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Gone Fishing

Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley

Be Well, Fish On!

Battling cancer (and fish) with Reel Recovery

Jan 16, 2013 - 11:25 AM
Be Well, Fish On!

Kenny Connolly with his first fish caught on a fly rod.

Kenny Connolly knows a thing or two about winning battles.

When he was just 27, the former Challis resident was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which is so exceptionally rare for someone his age to get that, statically speaking, he had a better chance of getting hit by lightening.

“Once you hear the word cancer,” Kenny said reflecting back to when he found out, “you don’t really hear anything else.”

But Kenny, like all cancer survivors, is a fighter. Instead of complaining about the struggles of surgery, chemotherapy and regular trips to an oncologist 140 miles away, he stubbornly held on to a positive attitude.

“You can’t just give up. You can’t think like that,” he said.

“It’s a crazy situation, so you just make the best out of it,” said his wife, Jenny, who eloped with Kenny several months after he was diagnosed. “We weren’t going to let the cancer win.”

It was Jenny who actually saw the flier for Reel Recovery, a small, national non-profit organization akin to Casting for Recovery that takes men suffering from all forms of cancer on free, weekend-long fly fishing retreats, following their motto of "Be Well, Fish On!"

Kenny, who grew in North Carolina, had never been fly-fishing before, but he applied to the program and was lucky enough to be one of just 15 men accepted for Idaho’s annual retreat (due to demand and hard work of Dick Wilson and the volunteer staff of Reel Recovery of Idaho, a second annual Gem State retreat was added last year).

Kenny was the youngest participant at the 2011 Idaho retreat at the Wild Horse Creek Ranch in the Copper Basin. And even though he didn’t land any fish that weekend, he reeled in something much more valuable.

“I absolutely had a ball. The scenery, everybody sharing their stories and struggles, the gut wrenching laughs—just men being men. You forget about that when you’re battling cancer,” Kenny said.

The following fall, Kenny and a handful of other Reel Recovery participants and volunteers reunited in Sun Valley to share their stories with this local scribe. And as the long, autumnal afternoon shadows crept across the Big Wood River, the group headed over to cast along the shores of Hulen Meadows.

Kenny was handed a fly rod and after a few casts he hooked a feisty rainbow. The battle was on … and you can guess who won that one, too.


Jeff Entringer and Mike Mckenna at Wildhorse Creek. Photo courtesy of Mark Walters.{This story originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Sun Valley Magazine and Kenny has since been declared cancer-free. And Mike’s story about the emotional and inspiring experience of volunteering as a “Fishing Buddy” for last August’s Reel Recovery retreat is the front-page feature in the January issue of Idaho Magazine.}

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About This Blog

Whether he’s being out-fished by his trash talking mother-in-law, guiding one of his young sons through the perils of manhood or finding inspiration from the people of the Wood River Valley, Mike McKenna’s award-winning writing is always sure to entertain. Order a copy of Mike's highly-acclaimed book, "Angling Around Sun Valley: A year-round fly fishing guide to South Central Idaho" from Silver Creek Outfitters.

Gone Fishing's awards include: "Best Blog" 2010 & 2011 by the Idaho Press Club, "Best Web-only Article" of 2011 by the Outdoor Writers Association of California and "Best Fishing" & "Best Humor" blogs of 2012 by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.


"Angling Around Sun Valley" was selected as the "Best Book" of 2013 by Northwest Outdoor Writers Association!

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