The Art of Overcoming Obstacles


Josh Williams, of Franklin County, Virginia, isn’t your average fly fisherman and fly tier. After surviving a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2004-5, he returned home, only to suffer grave injuries when a driver ran a stop sign and slammed into Josh’s motorcycle. He lost his right arm and ended up at Walter Reed Medical Center, with other wounded vets, wondering what his future held. He was 22 years old.

Enter Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, an organization devoted to helping veterans heal physically and emotionally through fly fishing. According to the organization’s founder, Ed Nicholson:

Josh had never been fly fishing, and yet, with a little prodding, we got him interested, even though he had lost his right arm at the shoulder. We fixed him up with a Vivarelli semi-automatic reel, and soon he was casting out on the lawn with us at Walter Reed, adapting to his injury, perfecting a very nice cast, and—most importantly—figuring out on his own how to manage line with his teeth.

When he went home to Roanoke, he immediately volunteered to help run the PHWFF program at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He is now the Program Lead for Salem. Along the way, he has been our go-to guy when someone needed advice about how to cope with the loss of an entire arm. He has embraced fly fishing with a passion and has taught himself how to tie his own flies. In fact, he has started a business tying not only for fun, but for profit, as well. He has been featured on several episodes of the television show


Josh’s White Lightning is an Orvis “searching” pattern.
Photo via orvis.com

Check out the above episode of The Fly Rod Chronicles to see how Josh manages to fish and tie with one arm. A symbol of his success is that Orvis now sells the pattern, Josh’s White Lightning, that he ties in the video. Orvis Product Developer Shawn Brillon—the man in charging of choosing new patterns—says, “When we review fly patterns, we are typically looking to fill voids in our offering. With Josh’s White Lighting  I saw the opportunity for the fly to fit into our ‘prospecting flies’ category. It’s Prince Nymph-like—designed with white biot wings, peacock herl, ice dubbing, and a bead. How could one go wrong with those ingredients of success?  After working with Josh and learning about the guy behind the pattern, I knew this would be a great addition to our selection.”

6 thoughts on “The Art of Overcoming Obstacles”

  1. Josh, You are awesome. What an inspiration. First I want to say Thank You for serving our country and second for a great video. It goes to show that we should never give up. If you put your mind to a task you can do it.
    John R

  2. I’ve been buying flies a couple of times a year from Josh since the first time this Blog ran a story about him. Beautiful work. Also, I am the Rehab Director in a skilled nursing facility. I showed the OT’s a video of him tying. They were blown away!

  3. In my opinion Josh is the essence of what a man and soldier of the United States is. When ever I hear of or meet a person of Josh’s charater, it sets me back on my heals. It strenghtens me and encourages me to keep fighting the good fight. God’s speed Josh to you and your’s.

  4. Pingback: Josh's Reaper Midge: A Tiny, Versatile Pattern | Orvis News

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