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From the Navy to the rivers

person holding large fish in lake

Retired Navy Senior Petty Officer Deb Nelson enjoying her post-retirement pastime – fly fishing at her favorite spot, the Fryingpan River near Basalt.

There is a saying, “goodbye tension, hello pension,” and Beverly Hills Estates resident Deb Nelson has embraced her retirement from the Navy and IT career in full: fly fishing, volunteering and enjoying her family.

Born in Minnesota, Nelson’s dad joined the Navy after dental school, so the family moved on a regular basis.  The last place they landed was Pearl Harbor, where Nelson graduated from high school.

Not settled on a career path, Nelson went to cosmetology school and ended up at the military resort hotel, Hale Koa.  She realized the job was not for her and moved back to Minnesota in the 1970s to live with her aunt who worked in data processing.  She saw potential in Nelson and suggested her niece pursue a career in computers.


Deb Nelson

“I joined the Navy and went into the computer field at 21 and moved every two years,” said Nelson.  “I went back and forth between Europe and the East Coast doing 12 years of active duty and eight in the reserves.  And had a couple of kids along the way.”

London in the early 1980s was her most challenging duty.  “When I was there, a lot of conflict was going on between England and Ireland,” remembered Nelson, who was living near Kensington Palace and had a top secret clearance.  “The heaviest IRA bombings happened, and I was so close to dying so many times.”

Nelson worked in a facility by the U.S. Embassy and was instructed not to wear her military uniform and to take a different route home at the end of the day.

“I was never in a war like some soldiers, but I was living in a horrible war zone and it was very intense,” added Nelson.  To add to her plate during this time, she welcomed a daughter as a single mom.

While in the service, Nelson took one class at a time wherever she was stationed and eventually earned her computer science degree.  While stationed in Spain, her son Kyle was born, who is currently serving in the Navy in Japan.

Nelson retired as a senior chief petty officer in 1999 from what is now Buckley Space Force Base.  She stayed in Colorado and continued working in IT for cloud companies, including Visa and Raytheon (now RTX), holding jobs like data processing administrator and senior storage engineer.

When Nelson became an empty nester, she looked inward and said, “What do I do now?”  Her daughter suggested she get a hobby before her IT retirement.

Nelson realized, besides working in technology, what really made her happy was fishing.

“I remembered when I was young sitting on a dock with my grandpa with a fishing pole, a worm and a bobber and catching fish with him,” added Nelson.

She googled “women in fly fishing,” and found Colorado Women’s FlyFishers (CWF), a club of 400 members that has been around for 25 years.  She joined and learned to fly fish.

“I went on camping and fishing trips [with CWF] and saw a side of Colorado I had never seen before,” said Nelson.  “Now I have seen all of the state; it is gorgeous.”  She continued to work in her tech job, and CWF asked her to be the webmaster for the club, which she did for 12 years.

While continuing down her fly fishing path, Nelson attended a fly fishing film tour and saw a booth that had a military affiliation.  Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) is an organization that helps disabled veterans learn to build a rod, fly fish and go on fishing trips with a mission for mental healing.  She joined and is the volunteer technology director.

While working with PHWFF, Nelson realized she had buried some deeper issues from her service.

“I am a veteran and I didn’t realize all the stuff I had compartmentalized and PHWFF encouraged me to go to the VA and figure it out,” said Nelson.  She was diagnosed with a disability, PTSD.  “I have a new happiness for what I’ve been through because everybody I fish with shares stories about what they have been through and how healing and wonderful it is to be a part of that group,” shared Nelson.

For the past three years, Nelson has lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Kristine and Richard Perrone, in the basement suite of their house.  Nelson has her own patio and view of the mountains and when she is not playing with her grandchildren, Lia (10) and Chloe (7), or fixing things around the house, Nelson enjoys taking her German shepherd, Tasha, to the dog park.

When asked to share her favorite fishing hole, Nelson said that the Fryingpan River near Basalt is her choice despite “the grumpy old men” who get a bit befuddled at her big catches.

Nelson is active in retirement and concluded with, “Fly fishing makes me feel good.”

family in front of lake

Deb Nelson and her family at a recent outing with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, an organization Nelson is involved with that helps disabled veterans with mental health challenges by teaching fly fishing and going on outings. From left: Deb Nelson with Lia, Richard, Kristine and Chloe Perrone.

By Hollen Wheeler; photos courtesy of Deb Nelson



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