Full disclosure: I was one of those teenagers that avoided the call to military duty in every way possible. Back in 1993, recruiters were doing the hard sell via phone and in person. Being the nice person I am, I went to lunch where the recruiter tried to “wine and dine” me, obviously no wine but plenty of soda. I dodged the bullet, if you will, and avoided the, in my mind, unbearable pain & suffering of boot camp and basic training by leaving for college with no forwarding address for the recruiter.
Fast forward to present day: I have 2 small businesses that I call my own in downtown Helena and just recently added fly fishing guide to my list. Over the last couple of years I had found that being on the water was the only time my mind shut off completely to the point of calm. Never before had I experienced such a quiet. It was an addictive break from my never ending worries about my businesses, my struggles and my musings of “Am I good enough?”
Earlier this year with help from some girlfriends, I started a women’s fly fishing networking group, Last Chance Fly Gals (LCFG). It was enlightening to meet so many local women who shared the same passion for fly fishing and to hear shared stories of frustrations and accomplishments on the water that only other women could relate to. Yes, both men and women will share similar experiences but in addition there are some that men just won’t experience. I don’t think I’ve heard a guy admit that he’s cried because his spouse tried to teach him to fish. But I hear it a lot when women talk about their first trials of learning to fly fish.
Through an article written about the formation of Last Chance Fly Gals, an old acquaintance and Project Healing Waters board member reached out to me to see if I would be interested in working with female veterans that would be participating in a Project Healing Waters fishing trip on the Missouri. I jumped at the chance to be a part of this outing. I am in awe of those that have the balls to sign up for military duty and serve our country so that I can freely choose my entrepreneurial path and quite frankly do whatever I so desire. My heart breaks when I hear of the trauma that our veterans have brought home with them. And I get frustrated and angry that they face struggles outside of our cushy civilian life after they have risked life and limb. If I could help any of these women get to the point where they find that peace in mind on the water that I get, I was going to be there.
I joined two phenomenal female guides, Kelly Harrison and Kimberly Smith, and met the women in Craig. We were towing the Project Healing Waters Adipose boats that Wolf Creek Angler holds at the shop for veterans to use for free. The afternoon was spent doing introductions, then Kelly jumped into instructing basic knots, basic flies and basic casting. Each of the ladies was given a starter rod and reel package with miscellaneous small wares to get them started on the fly fishing journey. The lodge that was hosting us had a small casting pond. The pre-dinner entertainment was the girls catching little and mid-sized brookies on dry flies. The smiles, laughter, encouragement and commands to “hit it!!!” were raucous, heartfelt and contagious. After dinner was sharing of Jameson and White Claws, poop jokes, graphic bikini line mishaps and mentions of injuries sustained in service.
The next day was breakfast served by several PHW board members that waited on us hand and foot. After breakfast we gathered at the boats to rig up rods and review knots and flies with the ladies. Then it was to the river. Each gal caught fish. F bombs were dropped, cheering heard from one of the three boats across the river as one of the ladies in another boat would get a fish on, more F bombs when a fish broke off complete rigs, all 3 boats gathering to snap pictures of a fish landed in the boat. At one point, the gal in my boat had an epic fish arcing out of the water right after she set the hook, it was mad. It briefly showed its ginormous jawline at her before taking off and charging so fast it broke her nymph rig well past the split shot in a flash. That beast will haunt her.
At the takeout phone numbers were shared, promises to stay connected were made and sharing of pictures promised. The excitement, the frustration, the glee all shared and celebrated by an amazing group of women will be remembered forever. I expect and hope that I get calls and texts from these women sharing with me their future trips onto new rivers and the new found knowledge they will gain. I’m already looking forward to the next event, hoping that the guests will gain as much as I do in being a part of this honor of their service to the United States of America.
Fish on, ladies. Fish on.