When chronic illness stripped away my drive for life, a newfound love of fly fishing brought it back with a new appreciation for life. Throughout the battles of dealing with a debilitating health condition that greatly affected my cardiovascular and neurological systems, I felt like I lost myself in the fight.

People came to know me as “the girl with a heart condition” or “the sick girl” With each day I felt less like the strong individual I once was. From being a competitive teen involved in many sports to a young adult grappling with a job as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat, the strength of those days seemed to be out of reach.

One day, I spoke to a young physician, who had overcome the battle with cancer. He explained to me his story of fly fishing for wild Atlantic Salmon and how it helped him get through the many struggles he faced during his battle.

I wasn’t going through cancer, but I was definitely fighting a health battle I didn’t know, I’d ever see myself through.

I couldn’t get his story off my mind; It inspired me.

In mid-June just a couple of weeks into the salmon season, I bought myself a fishing license, a cheap fly rod and reel, and a pair of neoprene waders that were far too large for me.

Being from Newfoundland, I only thought I knew the extent of our woods and waters. I always loved the outdoors, but I really was oblivious of what was really at my fingertips, this entire time.

As my adventures began, I kind of just went with the flow. Never read too much into things. I joined a couple of local fishing groups, reached out to a couple of old friends who also enjoyed fishing on occasion, and asked my grandfather to join me. He wasn’t much into fly fishing or Salmon fishing for that matter. He was more of a spin cast for trout, kind of guy. But thankfully he was willing to join me on my adventures.

I remember, getting to the river many days and being hopeful today would be the day. To say I didn’t get discouraged would be a lie. But meeting anglers many days who were willing to share a tip or trick, such as how to properly tie on my fly, helped keep me encouraged.

3 weeks in, on July the 7th 2016, I stood on a river that ran along an old railway bed. I was fishing a random fly I had picked up at a gas station that wasn’t giving me any luck. A gentleman across the river walked over to me and handed me a fly. He told me to tie it on and told me I would get a fish on the line today. I will admit, I didn’t hold my breath on his word. But to my surprise, ten minutes after putting on his fly, I finally hooked into my first Salmon. A beautiful grilse that will stay as fresh in my mind as the fish was.

I really had no idea the true meaning behind it all until a few years later: My story changed…I was no longer defined as “the sick girl” Rather, I’m now “the girl who loves to fly fish”. That in itself, says a lot about how far I’ve come in my journey. Just when I thought my life was over, it was actually just beginning.

Six years later, I’m a fully dedicated angler, and a licensed fishing guide, who has grown passionate about fly fishing and particularly, chasing large Atlantic Salmon

Oftentimes in life and in fishing, the bigger the battle, the larger the reward. Never give up, because that difficult path might be leading you to a beautiful river as it did, me.

My fight now is to save the wild Atlantic Salmon as they saved me.

Article by Jessica Duffney, follow along with her fishing adventures on Instagram at @riverdreams16.

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