Lead Photo – Pamela Dunlap, Second Creek, Monroe County, WV (photo courtesy Trevor Coffman)
For many of us, we would like to consider fly fishing as a way of life—that one activity that defines who we are, and what we aspire to spend much of our time doing. It seems that no matter how busy our lives get, we somehow manage to squeeze out some time on the water to relax, recharge, and escape from stress and anxiety of the hectic day to day. But for some anglers, fly fishing is so much more than just an occasional retreat into the natural world to find refuge from our jobs, responsibilities, and problems. Fishing has become their one true path in life—a calling. When you meet one of these anglers, you cannot help but be inspired. One such person is Pamela Dunlap.
Dunlap is the founder of Women Wine & Waders, and co-founder of International Women’s Fly Fishing Day. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, her parents moved the family to what would become her beloved West Virginia when she was still in grade school. “I tell everyone I’m a Buckeye by birth, but a Mountaineer at heart!”
In her 29th year as an employee of the United States Postal Service, Dunlap says that “retirement is giggling at me from around the corner.” She has so many things she wants to do—for one, continue to expand upon the group of women anglers she founded, and to do more destination trips out west and her newest obsession, fly fishing saltwater. Dunlap came from a family of hunters and anglers, including her mom and sister, but she was never a girl of the outdoors until later in life. “My hobbies included painting, quilting, gardening, and decorating,” but Dunlap says there was one event that changed her life forever.
On a blind date, Dunlap was given the choice of a nice dinner or a fishing date. She chose fishing. “After that answer came out of my mouth,” Dunlap said, “I instantly thought, ‘what am I thinking?’ I knew nothing about fishing. But I’ll never forget that day, what it meant, how it affected me, and the path it put me on, That was my Awakening.”
That one experience changed the way she saw herself. She said she became adventurous and open to anything that’s out of her comfort zone. “From that day forward, my life completely changed, and a new journey was laid out in which the outdoors would become my playground.” Dunlap says fly fishing was something she had overlooked for so many years, and it is the one thing she wishes she’d discovered years earlier. “I believe that God chooses a time to present us with some of the best things in our lives,” Dunlap says, “and this was mine.”
Dunlap formed the group, Women Wine & Waders in 2015, two years after that chance encounter and first fly fishing experience.. At the time, there just weren’t any women’s fly fishing groups out there, and one day, she got the idea to start one.
“It was so weird, at that same time, I had a video pop up on social media that was so amazing it had me jumping up out of my chair. It was so inspiring!” The video was of a group of lady fly fishers from Belize. That footage, the joy and camaraderie between those women, inspired her to form this group.
Dunlap recalls an interaction with one of her coworkers, Lisa, who had just undergone her second battle with breast cancer. “It occurred to me that she needed to get away—she needed a break.” Lisa had just finished her last treatment, and everything was looking good, and when Dunlap offered to take her fishing, she was reluctant at first because she didn’t fish. After assuring her friend that she could just go and relax, have some time for herself, and make a few friends along the way, Lisa said “I’m going!” Lisa thanked her days later for the comfort and friendship from that trip. She was the inspiration behind giving a lady that’s fighting a health adversity a hand up, and on the group’s spring trips, that is just another reward the ladies of Women Wine & Waders get.
“We can’t reach out like a larger organization can,” Dunlap says, “because we are small, but we hope our impact is just as good as those large groups.”
Dunlap says when asked what her greatest accomplishment has been: “I think it’s every time a lady gets it. When a lady hooks up with that first fish, I can see the excitement as they are fighting and landing it, and the big smile on her face. That is worth a thousand casts, and that’s the biggest accomplishment that myself, or this group, will ever have. When you can see how it affects them and makes a difference in their lives. More than just fishing, that’s for sure.”
Another group that Dunlap has co-founded is International Women’s Fly Fishing Day. On that one day each year, female anglers from 19 different countries around the globe will connect with each other through activities related in some way to fly fishing. That can be anything from fishing, fly tying, teaching classes, or even reading books about fly fishing. These women will post on the organization’s social media outlets, sharing with other women anglers from around the world. Dunlap and her friend Maddie Kelly, an Irish angler, started the group when they found out just how many women’s fly fishing groups there were around the world. International Women’s Fly Fishing Day is the second Saturday in September, and this year, September 9th will be the event’s fourth year.
As mentioned previously, Dunlap is a proud Mountaineer. She works tirelessly to promote West Virginia as a fly fishing destination. When asked what’s one thing she would like to tell our readers in closing:
“I want the readers of Rivers and Feathers to know that we have over 20,000 miles of lakes and rivers. You can cast a line in wide open spaces like you can at those big fly fishing destinations out West, and also fish mountain streams so small you would have to make bow and arrow casts. If you’re not fly fishing in West Virginia, you are truly missing out on something spectacular. We are a secret fly fishing destination, and I can’t help but say that I hope the secret gets out. I can’t wait to share this place with everyone, because it’s not just the fishing—we have some spectacular scenery as well. West Virginia is so beautiful.”
You can find out more about Pamela Dunlap and her work with both Women Wine & Waders and International Women’s Fly Fishing Day on these social media outlets and website:
Instagram: @wvflygirl Women Wine & Waders