Recreation Outdoors Wellness

Men with Cancer Bond over Shared Experiences and Fly Fishing

Reel Recovery held a three-day retreat in EC

Briana Novacek, photos by Trenity White |

HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER. The Reel Recovery retreat was held in Eau Claire this year thanks to area sponsors.
HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER. The Reel Recovery retreat was held in Eau Claire this year thanks to area sponsors.

Going through a cancer diagnosis can be a very isolating experience. Reel Recovery is a national non-profit organization that seeks to help, through their fly fishing retreats for men living with all forms of cancer. The organization was founded in 2003 and has conducted 360 retreats to date, with over 3,850 men served.

In 2022, Associate Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at UW-Eau Claire, Tom Sather, helped bring Reel Recovery to E.C. for the first time after seeing the impact it had while serving as a fishing buddy at the retreat in La Crosse. A replacement chair was needed in La Crosse, so Sather decided to co-chair with Scott Wagner from Hudson.

During the event in Eau Claire, Sather and Wagner oversaw the logistics and were on standby for other needs that could come up. There were 10 participants at the Eau Claire Reel Recovery retreat, each of them paired with a fishing buddy for the three-day event. Their time included staying at the Oxbow Hotel, eating meals together at The Lakely, and of course, fly fishing together.

Another important aspect of the retreat is Courageous Conversations, a time for the participants to open up about their cancer journeys. “Even the toughest guys… feel comfortable sharing in that group,” said Sather. Many of the conversations got really deep and meaningful, allowing the men to build relationships over shared experiences, Sather says.

The participants are each on their own journey with cancer, some currently undergoing treatment while others are in remission. During the retreat, the participants are given fishing vests to use. Afterward, they sign the vests, which go on to be used in future retreats. This honors the cancer journey in a tangible, physical way, Sather explained.

Reel Recovery is always 100% free to the participants. In Eau Claire, that was thanks to generous sponsorship from Visit Eau Claire and Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 434, as well as support from the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Learn more about Reel Recovery at