Trip Report: A Veteran's Day on the Water

Trip Report: A Veteran's Day on the Water

At Moonshine, we love fishing for so many reasons. The thrill of the catch. The beauty of our surroundings. But, more than anything, we love sharing new experiences with great people. Through our Veteran Outreach Program, we’re helping the best of people get outside on the water to enjoy new experiences and learn about our sport. 

Whether these veterans are looking for peace, therapy, relaxation, or simply want to learn a new sport, we’re honored to help make it happen. And, a huge part of making that happen is guide Phillip Kauffman. A veteran himself, he’s a fly-fishing guide who’s passionate about supporting other veterans and teaching them how to find peace on the water—you can read more about his story here

Recently, we got a trip report from Phillip that blew us away. He was able to take out a U.S. Marine who’d served in Iraq, teaching him the ins and outs of fly fishing and, more importantly, enjoying some much-needed R&R on the river. In Phillip’s own words, here’s a rundown of their recent trip in Virginia:

Today, I had the opportunity to help Moonshine Rods with their Veteran Outreach program and get a hard-charging U.S. Marine out on a stream with a fly rod. Brian Smallwood from Virginia, served in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2010 as a combat engineer, with an extended combat tour to Iraq in 2007. 

Until today, Brian had never cast a fly rod—or held one for that matter. Moonshine hooked him up with his own Drifter 9-foot, 5-weight paired with their Creede Reel and Rio line. He was beside himself with joy after being presented with the generous gift and, after a little time going over the characteristics of the rod and a casting tutorial, it was time to apply his lessons on the water. 

We were fishing on the South Branch of the Potomac River in Blue Grass, Virginia, where the water conditions were nothing short of perfect. As we approached the stream, I gave a quick lesson on the bugs of the river so Brian could understand fly selection. We went with a caddis larva pattern and scouted the first pocket of water to determine the best drift. 

The first couple of casts were a learning experience, but the third cast turned into a tight line. Being brand new to fly fishing, Brian quickly learned that setting the hook on a trout is not the same as setting the hook on a Largemouth Bass. But, on the next drift, I offered to help with the hookset so we wouldn’t lose the next one. 

With the next couple of casts, I’d set the hook on a nice rainbow and quickly passed the rod off. Continuing to give hints like “rod tip up,” “let him run a bit,” and “keep the slack out,” we had our first fish and Brian’s first ever trout in the net. The smile that man had was indescribable and it stayed there the rest of the day.

Throughout the rest of our day on the water, Brian was like a sponge with any advice or coaching I sent his way. With each fish that he caught, he was displaying the traits of a fly fisherman and as a guide, it was amazing to see his progression. We put a total of nine nice fish in the net with a few more that spit the hook— and even those brought joy to this man’s face. 

By the end of the day, Brian was doing everything on his own,  from finding the seam for a great drift approach, setting the hook, and landing a nice fish. As we were finishing up and preparing to head home, he looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and said, “This was exactly what my soul needed.”

We replayed the day’s events over and over, recalling the fish he had caught, the ones that got away, different techniques and situations that may occur on the river. Once again, continuing to thank me and all the folks at Moonshine Rods that made this experience happen. Since then, I continue to get texts from Brian asking advice on fly fishing or to simply shoot the breeze. It was great to introduce another person to the art of fly fishing and the peace that it offers.

You never know what you may find on the water. Whether you’re a veteran or not, there’s all sorts of value in spending some quiet time, watching your fly drift through the ripples. We’re incredibly thankful for Brian’s service and for Phillip’s willingness to give other veterans opportunities on the water. If you’re a veteran or know a veteran who could get some value out of our sport, please reach out to

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