The Mayfly Project
In 2015, The Mayfly Project (TMP) was founded by Jess and Laura Westbrook in Arkansas. The nonprofit organization, which utilizes fly fishing as a way to mentor and support children in foster care, began from Jess’ personal relationship with fly fishing as a therapeutic tool to cope with anxiety. The pair began with the intention to take children from their local group home out on rivers to learn how to fish- but seven years later, the impact has expanded far beyond that. The TMP logo, which was created to serve as a community symbol for their work, caught the eye of a mental health professional in Idaho, Kaitlin Barnhart, who was doing the same work in her own community. Together, Jess, Laura, and Kaitlin then formed The Mayfly Project as a national organization in 2016.
Their intention is to use fly fishing and mentoring as an opportunity for foster children to take a break from frequent worries in their lives by spending time in nature and building a connection with the outdoors. Additionally, TMP allows kids to build self-esteem and experience a sense of adventure, always accompanied by a TMP trained mentor. TMP states that fly fishing is currently prescribed by medical professionals as a tool to help manage PTSD, anxiety and trauma-related disorders because of its repetitive nature and the opportunity to be one with nature and the water.
Fly fishing experiences, which TMP refers to as “projects”, occur in over sixty locations throughout the United States, with two locations- Bozeman and Missoula- in Montana. Each year children in Montana are selected from various foster care organizations, such as Court Appointed Special Advocates and Youth Dynamics. The yearly project they participate in consists of 4 to 5 workshops, which include both training and on the water fishing. Mentors are seasoned fly fisher men and women that believe that learning how to fly fish can make a difference in the child’s life.
Each project consists of five stages, fittingly characterized by the life cycle of a Mayfly. Following each project, the mentee participants receive their own gear for fly fishing! The stages are as follows:
- Egg Cycle: Introduction to fly fishing, the flyrod, and TMP mentor’s
- Nymph Stage: Casting, knot tying, catch and release, and time to fish
- Emerger Stage: Setting the hook, conservation education, casting, and time to fish
- Dun Stage: Reading water, mending line, roll casting, and time to fish
- Big Catch Stage: Final day of fun includes fishing a special location with the mentor- mentees receive their fly gear.
TMP’s website has applications for mentors as well as project applications for those looking to bring this to life in their community. For more information, please visit: