Women Who Fish: Spotlight on Women Anglers
By Jenny Weis
Spotlight on Women Who Fish
Women’s participation in the sport of flyfishing has come a long way since the “first lady of flyfishing,” Joan Wulff, picked up a fly rod in 1937. Though it is still a sport largely dominated by men, the scales are beginning to balance thanks to the vision and example of women leaders in Alaska like Cecelia “Pudge” Kleinkauf and many others, including the four accomplished women we interviewed below.
In honor of Women’s History Month, meet four leading women who fish in Alaska’s flyfishing scene that are not only exceptional anglers, they work in the industry and take time to help conserve the places where they love to fish. We hope in reading their answers, you’ll be inspired to invite a female friend on your next trip.
- Kate Crump, co-owner of Frigate Travel guides year-round in Bristol Bay and the Pacific Northwest. She is a conservation advocate and flyfishing ambassador for Patagonia, Sawyer Oars, and Costa Del Mar among others.
- Nanci Morris-Lyon, a 30+ year guide and year-round resident of King Salmon. She owns Bear Trail Lodge on the Naknek River.
- Linda Leary, owner of FisheWear a “functional fishing fashion” brand of gear for women.
- Tiarna Fischler, a Yup’ik woman from Manokotak, who is now the Assistant Manager of Mission Lodge.
What advice do you have for women who want to learn to flyfish?
KC: You can take classes and read many books, but the best way to learn is to be on the water. Hiring a good professional guide can go a long way to your overall enjoyment of the sport and accelerate your learning curve.
NML: Do it!!! Women need to remember that flyfishing should not be intimidating. It is technique that gets you there, not strength. In flyfishing you can be challenged as a beginner and an expert, but you will always feel relaxed being on the water, seeing the wildlife that surrounds you and often being amazed by what you see or hear, learning how to just breathe and appreciate the moments.
TF: Don’t be afraid to find your own casting style. No two people are going to cast exactly the same. So find what works for you and go with it! After some time on the water, it’ll all become so natural. And lastly…never ask your significant other to teach you. It does not always go as planned or hoped.
LL: Don’t be afraid to be a newbie and out of your comfort zone!
Were there any resources or people that inspired or helped you learn?
KC: So many people along my way generously helped me grow as an angler, but the best teacher was time on the water.
NML: Joan Wulff has always been an inspiration and helps me to have the motivation to improve.
TF: I was first introduced to the sportfishing industry in 2008 while attending the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy. Before that, I had no knowledge in the industry or even what sportfishing was. My understanding of the term “fishing” was commercial or subsistence. Since then, I have centered my life around sportfishing.
LL: My dad inspired me to learn at a young age and over the years I spent a lot of time with some great guides who are fabulous teachers, along with putting in the time to practice.
You are a role model when it comes to women and fishing. What are you most proud of when it comes to your connection to this sport?
KC: I am proud to share places like Bristol Bay with guests and proud when they are driven to also help protect them.
NML: In my younger years it was being able to be better than the boys at casting, fishing, reading water, driving a boat. But now, hands down, I am proudest of those I have shared the love of flyfishing with and who have caught the bug.
TF: It makes me happy to see more and more women getting into the industry, becoming guides, owning lodges, starting businesses of their own. I am very proud to be a part of a growing industry and to be able to work in my own backyard.
LL: Seeing the joy it brings people to try it and get out in the outdoors!
What personally motivates you to help with conserving and protecting our fisheries?
KC: I’m motivated by justice and what I think is right in this world. I believe protecting water establishes healthy watersheds and ensures thriving communities, fisheries and wildlife.
NML: Love of the sport and my insane drive and desire to protect what I love!!! People are always wanting to do stupid things to places that they don’t see through the eyes of a flyfisher or an outdoorsman. They forget there is value to others in leaving things as they are, untouched and self-sustaining.
TF: I grew up in Bristol Bay, my family is from Bristol Bay. Our people have survived for thousands of years from the abundance of wildlife and the self-sustaining fishery we have in our region. Our ancestors protected our land and it is our turn to do the same for the generations to come.
LL: We want the fish to be around for future generations to enjoy!
What is your hope for the future of the sport?
KC: My hope for the future of fishing is that we continue to see wild salmon returning to the pristine watershed of Bristol Bay and the rest of the Pacific Northwest figures out how not to lose them forever.
NML: Growth and appreciation for the next generations in order to continue to protect the areas that bring us such fullness and contentment.
TF: It amazes me how many people in the [Bristol Bay] region don’t know what sportfishing is, and what job opportunities the industry offers. I hope as the industry grows, more people from the region will become aware of the jobs that are available.
LL: My hope is that we support each other and lift people up so we see more diversity and people having fun and not being too serious!
What’s your favorite fishing moment?
NML: The moment I lay out the perfect cast in the perfect spot and the fish just can’t help himself and tries to jerk the rod out of my hands. I live for those moments. For me, it’s not nearly as much fun if the cast and struggle is not there.
TF: From out-fishing my boyfriend to nearly getting skunked. I have many favorites. One of my most memorable days on the water was a few years back while fishing a small stretch of water that’s known to hold big rainbows. It was the perfect day for sight fishing, the sun and clouds were in our favor with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away but not enough to mess up my casting. I knew it was the day, it had to be. Remember earlier when I stated fishing with your significant other can be challenging? Well this was one of those days. I was doing everything completely wrong. I was unable to make a “perfect” drift. I was either mending in the wrong direction, not giving a good hook set, getting line wrapped around my legs or stuck in the brushes behind us. Any time I had a big fish on, I found a way to lose it. I don’t know who was more frustrated, myself or Jeff. After a few hours of failed attempts, I finally gave up and took a break. It didn’t help that as I was sitting and sulking Jeff was landing one after another. Sometime after lunch I finally got the motivation to pick up the rod again. I made a few drifts and got a couple nice grayling and char. Not what I wanted, but I was happy to finally land something. After landing a couple I had gotten so used to the soft bites and easy fights I was not prepared for what came next. I did the same cast I had been doing the last half hour not expecting anything and that’s when it hit. The line took off, I had no time for a hook set so I thought for sure I was going to lose it. I chased the ‘bow downriver while trying to keep the line tight. After a long fight I finally tired it out and was able to get it close to the bank. Jeff was positioning himself to net the fish when…SNAP! The line broke off and I lost the rainbow. That was quite possibly the biggest heartbreak of my life. That was the day the rainbow won and I lost.
KC: My favorite fishing moments are when my guests take in their surroundings and deeply appreciate the moments on the water and have gratitude for the fish.
LL: The first time a new flyfisherman catches a fish and the sheer joy and excitement they have.
Women and new members can join a community of Alaska anglers and get connected to local events in Alaska and beyond by joining Trout Unlimited here.
Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director for Trout Unlimited. She lives in Anchorage.
This blog originally appeared as the Conservation column titled ‘Spotlight on Women Anglers’ in the March 2020 issue of Fish Alaska.