Project Healing Waters: All Women Trip of a Lifetime

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What follows is the cinematographer’s point of view and recap of the week-long trip to Freedom Ranch in Wise River Montana for the all women’s 2nd annual trip. A little background on your host for this post, Cameron served six years in the Army as an Infantryman with his time being spent between Fort Wainwright Alaska, Afghanistan, and Fort Hood before he medically retired in 2016.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. On Tuesday, July 25th, the group of eight participating women would all fly into the Bozeman International Airport. Their trip leader and PHW’s very own Kiley Poole would meet them at the airport with Freedom Ranch host Montana Reynolds (I know.. I know, what a perfect name for a Montana trip!) in the PHW van before departing to grab some quick bbq and hit the road.

The ladies arrived at Freedom Ranch and were greeted by Craig, a Veteran and local lodge owner, for some casting instructions. With some basic instruction and a bit of casting into the wind, the ladies were off to dinner, which was provided the entire week by the good people at the Wise River Club just down the street. After a great dinner, most of the ladies headed inside to unpack their belongings and get some rest before the main festivities began.

Wednesday marked the first official fishing day with a focus on wade fishing in the Big Hole River, under the guidance of local guide Cooper and host Montana. The ladies would wake up around 6:00-6:30 am with a catered breakfast from 7-8. After a good breakfast, the ladies would head to the other side of the wall and gear up for the day. Fly rods, sling packs, waders, boots, and the whole ordeal were in each individual’s locker, ready to go. Cooper, a young twenty two year old trout guide, would show up at 9 to escort the van and the ladies to an easily accessible and wadeable section of the Big Hole.

Once we arrived at the river, the ladies rigged up their gear, tied on some hopper dropper rigs, and waded into the cool waters of the Big Hole River. This morning, the river would give us an incredible show. We witnessed one of the biggest trico hatches that I had ever seen personally. Some of the footage that we captured of the hatch is truly mesmerizing. With the large hatch going on and trout being trout, the ladies had a tough morning. One small brown was hooked, but outside of that, it was just a great therapeutic time on the water. Around noon, the ladies would make their way to shore and eat a great packed salad that was made for the team. After lunch, it was time to head to a new location. So everyone packed up and headed downstream to the canyon section of the river.

We arrived back around 5, giving the ladies enough time to clean up and relax before our 6pm dinner. The group gathered around the dinner table, told stories of their service, laughed about things that happened during their wade experiences, and lived in the moment. After dinner was finished, most of the group called it a night, while some hung around the ranch to experience the beauty that it had to offer.

Thursday and Friday were the BIG days! Two days of float trips. The eight ladies would team up in pairs of twos and wait for their guides to arrive after a hearty breakfast at the ranch. The ladies waited outside of the ranch’s “fly shop” for the first few guides to arrive with their rafts in tow. These days were fun for me as I spent most of my time driving up and down the river hoping to cross paths with some of the girls as they floated by some of the overlook and public access points.

With the ladies on the river and me in pursuit of the other groups, I was driving up and down the road in hopes of spotting some of the group hooked up on fish. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be so lucky, but let’s be honest, that would be some incredible odds if I did. Actually, I take that back.. I did photograph one of the ladies hooked up on a fish, however, she’s so far away you’ve gotta really zoom in to see what’s happening. So, while I was roaming the streets, the ladies were hooking up to trout left and right. Fish after fish were being caught by the ladies. They were catching Browns, Rainbows, Cutthroat, the infamous Grayling (interesting fact for you: the Big Hole is the only remaining river that has a native population of Grayling in the lower 48), Brook Trout, and of course, they had to catch a few Whitefish.

All of the ladies broke for lunch between noon and 1 pm. On Thursday I would meet up with the same group that I had filmed and photographed launching earlier in the morning. They shared their fish stories, both the ones they landed and the ones that they lost, enjoyed some fried chicken, and hung out before eventually making their way back to the raft and onto the river once again. I went on to meet up with some of the ladies at their takeout area and here about their day and what they came across after lunch. Once they were packed up and in their vehicles, the girls were on their way back to the Freedom Ranch.

Thursday’s dinner was a great one. All of the ladies had incredible days and had caught multiple fish. Many of them having fifteen plus fish days. So you know that the table was wild with fish tales, laughs, comparisons, and some friendly competition. This was the night that some of the ladies said they wanted to fish the river behind the ranch, which obviously I was stoked about.  But in true fashion of a long float day, most of the ladies fell asleep shortly after dinner. The few that strayed awake I managed to convince them to sit down for some heartfelt interviews.

Friday was nearly identical up until dinner time. Some of the groups fished new sections of the river while some fished the same as they did the day before. I followed new groups to their launch and take outs and filmed their adventures along the river as often as I could. Once the girls had finished with their days, it was time to head back to the ranch, get cleaned up, and head to the Wise River Club for their farewell dinner and awards.

Once all of the ladies arrived at the restaurant, it was time for Montana to get on stage and lead us in singing the National Anthem for the group and all of the other patrons in the restaurant. With the patriotic moment completed, it was time to eat some great food, hand the ladies some awards (most fish, biggest fish, smallest fish, most species, etc). After dinner was complete, Montana then would go on to dance with some of the ladies as everyone was in good spirits and having the time of their life.

Saturday morning was the farewell day. With two final interviews today while the other ladies finished packing, the morning was a short one. I said my farewells after we packed their bags into the van and wished them all the best of travels. By 9 am, the girls were on the road, heading back to the airport. The trip truly was a phenomenal one, and being able to document an all women’s trip was an absolute pleasure. I can only hope that the film will do justice in telling their stories and the benefits that they reap from their time on the water.

Cheers to everyone who’s finding peace on the water. For all my fellow Veterans, keep up the good fight!

To learn more about how to get involved with Project Healing Waters CLICK HERE. 

Nonprofit of the Month: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

Project Healing Waters and onWater Launch National Collaboration

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