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In Early March I received a call from my Project Healing Waters Program lead Derrick Dietz.  He was calling me to let me know that my dream of becoming a fly fishing guide was going to come true. PHWFF had awarded me a scholarship to attend the Sweetwater Travel Company Guide School, courtesy of Sweetwater’s Owners Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion.

By the end of March, I was in School with a class of nine other fly fishing enthusiasts in Fort Smith, Montana on the Bighorn River. On day 1 of the school we tackled some classroom stuff such as first aid/CPR and fly tying. We learned to tie quite a few different kinds of bugs. Everything from very basic patterns like the Jan Juan worm to different kinds of streamers. One of my favorite patterns we learned was a Ray Charles or a Hotheaded Sow bug both being a must have in your fly box on the Bighorn.


Day 2, we had a little more classroom time with some knot tying classes, with as many knots that are used in fly fishing this is a very critical building block. The second half of the day we finally got to see some time on the water with some drift boat training. Seemed like few of the other students had actually rowed a drift boat, so it was a huge learning curve for all of us. The first time rowing I felt like a fish out of water since it was completely different than anything I had ever rowed before.

Day 3, was a cold and rainy day on the water, it gave us a chance to try our luck fishing some different bugs from nymphs to streamers. The fishing was great which helped to keep your mind off your numb fingers.


Day 4, we hit the water for a quick half day float which allowed us to get some more time on the sticks before we went back to the lodge for some casting lessons. We spent the afternoon on the lawn at the lodge with Brant Oswald a 30 year guide and casting instructor who critiqued our every move. We learned a few different casts as well as improved our accuracy and our distance.

Day 5, I got the opportunity to learn how to operate a jet boat as a guide in Alaska would. Operating a jet boat is a whole different world since you operating a boat that is propelled by a water jet instead of a propeller. In most situations, a guide used the motor to move up and down river, and then switched over to rowing it to fish. Rowing it is like rowing a tank compared to a light and nimble drift boat.

Day 6, was another beautiful day on the water with a combination of a little wade fishing and drifting. Around noon we pulled over and built a fire to prepare a hot shore lunch and a little more wade fishing while we waited for lunch to cook.

Day 7 was a sad day knowing school was coming to an end we had to go back to the real world. On the final day we had exit interviews with all the instructors, said our good byes to our new friends and back to the real world we went.

I would like to thank Sweetwater Travel for giving me the opportunity to fulfil my dream and become a fish guide. They truly are a blessing!

Cody Lewis,
PHWFF Participant
Casper, WY