Full circle

Thick, soggy snowflakes fell upon the three fly-fisherman as they crossed the icy waters of the Boulder River. They moved in unison, arms linked together, slowly but surely until they reached a small island in the center of the waterway. Jey Johnson, a 15-year Army veteran, was flanked by local guide, George Anderson and his companion and fellow Army vet, Rodney Thurman.

Over the past four days, the trio had grown close, as was evident by their easy camaraderie during the river crossing.

Anderson taught Johnson the active meditation known as fly fishing, while Rodney assisted, ever-ready to lend an ear or a helping hand should the need arise.

When it came to fishing, Johnson proved a quick study. 

He caught 25 in a single day. 

But the five-day fishing excursion, or FX, was really about what happened above the river — not below its surface. 

Johnson was one of six veterans from all over the country and a variety of branches who participated in the fifth annual Warriors and Quiet Waters FX at Riverstone Ranch — roughly 20 miles south of Big Timber. Each warrior arrived with injuries both visible and invisible to the naked eye. They were selected out of a pool of applicants as the ones whom organizers thought would benefit most from a few days apart from their busy lives, where they could turn all the stressors off, even just for a little while. At the end of the trip, the warriors leave, not only with a pile of fishing gear, but with the tool of fly fishing. The hope is that when they’re back home and things get rough, they’ll take that tool out and use it. 

But fishing, soothing as it may be, isn’t an entirely silent sport. 

In between tying flies and making casts, the men talked. 

Sharing came oddly easy with only each other and the river listening in. 

“I didn’t know Rodney before this — I’d like to think I’ve made a lifelong friend here,” Johnson said of his FX companion. “I probably talked to him more honestly than I’ve talked to anybody in a long time.” 

It makes sense — both of them being veterans, and of the same branch no less.

But war wasn’t the only common experience Jey and his companion shared. A year earlier, Rodney was in those very same shoes — full of apprehension when he stepped off the plane, uncertain if coming to Montana was the right move. He too, was a warrior. He too learned to fish on these same riverbanks amongst many of the same people. 

He too let it heal him.


To read the full story, pick up the May 4 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our e-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.



Story and photo by Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Editor


From left to right: Rodney Thurman, Jey Johnson and George Anderson cross the Boulder River on a chilly Friday morning April 28.






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