hampshire, during the recent Reel Recovery fly fishing retreat at Weatherby's Resort in Grand Lake Stream. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Grand Lake Stream is among Maine’s best loved fly fishing locations.

That’s what made it the perfect spot for Maine’s second Reel Recovery fly fishing retreat, held Sept. 22-25 at Weatherby’s Resort.

On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer for avid fly fishermen from Maine to agree to make the long drive to Grand Lake Stream to participate in a program built around the pastime.

For the volunteer fishing buddies, it was about having the chance to share their passion for fly fishing with eight men who have been coping with cancer. And it was an opportunity to help provide what for some was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Mike Pratico, the organizer of Maine’s Reel Recovery program, used his charisma and powers of persuasion to again entice some of his best friends to help out.

Pratico built his circle of fishing buddies around a group of guys who love to fish. Some of them have done so across the country and around the world.

During the retreat, the volunteers weren’t allowed to fish when accompanying the participants. But it was a small sacrifice to make.

Pratico, a retirement plan advisor, built his volunteer lineup around friends. They included emergency physician Scott Farrell, real estate developer Brian Goldberg, wealth management advisor Mickey Haas, photography production coordinator Bob Hoyt, retired outdoors outfitter executive Ron Smith, benefits advisor Scott Smith and copywriter Tom Tero.

The participants and volunteers at the recent Reel Recovery fly fishing retreat gather for a moment of reflection during the recent event at Weatherby’s Resort in Grand Lake Stream. Credit: Courtesy of Mike Pratico

Each of them committed two days of their time to help make the Reel Recovery event a special memory for the participants. And they seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

“Mike Pratico is one of my best friends, so when he asked me I was kind of sitting on pins and needles to get down to Weatherby’s and meet these guys,” Scott Smith said.

“It’s a good way to spend a couple days with people that haven’t been as fortunate as some of us,” added Smith, who provided lobsters for the Thursday night dinner.

Despite donning their waders and carrying all the gear, the volunteers avoided the temptation to fish. A few shared technique tips for the less-practiced participants.

Otherwise, they manned the net and scanned the water looking for fish while untangling lines and helping tie on flies, if needed.

They imparted their fishing knowledge when asked, but most of the time was spent simply talking. Some of the men courageously shared their cancer stories.

And while most of the fishing buddies arrived in Grand Lake Stream as friends, they made new ones through their interactions with the participants.

The men deepened their own connections as they were reminded what a powerful effect fly fishing can have on the soul and how sharing those experiences help anglers develop a special bond.

At the end of each day, the volunteers were able to sit back, relax and share stories from the day while recounting other fly fishing adventures they have had.

Pratico recounted a moment he shared serving as a fishing buddy at the first Maine Reel Recovery retreat in 2019, one that reaffirmed his commitment to the cause.

“All of a sudden, [a participant] had a fish on and we saw that rod bend,” Pratico said. “Even though I wasn’t catching that fish, it’s an amazing feeling being able to help somebody catch a fish like that.”

While the volunteers’ efforts centered on helping out the participants, some of the fishing buddies did find some time to make a few casts on Grand Lake Stream.

Pratico arrived a day early to do so, while a few of the other men either hit the water early in the morning, before the day’s activities began, or snuck out after the events were completed.

Reel Recovery and other programs like it are heavily dependent on volunteers to provide the valuable services it offers to participants. Their commitment and unselfishness are what make the experience possible.

The reality of the retreat’s potential impact is evidenced by the fact one of the 2019 participants died shortly after the program. Another who was scheduled to be there last year, when it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t live long enough to fulfill that dream.

Moving forward, the volunteers will embrace the Reel Recovery motto: “Be Well! Fish On!” They will do so secure in the knowledge their efforts working at the retreat make a difference.

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Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...