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.

Last Chance Fly Gals

I had the honor of attending the inaugural meeting of Last Chance Fly Gals this past Monday at Lewis and Clark Brewing Company in Helena. I was blown away by the interest in this group as evidenced by the packed house.

LCFG estimates the number of attendees to have been right around 140. Who knew there was such an interest in fly fishing amongst women in the Helena area.

Shalon Hastings, that’s who.

Hastings, a local entrepreneur who owns The Hub and Taco del Sol restaurants in Helena, along with local fly fishing devotees Amy Glasscock, Anna Lindstrand, Kelly Lynch, Kim Ryan Agee, Liz Moore, Maija Schellhardt, Marty Steenberg and Megan Rotz,  have spearheaded this group and judging by Monday’s turnout they are off to a phenomenal start.

When asked about the impetus for forming the group Hastings replied;

“I would run into women that would see photos of me fishing on FB and they would ask to get out on the water with me or ask for advice on how to get started. In the few times I would get on the water with lady friends I really enjoyed the different experience than when I get out with the guys (I still love getting out with the guys). As a result, I threw out a FB post to my immediate network to see if there was interest in participating in a local women’s fly fishing group and the response was overwhelming. I then gathered a couple ladies out of this response to help organize the group and we were completely overwhelmed with the positive response from both the fly shops & outfitters as well as the attendance of ladies to our first meeting. We estimate that 140 women showed up!”

The first meeting was essentially a meet and greet as well as an introduction to the group and a request for input from attendees on the direction in which Last Chance Fly Gals will proceed.

While the group is a work in progress their mission is as follows;

Our Mission is to:

 

Connect. Provide a means for women of all ability levels interested in fly fishing to connect with each other, build friendships and fish together.

 Educate. Provide education for women (and girls) interested in learning how to fly fish, or to increase their knowledge of or improve their skills through mentoring and educational events.

Organize. Provide a venue for organizing fly fishing outings and events.

Influence. Influence the research and development of fly fishing equipment, clothing and accessories specifically designed for women.

Advocate. Participate in, promote and raise awareness of conservation issues that affect the fish and fisheries in our area.

Give back.

Wolf Creek Angler is proud to be on board with such a great organization and we are committed to doing everything we can to facilitate the growth of the sport among women. Our hats are off to the organizers of Last Chance Fly Gals.

Well Done Ladies. Keep up the good work!