Tomyia Wallace prepares to release a fish into the river.
Tomyia Wallace smiles after catching a trout on the St. Joe River last year.

Hustling between classes, studying for hours on end and juggling extracurricular activities may not compare with the stress of life in the military. But student veterans like Tomyia Wallace still relish the chance to get away from the campus bustle. She found the perfect way to do that last semester through the Elks Fly Tying and Casting Project.

“I had no idea what to expect when I started,” says Wallace, who served in the Navy for five years. “It was a time to decompress and focus on fishing. I would get excited for every Tuesday and make sure my schedule was clear so I could practice my fly fishing.”

The Moscow Elks Lodge pioneered the program in 2015 thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation. The funding provides student veterans from WSU and the University of Idaho with rods, reels and a fly-tying kit. Cabela’s contributed $1,700 to the program last year and volunteers from the area, including some fellow veterans, instruct the students in the sport, which has been scientifically proven to reduce stress.

“Most of the volunteer instructors come from the Clearwater Fly Casters group in town,” explains George Paris, who helps to coordinate the project for the local Elks Lodge. “They put in a lot of hours, and the whole program is done at no cost to the student. It provides them a good hobby that is relaxing. They can fish, commune with nature and forget about everything else.”

Kyle Norbert is a WSU senior who is still active in the Air Force. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors, and appreciated the chance to learn a new skill and spend time with fellow veterans, as well as community leaders.

“Fly fishing is a really great way to get away from school for a little bit,” Norbert says. “The casting motion is very elegant and graceful, almost meditative. If you’re looking for a way to step away from the grind of school, I would definitely check it out.”

After three to four sessions of practice at the Moscow Elks Lodge, the students venture out to the water. September’s trip to the St. Joe River in northern Idaho included nearly a dozen student veterans, including Wallace. She earned bragging rights by catching three fish, and she’s now hooked on the sport.

Wallace is no stranger to getting involved. In her first semester on campus she joined MANNRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences), QPCA (Queer People of Color and Allies), and God’s Harmony, a gospel choir made up of WSU students. She’s now looking into joining a local women’s fly fishing club.

“It was a great experience, to be with other veterans and meet new people,” Wallace says of the program. “When you’re fishing, you can stay out there for hours and you just forget about the time. On our trip, Elks Lodge members fed us and did everything for us, and they’ve kept in touch if we want to go fishing again. It’s been awesome.”

The Elks Fly Tying and Casting Project is one of many ways student veterans can get involved at WSU. The recently launched Student Veterans Council was designed to provide a forum for, and to coordinate support efforts between student veterans, staff, faculty and administration. Blaine Golden serves as Veterans Coordinator on the WSU Pullman campus, and says there are numerous opportunities for student veterans from all WSU campuses to get involved.

“We want our veterans to be aware of all the ways they can be engaged with the University,” Golden says.