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Fishing: The Best Medicine

By John O'Connell -
Idaho State Journal Writer

Vance Wasden, a local veteran with disabilities, holds a fish caught on the Smith River in Montana. A free float trip was provided to disabled veterans recently.

For Vance Wasden, a local disabled veteran, wet flies and tapered leaders have been the best therapy for coping with health problems incurred in the line of duty.

And he's found no more therapeutic waters than the Smith River in Montana - one of the few rivers anglers must vie for hard-to-get permits to fish.

He returned from a float trip offered free to disabled veterans last Friday.

The food was gourmet, but the fishing was better.

Mike Geary, of Lewis and Clark Expeditions in Helena, Mont., and his clients provided the trip of a lifetime for the veterans.

“You go into the military. Everyone's healthy and young. Then you get messed up in the Gulf,” Geary said. “You go through as many mental issues as physical issues.”

Wasden, who is considered 100 percent disabled by the military due to complications from a bad anthrax vaccine he was forced by the U.S. military to take, is so convinced that fishing is the best medicine he's now working to establish local fishing programs for other area disabled veterans.

Wasden would like to create a local chapter of Project Healing Waters, which solicits donations to take disabled veterans on free fishing trips.

He also hopes to form a team of disabled veterans to compete in a world fishing competition for people with disabilities. He will likely recruit many of the friends he made on the Smith River - including a sniper who'd lost a leg and a kid from Salt Lake city whose legs were mangled from a roadside bomb.

Using a fly rod and mostly wet flies, Wasden landed several 18-inch rainbows and browns, and one 29-inch rainbow.

They saw deer, elk, antelope, nesting bald eagles and even a mountain lion atop a sheer cliff wall above them as they floated.

They stopped to explore a cave along the banks and found several American Indian petroglyphs.

“It really was the trip of a lifetime - not just the food, scenery and fishing, but also the camaraderie aspect of it,” Wasden said.

They released all of the fish they caught but ate well nonetheless. Each time they banked, they were served hors d'oeuvres. For dinner they dined on rosemary chicken, plank salmon, steak and cheesecake.

Wasden's disability surfaced between the first war and the current conflict in the Persian Gulf, where he was stationed. He has problems with fatigue, bad headaches, internal bleeding, seizures and other health concerns. He also has trouble walking.

He's had to learn to adapt. Wasden, a left-handed man, now casts his fly rod with his right hand because the movement in his left arm is restricted.

His medical condition was profiled last summer by an east coast film crew doing a documentary.

Wasden and his wife, Michelle, share their Pocatello home with five children, a dog, cats and a goat named Goat.

“Most all of the services for disabled veterans are back east and down south,” Wasden said. “Pocatello has a lot of disabled veterans in of itself.”

Project Healing Waters

For more information on Project Healing waters, e-mail Vance Wadsen at vmwasden7@aol.com.