Wounded Warriors from around the northwest converged on the St. Joe River for a fly-fishing adventure July 16 – 18.
Approximately 24 veterans partook in the event. Volunteers from area sportsman stores, outdoor guides, members of the St. Maries Elks Lodge, Kiwanis Club and American Legion Post 25 made it happen.
“It is amazing to see how this community rallied around these guys,” said Seattle-based Wounded Warrior Outreach Specialist Madison Faulette. “We could not have done this without these guys, without the volunteers. It’s overwhelming. It came together really well.”
According to Jack Jones, the North Idaho Warrior Leader volunteer, approximately 20 guides provided shuttles and boats from the campsite to the river.
Veterans from all service branches, and several who served in multiple branches, were able to enjoy the river and fly-fishing despite physical and psychological injuries sustained during service. Some of them experienced fly-fishing for the first time.
Army veteran Rian Pederson, whose aunt and cousins live in the Fernwood area, remembered walking the river toward St. Maries as a child, but had never fished the St. Joe.
“I really enjoyed it—really enjoyed fly-fishing and I’d like to do this again,” he said.
Mr. Pederson served in the infantry for 10 years. He deployed from 2007-2008 and 2009-2010. He sustained injuries from small arms fire and improvised explosive devices during both deployments.
Now retired, he said he is recovering day-to-day and credits time spent outdoors with helping that process.
“Being able to get back outdoors has really saved me,” he said.
It was the first time fly-fishing for retired veterans Cody Theuringer and Cliff Taylor as well.
Mr. Theuringer served in the Air Force and Army, 2004-2010. His career ended abruptly while training to join the Army Special Forces. He broke his ankle on the last night of training and never fully recovered. He graduated from training but could not continue service.
“They tried for two years to fix it but couldn’t fix it,” he said. “It’s a tough thing when you are that close.”
He said that fly-fishing was a good experience and something he felt he would be able to do on his own.
Guide Jeff Hanna said Mr. Theuringer did well his first time out.
“He got a bunch of hits and caught a 12- or 13-inch cutthroat,” Mr. Hanna said.
The fish caught were released, but the teams took photos of their catches, for the sake of friendly competition.
Mr. Taylor, a Navy and Army Veteran with 30 years of service, came out from Vancouver, WA for the trip. He broke his neck and back while deployed to Iraq as a military police officer. His injuries still cause him pain, but he was able to enjoy the experience.
“I had a fantastic time—caught a couple small ones that got away and some tiny ones we put back. It was a good day. It was an awesome day. My guide Kyle and all the guys who have helped have been great.”
The campsite for the trip was donated by Brian Jorgensen, owner of Medicine Man Pharmacy. At the last dinner of the three-day, two-night event Mr. Jorgensen thanked the veterans for coming and invited everyone back.
Members of the St. Maries Elks Lodge and American Legion Post 25 provided food and cooked meals for the camp out. The Kiwanis Club provided additional equipment.
“The Kiwanis provided us their trailer for extra grills, cookers and coffee pots—anything we had forgotten they had in there,” Elks Lodge member Alan Moore said. “It was really great of them.”
According to Tyler Balich, of North 40, a key organizer, they hope to conduct more of the trips in the future.
Veterans who want to register for future trips should contact the Wounded Warrior Foundation.