Healing Waters – guest blog from Shalon Hastings

One to the Net – photo by Amber Cassidy

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.

FREE Drift Boat Rentals for Vets courtesty of Montana Project Healing Waters and Wolf Creek Angler

Wolf Creek Angler is the exclusive host for Montana Project Healing Waters free drift boat rental program.

Wolf Creek Angler is proud to be the exclusive host of the Montana Project Healing Waters drift boat rental program which provides free drift boat rentals on the Missouri River to all vets and active duty military personnel.

The shop hosts and maintains three custom Adipose Flow drift boats available free every day.  The boats can be reserved by logging on to montanahealingwaters.org and using the Reserve A Drift Boat link to select dates and boat options. Two of the boats come equipped with removable knee braces, the third has no braces and can be fitted with custom wheelchair platforms if necessary.

The boats are typically hauled by the user  (2″ ball required) but can be dropped off and picked up by Wolf Creek Angler for a fee. Vehicle shuttles are also available for purchase if needed.

“When the opportunity arose for Wolf Creek Angler to host all three of the PHW boats it was a total no-brainer” commented Jason Orzechowski, owner of Wolf Creek Angler. “We’d been impressed with the program from the start and had been lobbying PHW to place a boat with us since we opened the doors”.

They got their wish last fall when the board elected to add a third boat to the program and place it at WCA. Earlier this spring the other two PHW boats were relocated from Craig to Wolf Creek Angler, making WCA the exclusive host of the program.

“It was our privilege to finally get a chance to host a boat last fall” explained Orzechowski. “Having all three of the boats here this season has been awesome. We’ve met so many great people and the vast majority of them are so appreciative of the program. We owe these vets and active duty military a huge debt of gratitude and I feel like this is the least we can do to say thank you to those who are willing to serve.”

Montana Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of active military personnel and veterans through flyfishing, fly tying education, and outings, and education on the conservation, restoration, and improvements to Montana’s fisheries and their habitats.

Please consider donating your time or resources to this exceptional organization to help fund the outstanding work they do for veterans here in Montana.