ENNIS — Surrounded by mountains at the Madison Valley Ranch, fly fishing vests inscribed with different dates, locations and even positive messages are laid out ready for the next wave of men to add their stamp.
"There’s pens all over if you want to sign your name on there," Montana co-director Zach Hoylman told participants during the vest ceremony.
However, it’s an exclusive brotherhood no one wishes of joining, a brotherhood all connected by cancer.
"The concept is that each fisherman is not alone, that there have been many before them and many to follow, and that they should feel reinforced by wearing this fly fishing vest," former Montana director Tim Rote explained.
Inspired by the loss of one of their friends, a group of avid anglers started Reel Recovery two decades ago hoping other men fighting the same fight could also find peace on the river.
“They always found that the sport of fly fishing was very therapeutic in that whenever they were focused on the sport of fishing, they would forget about everything else that was going on," Rote added.
Along with spending time on the water in some of the most picturesque settings, the men also take part in professionally facilitated “courageous conversations," which allow participants to share their cancer-related experiences and offer support to others.
“It's that safe space to be vulnerable," Montana co-director Michael Grisley stated.
“There's no right way to handle recovery," Reel Recovery participant Jim Van Fossen added. "We all come for different reasons, and that's the beauty of sitting around in a circle and listening.”
Diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 58, Van Fossen can remember feeling a sense of disbelief not knowing the battle that was ahead.
However, there was nothing but smiles on the Madison River.
“I think in a lot of ways cancer can be kind of an isolating thing for people, especially men who are trying to protect their family and their loved ones," Hoylman explained. "I think this is just a great space for people to recognize that that challenge is shared.”
The free retreat was held at the Madison Valley Ranch, an award-winning fly fishing lodge.
"Part of Reel Recovery's healing power is being in such a gorgeous location," Hoylman expressed. "Being here at the Madison Valley Ranch at this beautiful venue is just phenomenal so we can't say thank you enough to this location.”
For more information on how to attend a Reel Recovery Retreat or other ways to get involved, click here.