It was a brisk yet promising Montana March morning. This particular Monday greeted us with overcast skies and snow flurries — precisely what Warriors from across the country (including Texas) hoped not to see as they landed on the runway of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. After a quick swab of our noses (to avoid any COVID-19 contact during the week), Warriors, Volunteers, and Staff all traveled up to Quiet Waters Ranch. We spent the afternoon outfitting six Warriors from head-to-toe with everything they needed to succeed while learning the restful art of fly fishing that week. From SIMMS G-3 waders to a Sage rod and reel to little brown scud bugs — they were ready to take on the waters of Montana.
On our first day on the water, the Warriors learned how to 'rig' up their fly rod, spent time learning how to cast without creating a knotted line, and then took their skills to the ponds. My fear of the fish not biting this early in the year quickly diminished when I saw three Warriors catch their first Montana fish at the same time. Many more rainbow trout were caught and released that day accompanied by big smiles. After a long and full day at the ponds, we headed back to Quiet Waters Ranch to rest up for the next two days to come floating the Mighty Missouri River.
On Wednesday, an early alarm called us two hours north of Bozeman to Craig, Montana, where the Warriors had their first experience fishing from a drift boat. Although the technique is slightly different from pond fishing, everyone seemed to pick up the idea of river fishing pretty quickly as every net had a wild trout in it within the first hour. As the sun moved across the sky, and the wind stayed relatively calm, we continued to float down the river to a spot called "Brown Bend" (this was named shortly after two Warriors picked up healthy brown trout that day). Brown Bend's waters were straight out of an angler's dream. A long, deep pocket of fresh water ran over and around boulders — a spot that even a novice knew looked fishy. Our professional guide worked hard to row our boat up the run endlessly to ensure the Warrior had over 20 casts in these pristine waters. We netted a few whitefish, but none compared to the football-sized brown that we knew was resting on the bottom of the river.
"Alright, you get one more chance to land those flies just on that foam line, and then we're heading downriver," our guide said as he rowed back up the run for the last time. A flick of the wrist and a "plop" dropped two flies followed by a red indicator. Our boat watched with anticipation as the indicator floated down the bubble line, and then suddenly, we jumped as it dove sub-surface. After about 10 minutes and a sore forearm, we finally got a glimpse of the brown that was on the end of the line. The Warrior finally got his fish to the net and snapped a well-deserved photo before releasing it.
Over the remaining days of the FX, we caught more fish, shared stories, had laughs, and formed friendships. It's hard to describe how five days on the water with someone allows you to grow and learn in more ways than you could in a lifetime. As a Companion, I am beyond thankful that this opportunity exists for those who have served our nation.
This blog post was written by Liz Shull, Development Associate for Warriors & Quiet Waters after her first Fishing Experience. Liz volunteered as a Companion for a Warrior. Learn more about how you can volunteer with WQW here.