Carving a space for women in fly fishing, one cast at a time
The learning curve can be a little tough. It’s a really a finesse sport, not a muscle sport. The other thing is that when I was starting out, I’d go into fly fishing shops to learn more and they’d just look at me like I had lobsters coming out of my eyeballs. I mean, as a woman walking in… the record screeches, you know? There truly wasn't a lot of space for women in this sport. Frankly that kept me out of the fly shops a bit.
In New Mexico, where I was living, I met a guy who later became my husband. He was a guide and he managed a shop in Taos. We went out fly fishing, and he helped me quite a bit which was really great. But, I'm extremely competitive... especially with my husband. So it drove me crazy that he was better than me. It didn’t matter that he'd been fishing a lot longer than I had. I just felt, "Okay. I've got to do this, I’ve got to get really, really good at this." And I sincerely loved it, so I had my motivation."
"My husband had a buddy who went to school in Mankato, and knew of the Driftless area. He said, "Have you guys heard of that?" We said, "No." We looked on a map and saw ‘Viroqua’, it sounded French. I looked it up online and saw that there was a hockey arena, a big plus. There was a cool co-op, and it just looked like a neat town. We visited and people were just so extraordinarily nice. A small town with some culture, and everybody was really, really kind. That first visit it felt like home.
I was raised in a little farm town in eastern Washington, so Viroqua was reminiscent of home for me in that way too. It was so green, and there are these teeny little spring creeks that are so intimate. They aren’t flooded with people. It’s peaceful. That kept me on the water a lot longer, I never wanted to leave. I still don't. We thought, "You know, there's a really fantastic fishery here, and no fly shop.” That's kind of how it all got started. We came here expressly for the idea of opening this fly shop."
"Our area is called The Driftless Region because the last glacial drift did not cover this portion of Wisconsin. The lack of drift created a series of coulees (valleys), and natural spring creeks. Spring fed creeks stay a pretty consistent temperature throughout the year, which is extremely good for trout. Trout like really, really cold water. Plus, natural spring fed creeks produce healthy aquatic vegetation and a diverse selection of bugs, which are trout food. I believe there’s over 220 miles of classified trout water just in our county. We have somewhat of a hidden gem here. It’s a bit a of a cliche, but trout don’t live in ugly places. Wherever there’s a trout stream, it’s gorgeous.
Wisconsin’s DNR was historically committed to stream health and the sport of fishing, as well as natural trout reproduction. There used to be ample funding through the DNR for stream rehabilitation. In the past there's been tons of stream work, and tons of rehabilitation and conservation work. Now the DNR is SO strapped that that commitment has definitely decreased.
But we need our fishery biologists and DNR research scientists, and unfortunately we’ve seen some pretty big changes in the last few years. Stream ecology is changing and we're seeing more invasive species, plus there have been an increase in manure spills, as well as a lack of regulation in protecting clean water. I equate it to - this is our playground that we all want to experience. We want to enjoy all the benefits of it, but if we don't actively participate in keeping this water healthy, we're going to lose the resource.
Clean and healthy streams are not only important to our lives, but also important to our local tourism. The amount of money that has come in directly related to fly fishing has been huge. It ranges from accommodations: hotels, motels, cabins, as well as dining, groceries, purchasing from other local vendors, you name it, this area it has benefited so much from fly fishing, and we really need healthy streams to support all of these local businesses.
Conservation groups like Trout Unlimited have been so active in the supporting the Driftless. TU is really dedicated to stream rehabilitation in the Driftless. TU is doing It’s best to try and pick up some of the pieces that the DNR can't with the limitations it’s been facing, they’re definitely trying to keep the effort alive to protect our streams."
"Fly fishing has traditionally been a men’s sport. The boys club was very evident in magazines, and anything that you saw having to do with fly fishing, you just did not see women represented at all.
At the same time guys would come into our shop and look over my shoulder: "Is one of the guys around?" That kind of thing. For me it became, "Aww, damn it. This stuff irritates me and I'm going to prove that women should be in this sport.”
Fortunately, at the same time the women's fly fishing world was coming alive. It’s not that women hadn't been doing this sport forever, because they have. But it's just that they didn't get the spotlight. They didn't have somebody listening to their story. That is starting to change. I think it has a lot to do with social media. We were able to see, "Oh my goodness. Here is a woman who's got this club here. Here's a woman who's teaching this clinic here." I think there was this feeling of, “You know what? This is a sport that I can participate in."
Now, there’s this momentum, companies are realizing that there are a lot of women coming into this sport, they have income, and they want to participate. They are finally putting money into the technology and gear for women and we have a lot more options. And women are finding one another. Somebody to fish with. Somebody to tie with. Somebody to go on a trip with. Now there is such a demand that I guide more women than I do men. I just want to help continue this momentum, let women know they’re entitled to this resource too, and continue to carve out this space for women in this incredible sport."
"This may sound a bit cliché, but there really is a zen part to fly fishing for me. The feeling of casting. The sound of it. Just that little whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound. I love that. I love being in the water. When I step into the stream and feel my waders close in around my calves. I love the feeling of it. I love the sound of it.
There's the challenge piece too. I love having to figure out what the right bug is. I've got to figure out where the fish are. I've got to figure out this teeny little stream, how I'm going to navigate it. How I'm going to fish it.
And being in these intimate streams... it’s an enchanting feeling. Everything about it works for me. If there's a day that I don't want to fish, even for a couple hours, something's amiss. And it’s also a remedy - when I know I'm being snarly my husband might say, "Please go fish. Just go fish." And guess what? The household is harmonious when I come back. Whether I catch fish or not. It is really the thing that fixes me."