Therapeutic ties to water

Helena Independent Record

by Piper Haugan

For a lot of Montanans, fly fishing is a way of life.

For others, like Travis Williams, it’s a lifesaver.

Williams joined the Marine Corps in 2002, and was a member of Lima Company’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. In August 2005, his entire squad was killed in Iraq. He left the Corps in 2006.

Fishing, he said, is something he could easily fall back on upon his return.

“I like the temperature that my feet feel when I’m standing in the river,” he said. “I like not worrying about the clock.

“Fishing has been my savior.”

Wednesday in Craig, Williams joined seven other veterans at Craig’s Headhunters Missouri River Fly Shop and Guide Service on the night before their third annual fishing trip for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. He said he got a free hat and fly rod, and he won a T-shirt.

“I’ve had a pretty good day,” he said as the sun set on the beautiful little town.

Randy Dix, board president for PHWFF, said the program offers recreational rehabilitation for vets wounded physically and psychologically. Dix said a lot of returning soldiers have a difficult time reintegrating to society. He said the program, which incorporates community volunteers, helps them feel more like they belong.

“People in the community not only care, but want to reach out and help them,” Dix said.

He said the nationwide program’s Montana branch offers six trips a year, and they’re taking an international trip to the Bahamas this year.

Headhunters co-owner John Arnold said eight of the shop’s guides will volunteer their time to spend the day fishing with the veterans on the Missouri River. He said they’ll probably start at the Holter Dam at 9 a.m. and fish until dinnertime. He said the boats they’ll use are specially made to accommodate wheelchairs and were donated by Adipose Boatworks in Helena.

Arnold said in the past two years the shop has hosted a day of fishing for PHWFF, and the groups have had a blast.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester met with the group at a barbecue Wednesday evening and went out on a boat with Williams after obtaining his fishing license. He supports the program because of its therapeutic value and the way it helps wounded warriors transition back into civilian life.

“War changes people,” he said, adding that the community effort and support helps make things better when they return.