This fall, Atlanta-based Reeling in Recovery (RiR) held its first co-ed fly fishing retreat on the Soque River in north Georgia. In 2023, the all-volunteer nonprofit plans to offer more free retreats in Georgia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania to connect people in recovery with the healing experience of fly fishing.
“We aim to celebrate a life free from drug and alcohol abuse by embracing nature and bringing people together to help find that spiritual connection that’s so important to living one day at a time,” said RiR founder Becca Klein, who also serves as a long-time employee of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “That’s what we have to do in recovery – we have 24 hours. We get through those 24 hours then we have the next 24 hours.”
It’s also important that addicts in recovery realize they can do meaningful and fun things while sober, Klein explained.
“I feel this weight that’s been lifted off of me and this strength that I didn’t have before I came to the river,” a Soque River participant told Klein after the fall retreat.
Klein’s epiphany about how fly fishing could help her live her personal truth came on the Chattahoochee River in August 2016. Earlier that year she underwent a double mastectomy to battle breast cancer.
As she healed physically from the surgery, she was mourning “a loss of myself – a piece of myself that made me a woman.”
She dulled that pain with alcohol.
“I started diving into bad old habits” Klein recalled. “I was going through an emotional period and was drinking a little too much.”
To assist Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s partnership with Orvis, a sporting goods business, Klein agreed to attend a fly fishing photoshoot. Decked out in full gear including waders, she was ready to give it a try.
“I stripped down to my river shorts and Chacos and had a fly rod put in my hand,” Klein said. “And three days after that I walked into my first AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting.”
“That hot summer morning I found my personal connection to the river I had been working to protect,” Klein continued. ”I found the reason to stop drinking. The river is the one place where I’m not thinking about having stage IV cancer, bills, work, traffic… Everything slows down and I’m at peace.”
Klein felt compelled to share her discovery, anonymously at first.
Under the byline, A Grateful Recovering Alcoholic, Klein penned a 2019 article in DUN magazine.
“There was a story about a group of women on a fly fishing retreat to work on their sobriety,” said RiR board president, avid angler, and author Andy Weiner about the DUN article. “One of the images was a woman with a book in front of her face. The book happened to be written by my father, who wrote a lot of day-by-day recovery books. He was an alcoholic himself. When he died he was 47 years sober.”
Weiner was thrilled to see that his dad’s legacy lived on. Unbeknownst to Weiner, who had previously connected with Klein over his children’s book “Down by the River,” it was Klein in that picture holding his father’s book.
“I outed myself to Andy,” Klein said. “That’s when I decided to be as vocal about my recovery from alcohol abuse as I’ve been with my cancer journey.”
“RiR supports 12-step programs but we recover loudly so others don’t have to suffer in silence,” Klein continued. “We talk about our strength and hope. We want to share bad times and lows – so the person who knows fly fishing or is just learning – knows they are not alone.”
Building community among those who at various points of their sobriety journey is also core to RiR. The nonprofit also seeks to create a safe place for sober anglers at events often paired with beer and whiskey.
“We want to be a safe spot,” Klein said. “Where someone six months into their sobriety can come to a film festival and find a table or booth to share their stories, milestones and love of fly fishing.”
The all-volunteer nonprofit borrows gear from local fly fishing clubs or shares their own personal gear with retreat participants. As word spreads about its mission, RiR hopes to raise enough donations to purchase fishing gear for its retreats.
In 2020, Klein was dealt another challenge. Her cancer had metastasized, spreading to her bones and liver. Last April, she began a targeted chemo clinical trial – her fifth line of treatment. To be considered clinically significant, participants must reach a 30% threshold of shrinkage in measurable tumors, Klein explained.
“My last scan showed measurable tumors had shrunk 36.19%,” Klein said. “In my book that’s hope.”
“People ask me how I remain so positive?” Klein said. “I ask myself a lot of questions. What’s the point? Why am I here?”
RiR has given her answers.
“Starting RiR, I feel like I’m here to make a difference, to be an inspiration and share my story,” Klein continued. “To show folks that life hands you horrible things sometimes but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of life. That means you have a different purpose, take a different path and try every day to see the beauty in walking that path.”
Or in her case, seeing beauty means planting her feet in a river with a fly fishing rod in her hand.
Learn more at https://reelinginrecovery.org/.