There is definitely a difference between having interests and having passions. Nothing is more inspiring than to see someone follow those passions, no matter how far they must travel or how many different directions it might take them in. For whatever reason, the sport of fly fishing tends to draw people who are passionate—not only about fishing, but about various other aspects of life as well. Enthusiasm can be highly contagious and witnessing someone else’s determination to pursue the things that brings them the most joy can cause us to examine our own lives and take note of how we’re progressing towards what’s important to us. An exemplar of this is the journalist, sailor, and angler, Heather Richie.
Richie shares her passions in numerous publications, both here in the US and abroad. Her work has been published at Rivers and Feathers and in many other publications such as Garden and Gun, Sporting Classics, Dun Magazine, and Bluewater Sailing, just to name a handful. Richie’s writing delves into the many interests that she’s passionate about, namely food culture, sailing, and fly angling. Her website (heatherrichie.com) refers to her as “an experiential journalist and writer focusing on land issues, sporting, and food cultures of the modern American and unbordered Souths.” From an early age, Richie’s curiosity led her down a path of discovery that continues to this very day.
When she was in high school, Richie’s father had a friend make him a long, Daniel Boone-style suede fly rod case, complete with fringes along the length. The Christmas she turned 16, she received a White River® fly fishing outfit, a fly tying kit, and it included one Orvis® instructional VHS tape. Richie says, “I watched the video a hundred times. By the time I was in college (they call it university here) I took my nephew to a casting lesson to meet Lefty Kreh. I feel fortunate that the interest in me was fostered at a young enough age to appreciate meeting him. I met him again years later at a show.” She was completely self-taught, and always liked the structure of formal learning, so the VHS was a valuable tool to aid in this work in progress.
With her new gift, Richie spent high school driving to teach herself on the Chattahoochee River in Gwinnett County, Georgia, having spent her formative years at her family’s cabin on Lake Burton near Clayton, Georgia— which offers world-class fly fishing. Richie also visited Brigadoon Lodge on the Soquee River, a place frequented by the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, and Ted Turner. She has fond childhood memories of putting a quarter in an old bubble gum machine and feeding fat rainbow trout at a place called Mark of the Potter, a pottery store in Habersham County.
Richie graduated from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and later returned, eventually buying a home there. It was in the Charleston area that she taught herself to redfish. Richie asked around the local fly shop about what species to target and got to know redfish. Most of her fishing at that time took place between Johns Island and Kiawah Island. It wasn’t until later that she got a boat. “Charleston has since become known around the world for tailing redfish, and everybody wants to be part of it,” Richie says.
It was during this time that Richie became interested in boats and yachting: “Through a South African boyfriend, I found out how to get started (in professional yachting). My goal when I moved back to Charleston was to work for Garden and Gun and live on a boat,” Richie said, “and I did both.” The yacht she lived on was a 63-footer. Richie says that it could be difficult for Americans to get into yachting, at least to the point of getting paid for it, as opposed to doing it simply for recreation. She had figured out a way to do this, and she even did some cruising down in the Bahamas, crewed in the Mediterranean, and completed her first transatlantic crossing in 2021.
Richie’s father had cultivated a love for Ireland in his two daughters from a young age. When Richie was 20, she made her first visit. It was during one of her stays in Ireland years later that Richie realized that she’d never made the connection between her love for the Emerald Isle and her love for fly fishing.
Richie was already doing some freelance writing when she discovered a group called “The Great Fishing Houses of Ireland.” She planned to do a piece for Sporting Classics Daily about all of the different fishing houses there, but she then discovered Delphi Lodge. She was taken by the hospitality of the then general manager Michael “Mick” Wade. “Mick went above and beyond the ideal of Irish hospitality, and it was really through the generosity of his spirit and the setting of this particular house that stole me away,” Richie says.
The tradition of Delphi Lodge began back in the 1900’s after a brilliant mathematician from Trinity College bought the property, and according to Richie, that’s when it became known for big fishing parties. “It was known as a sea-trout fishery for 200 years,” Richie said, “and it was the introduction of salmon farming in the 1980’s that decimated the sea-trout fishery.” At that time, one of what is just a handful of hatcheries in Ireland was constructed, so the area is currently known for salmon fishing and a bit of sea-trout fishing.
Back in the early days of the lodge, according to Richie, the man who caught the biggest fish would get to sit at the head of the communal dinner table. Delphi Lodge carries on that tradition to this day. Richie says there is a connection she makes between Delphi Lodge and a place back home called LaPrade’s on Lake Burton in northeast Georgia. “Everybody would gather around the table, and you’d be sitting beside someone from somewhere else in Georgia or wherever, and at Delphi, you could be sitting beside somebody from France,” Richie says, “and Mick would always make it a point to remember everyone’s name and something about them, going around the table with each introduction at the beginning of the meal. Everyone felt welcomed and seen. It set the tone for the rest of the night.”
Richie received the 2021 Colorado Women Flyfishers Karen Williams Memorial Scholarship, among other grants, and attended the Professional Fly Fishing Guide program. After graduation from the program, she returned to Ireland and to Delphi to apply the skills she’d learned. “I wasn’t pressuring myself to be this amazing guide,” Richie says, “I just wanted to be a ‘hostess-with-the mostest’ with these trips in mind.” She also frequented a place called Screebe House, which is a Victorian fishing lodge built in 1865 and is known for its fine cuisine and wonderful Irish hospitality, as well. According to Richie, this lodge is more of a brown trout fishing destination rather than a salmon fishery and lies about 30 minutes south of Delphi. In 2022, Richie officially moved to Ireland on a critical skills employment permit based on her skillset as a cook and guide.
Richie says she still considers Charleston and northeast Georgia and “its good ole brook trout” as home, but she has a sense of home in Ireland, as well.
When asked about female guides in Ireland, Richie is quick to mention Glenda Powell, who is well known on the river Blackwater in County Cork, and she says there should be more like her. “There is the Irish Ladies’ Fly Fishing Association, and the women want more Miss Mayfly© (women’s fishing and wading gear) and more FisheWear© and the women are really keen on it,” Richie says. The female anglers in Ireland have a real appetite for the female orientated fishing brands. “It’s a real American thing, I suppose, to politicize gender,” she says. “There’s a lot of small fishing clubs locally that if women had wanted to fish for a million years, they could have—and they do.”
Richie has found Ireland to be an overarching experience—not merely a fishing destination for her.
Heather Richie believes that most anglers have deep-seated reasons for fishing, because anymore, there is no real practical or logical need to catch fish for survival. “I can get very philosophical about fishing…” she says, “I associate it with hope.”
You can find out more about Heather’s fishing, travel, and writing on her website:
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Photo credits in order: Kaitlin Boyer, Michael Wade and Felix Sproll