Zach Olmeda, US Army (Retired)
Here are some facts:
1. Between 2001 and 2013, my life was pretty comfortable.
2. During that same period, 2.5 million service men and women were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Of those, ~700,000 have some degree of officially recognized disability directly related to their service.
4. Fly fishing has proven remarkably helpful in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of wounded veterans.
Regardless of one’s opinion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s impossible to ignore the needs of those who served while the rest of us were living (and presumably fishing) in relative comfort. The ongoing travesties at the Department of Veterans Affairs are beyond most of our control, but there are some simple, concrete ways that fly fishers can make a difference.
This past winter, Zach Mertens at Idylwilde Flies put me in contact with Zach Olmeda. Olmeda had plans to pass through Colorado mid-June and Mertens asked if I could show him some water. The details were a little fuzzy–I knew Olmeda was retired Army, an Iraq vet, and working through some injuries. I also knew he was a burgeoning fly fanatic due in large part to the programs provided by Warriors & Quiet Waters. After a couple calls eariler this month, Olmeda and I arranged to meet at Delaney Buttes, where we proceeded to fish our butts off over the course of two days.
Z. Olmeda casually putting on a clinic
It’s tempting to wrap up experiences like this in the well-tread rhetoric of “patriotism,” “honor,” and “humility,” but the reality was we were just two dudes catching trout, having a blast in a beautiful setting. Pretty simple. In fact, it was way easier that I would have ever guessed. Vets and veteran groups are everywhere–it doesn’t take much to make some calls and go fishing.
Platinum 9’6″ 6wt and a #10 Olive Pine Squirrel Leech
Additionally, there are a number of fantastic individuals, organizations, and companies who are working to introduce veterans–wounded or otherwise–to our sport. Below is a list of those who have supported Zach. These folks put their time and resources where their mouths are, so it wouldn’t hurt to “vote with your dollars,” patronize their businesses when possible, and maybe say thanks for the positive impact they’ve had on Zach and hundreds of other fly fishing vets like him.
- Joe Esparza, Jo Borowski, and Jim Borowski at Warriors & Quiet Waters
Zach Mertens at Idylwilde Flies
Dave Kumlin at Troutfitters in Bozeman, MT
James Shaughnessy at Beulah Fly Rods
Thanks also to St. Peter’s Fly Shop in Fort Collins, CO for the hat and loaner float tubes.
I’m fully aware that two days on the water will never make things “even,” just as I understand that fishing alone cannot heal all wounds. But friendships forged on the water are pretty special and I’m looking forward to fishing with Zach again–and maybe watching him land the absolute bruiser that snapped his 8lb tippet like it was 6x.
Dave Kumlien says
Thank you for taking Zach fishing and for writing this nice story. I had the pleasure of introducing Zach to fly fishing last year during a Warriors and Quiet Waters event on Slough Creek in Yellowstone Park. He’s a great guy, and he absolutely loves the sport. There’s a therapeutic power in fly fishing for trout, and Zach has discovered this. I had the good fortune to take him fishing on the Big Hole just before he came down to fish with you. We owe a tremendous debt to the men and women who have faithfully served our country to provide us all the opportunity to enjoy to do things like go fly fishing when and where we wish. God Bless!
Trout Unlimited Veterans Service Partnership Western