It was a sunny day on September 11th filled with excitement about meeting eight PHWFF participants converging at the airport in Bozeman, Montana.  Participants came from Southern New York, New Jersey, the Bronx and Taos.  They were easy to spot with their PHWFF hats.  Quick introductions were made and everyone piled into the PHWFF van for our two-hour drive to Freedom Ranch located on the Big Hole River near Wise River.   The rolling hills and majestic landscape seeped into our souls and everyone began to focus on healing, fun and new relationships associated with fly fishing.

Arrival at Freedom Ranch                 Photo courtesy of Paula Krugerud Photography

Justin, Paul, Fabian, Jan, Cisco, Scott, Dave, Herbert & Anne

We dropped our gear at the ranch and headed out for one of our scrumptious meals that invited us to gain weight during our stay. Oh, so good. After dinner we headed back to the ranch for a few fishing stories, fishing anticipation and bedtime.  We were fortunate to have Todd Desgrosseilliers attend the dinner and to volunteer for activities the following day.

 

The next day started off with breakfast at 7 AM followed by gear checkout, casting practice and wade fishing. During the fall, the water level drops substantially so wading is feasible.

Todd giving casting lesson to Paul                  Photo courtesy of Paula Krugerud Photography

The Mule (also known as the Ranch Uber) provided transportation to the river

A few extra flies for every occasion

Crossing the river

 

Anne casting

Selecting the perfect fly               Photo courtesy of Paula Krugerud Photography

The following two days included guided fishing from boats on the Big Hole River. What a treat!

Kneeling in front Cisco; Paul, Anne, Justin, Fabian, Jan, Dave, Herbert; standing in back Scott

Paul, a beginner fly fisher, eagerly sought to absorb all the new information presented. He shared stories with others and helped to create an ambiance of fun and true appreciation for being selected for this incredible trip. What an awesome trip!

One of Paul’s trout

Cisco is an experience saltwater fisher but this trip was his first fresh water fly fishing trip! He was so excited about all the new gear and learning to fly cast. He marveled at the wide open spaces that were so spectacular. He thanked everyone who made this trip possible and hopes that other participants from his program and region will be able to experience this “life changing trip.”

One of Cisco’s hookups

Anne recently retired from the Air Force after more than 35 years of service. She really looks forward to tying flies, learning to fly cast and to fly fish because the activities provide a respite from the stress of PTSD. Anne feels really privileged to be selected for this trip where she caught her first fish on a fly rod!

Anne fighting a fish

Justin is an intermediate fly fisher and he eagerly volunteered to assist others. His eyes sparkled with enthusiasm and he eagerly shared his knowledge and skills. His life time dream was to catch a brown trout, which he accomplished on the first day. Every day he kept saying, “this is such an incredible trip, the scenery is awesome, the fishing is amazing, and all the volunteers are so helpful.” He hopes that everyone in his program has this same life-changing opportunity.

Justin’s first brown trout

Scott is also a beginner fly fisher who previously fished commercially for salt water species. He readily shared his knowledge with others and then immersed himself in fly fising and caught numerous species of fish. He said that this trip is a life-changing trip for him and he will be forever thankful for all the hospitality extended to him. He truly admired the raw beauty of the landscape and the perfect setting where a picture perfect view appeared out of every window – a truly “healing” place.

Scott’s beauty

Herbert, a beginner fly fisher, kept saying, I can’t believe that I am here. This place is so incredible; it is truly a place where healing occurs. We used the mule, a special 4 wheeler, to transport Herbert to the river where he eagerly used the wading staff to negotiate his way across the rocks to a fishing spot. Rocks and rough terrain limited Herbert’s river access but he didn’t complain. Periodically, he sat at the picnic table and just marveled at the beautiful landscape as he watched others navigate the river in search of fish. Herbert truly enjoyed fishing from the boats because it gave him the total freedom of movement.

Herbert’s first fish

Dave, a beginner fly caster, was so enthusiastic to be on this trip. He loved learning about all the gear and practicing his casting. He caught his first cutthroat when wading on the first day. What a joy!

Daves’ first fish on a fly rod

Fabian, who hails from Taos, is an accomplished caster and fly fisher. He provided lots of entertainment for everyone and was dubbed “our Uber driver” for helping to transport participants in the Mule. No need for a special “app”; Fabian was always there to help.

Fabian ready for action

Photo courtesy of Paula Krugerud Photography

Special thanks go to all the volunteers in Wise River who helped to support this “Healing Waters” trip that is indeed a life-changing experience for participants and a heart warming feeling for volunteers.  Additional photos from Scott, Dave, Jan and other participants.

Freedom Ranch