Last week I had the pleasure to lead a trip of eight disabled veterans to Freedom Ranch, which is located a few miles from Wise River Montana along the Big Hole River. It is a peaceful valley surrounded by mountains and majestic views that beg the eyes to constantly look around to soak in the beauty and cause the heart to relax and regain a slow natural rhythm. This scenery is the setting for healing disabled veterans who have a variety of ailments from broken bones to emotional scars including PTSD. Each veteran has stories to share many of which have never been shared with others previously. This along with fishing everyday with another veteran creates the calming waters that lead to healing. Talking with others who have been through similar traumatic experiences helps to validate memories and gives hope for a new future normal. Life involves both giving and receiving to create harmony and true healing, which can be achieved through interactions with others in a serene environment like Freedom Ranch. Listed below are comments from a trip to Freedom Ranch during August 20 – 24, 2019.

The group getting ready to go fishing

 

John – “Being at Freedom Ranch was a surreal experience. The camaraderie from the other veterans and the incredible hospitality by the volunteers proved to be more beneficial than I ever thought possible. These things, coupled with the beauty that is Montana, allowed for a fresh perspective on life’s stressors. My rookie frustrations in attempting to master fly fishing came to an abrupt halt as I realized the healing properties of being outside with friends, standing in cold water, and watching faces light up when a big brown grabs a fly off the top. We saw beautiful landscape, ate wonderful food, hung out with great people, and even caught a few fish. Freedom Ranch has had a positive life-changing effect on who I am and words can’t begin to properly express my gratitude to Project Healing Waters and everyone that made it possible.”


 

John landing and showing off his brown

Sean – It was a wonderful trip. I learned so much about casting from a drift boat. Previously, I knew how to mend up river so that the fly drifted down river without being dragged underwater. Our guide showed us how to mend for three different speeds of water when casting across the river. Truly amazing! It was so much fun using really large flies as strike indicators with small droppers.

Sean landing a nice bow

Jeff stated “I had three days of uninterrupted sleep with no intrusive thoughts or dreams. Thanks for three days of Freedom and a wonderful fishing adventure.” It was a wonderful learning experience. The Freedom Ranch staff was awesome!

Jeff caught the first bow of the day

Fred, a Vietnam veteran, mentioned that he finally caught a Whitefish, which was on his “bucket” list.

Fred ventured into the pond to reach the fish rising on the other side

Fred can really cast long distances

Philip – Fishing is much more technical than I ever imagined. We changed flies frequently to determine what the fish wanted. I saw my first cutthroat. What an education!

Philip’s brown trout

Rick – It was a great learning experience. Our guides took the time to teach us how to fish on the river.

Rick caught lots of fish

Bart – Montana was on my bucket list and I finally made it here where I caught my first Brown. I had a great time and met some wonderful guys and had lots of fun.

Bart really enjoyed Montana fishing

Eddie – I thoroughly enjoyed it and want to come back. I caught cut bows, brooks and Browns!

When waiting for our departure planes, we ate at the Copper Horse Restaurant in the Bozeman terminal and I was pleasantly surprised when the server mentioned that all veterans would be given a substantial discount on their meals. A special thanks goes to the staff and owner of the Copper Horse Restaurant for their excellent service and discount. We truly appreciate your hospitality.