Two men in outdoorsy gear stand in front of a river scene, as one man puts his hand on the other man's shoulder.

Finding Solace in New Zealand

Cancer does not respect international borders, so it was gratifying to discover that the Reel Recovery fly fishing retreats for men with cancer are not restricted to America; retreats are also run in Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand.

As I have noted before, I think the Reel Recovery fly fishing retreats are one of the best resources for men suffering the effects of prostate cancer and its treatments. I have personally been to one of these retreats (see my article Finding Solace With Reel Recovery), and it made a world of difference for me and thousands of other men. This is a resource that's good to investigate, even if you are a novice at fishing.

How the Reel Recovery retreats work

I have been to New Zealand a number of times. During my latest visit, I contacted the organizer of their Reel Recovery retreats, Craig Caldwell. Craig has been running these retreats since 2014 and agreed to talk to me about this program.

The New Zealand retreats follow the same general format as the North American retreats. Each retreat accepts about a dozen men, with any stage of cancer (whether in remission or not), and brings them together for three days at a fishing location that most of us can only dream of (my retreat was on the Yellowstone River in Montana). While the North American retreats are held at some of the most picturesque fishing locations in the USA, the New Zealand retreats are also on some legendary waters.

The latest New Zealand retreat was on one of the most famous trout streams in the world, the Tongariro River in the middle of the North Island. It is hard to imagine a more therapeutic place; this revered trout stream flows through verdant ponga (tree fern) forests and manuka thickets with towering snowcapped stratovolcanoes in the background. The exotic songs of bellbirds, tuis, fantails, and other native New Zealand birds fill the air. In the river’s clear, aquamarine depths swim enormous brown and rainbow trout, any one of which would be a trophy in North America.

A very supportive environment

Each Reel Recovery retreat has a series of structured discussions, called Courageous Conversations, where you will get to share your story with other men going through the same challenges. People who have not experienced cancer do not really understand what we are going through, but at a retreat you will find a very supportive and open environment to air out your concerns. For me it was emotionally challenging to discuss these issues, but the conversations were tremendously helpful for my mental recovery.

At a Reel Recovery retreat you will be assigned a “buddy” and treated like royalty. Craig Caldwell told me that many of his participants were so impressed by the retreats that they came back to help out as buddies at subsequent retreats.

No fishing equipment or experience is needed at a Reel Recovery retreat; Craig noted that at the last retreat, a number of the men had never fly-fished before, but by the end of the retreat, most of them had caught some of New Zealand’s legendary trout. Reel recovery will supply all the equipment you need plus food and lodging for free; all you need to do is arrange your own transportation to the retreat.

Spending time with fishing buddies

Some of the best fishermen in the country have helped out as fishing buddies at the New Zealand retreats. Neal Hawes, a cancer survivor himself, has been a buddy for the last four or five years. Neal told me that some of the participants had a very rough time with their cancer, but Neal is always gratified to see the light come back in their eyes by the end of the retreat.

Chappie Chapman is a highly experienced New Zealand fishing guide who volunteered as a fishing buddy for the first time during the 2022 retreat. Chappie told me that it was a “profoundly moving experience” helping out the participants and seeing how much they benefited from the retreat.

How to apply to a retreat

Note that the New Zealand Reel Recovery retreats fill up fast, so they are currently restricted to only native New Zealanders. However there are a large number of retreats run in the United States at some of the most iconic fishing waters in North America. Check the Reel Recovery website for a list of the upcoming retreats and instructions for applying for a retreat.

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