WISE RIVER, Montana – Two Air Force veterans were among the eight people selected to participate in a national trip to Freedom Ranch located near Wise River, Montana, July 17-21, 2018. Jason Wright and Francesca Popp-Wright, a husband and wife team from the Anchorage, Alaska, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program, participated in the eighth Freedom Ranch for Heroes fishing trip.

The five-day trip allowed the couple to have a change of scenery, meet others veterans from Colorado, Virginia and Texas, and learn to fish the Big Hole River and the Clark Canyon Reservoir.

“The trip was awesome,” said Jason. “The people of Wise River were some of the most friendly and generous people around. They went out of their way to ensure we were well fed and taken care of.” The first day of fishing was on our own; upstream on the Big Hole. While Jason didn’t catch anything on the first day, he did get to practice his casting with some coaching from two local mentors. Meanwhile, Francesca’s excitement could have been heard for miles as she hooked into her first fish. Sadly, that fish ended up getting away.

The second day proved to be more promising. Russ, the Wright’s guide, took the couple rafting downstream. The approximate 8-mile stretch of river had its share of calm and rough water. Jason and Francesca each caught their first-ever brown trout.

Jason’s First Brown Trout

“It was truly fantastic to fish a new river,” said Francesca. “I had two fish on the line, but only landed one. I learned much more about casting, multiple fly rigging and different casting techniques. I really liked using more than one nymph on my line. I got tangled a few times and had to remember that I was not fishing in Alaska.”

Casting practice

The last full day of fishing was much slower pace. It even provided a quasi-wildlife cruise at Clark Canyon Reservoir. In addition to fishing, the couple got to be in an aviary paradise. They saw several types of birds including pelicans, Sandhill cranes, red-feathered black birds, and much more. “Who would have thought that pelicans are in Montana,” Francesca said.

One of many pelicans…

“The hatch of caddis and other emergers beckoned us to stay in the weed beds, even as the sun beat down on us and the temperatures rose to near 90 degrees.”

“With waters a bit murky and about 10 percent over flood stage, the fishing was fair to slow,” said Jason. “The highlight of the day for me was seeing the three 24-plus-inch brown trout cruise right by the boat without a care in the world.”

Francesca led the catch with an 18- to 19-inch brownie and she also landed a 19- to 20-inch rainbow trout. Jason landed a baby bow midday, but took the cake with a beefy brownie near the end of the trip.

The Alaskans may not have caught a lot of fish, but did learn a lot on this trip. They are grateful for the opportunity PHWFF provided to have a change of scenery at Freedom Ranch for Heroes and learn to fly fish the Montana waters.

Article and photos submitted by Francesca Popp-Wright.

Participants who enjoyed the fishing opportunities