The sport of fly fishing has always been steeped in tradition. Nostalgia has held a heavy bearing on the culture as the legends and lore surrounding our favorite pastime is handed down from one generation to the next. Historically, the angling traditions upon which the sport was built were carried on almost exclusively by men. But just as with any other group or tribe, fly anglers at some point had to evolve, for the pure and simple fact that if a society does not change, it tends to grow stagnant and will eventually die out.
Luckily, for fly fishing, there came at some point a shift. More and more anglers began putting fly rods in the hands of their daughters and granddaughters, and as these women came into their own as anglers, they were the perfect fit to share in the fly fishing culture. Their male counterparts soon realized that just because these new anglers were female did not mean that they couldn’t do just as good, if not better, than the boys. After all, it is a sport that requires a gentle touch, a great deal of finesse, and a lot of attention to detail.
Women are now one of the fastest growing demographics in the sport of fly fishing, and have become a vital part of what we like to call the fly fishing culture. The world of the fishing guide—a mostly male-dominated industry—can be highly competitive, but these female guides are proving every day that they are plenty capable of holding their own. It used to be that the men in the industry would question the career path of a female guiding prospect, but that attitude is changing, with both guides and clientele.
Two such guides are helping to change perceptions of a woman’s role in fly fishing here in the Southern Appalachians. They both have contributed so much to the sport, and each brings a level of skill and passion that makes them two of the best guides in the business.
Simons has been a guide for Brookings Anglers out of Cashiers, North Carolina for the past 12 years. When she’s not on the water with clients, she can be found plying the waters of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina for trout. She loves fishing all the rivers and streams in the region, but she is especially drawn to remote, high mountain streams. Simons says her first experiences fly fishing came through a DNR program that worked to get women involved in the outdoors. This newfound passion for fly fishing ultimately led to an interest in becoming a guide.
Simons agrees that the fly fishing industry was very much a man’s world when she began guiding, but she can see that changing. She sees women being welcomed into the sport as men are becoming much more receptive of their female counterparts on the water. Simons said she was always kind of a tomboy anyway, and she doesn’t feel marginalized or intimidated in a sport traditionally dominated by men. “The fish sure don’t care, so the angler shouldn’t care either,” she says.
Welter says that occasionally she has encountered male clients that displayed a bit of disappointment that their guide for the day was a woman, but by the time the trip was over, the client seemed to have a new attitude and respect for her level of skill and talent as a guide. One client in-particular told her that he had fished all over the world, with many different guides, but that he had learned more in one hour fishing with her than all those other times put together. Simons says that was very affirming to her, especially the client being an older man who had so many experiences with guides, and for sure had certain expectations from the beginning. She said that hearing the customer’s praise was a very heartwarming experience.
Welter guides clients with a wide range of experience, and she hopes that they come away a better angler by the end of the day. “It’s not all about the fish,” she says, “it’s about having a greater appreciation for the entire process.”
Simons’ positive attitude and a genuine love for fly fishing are rewarded by many repeat customers. Add into the mix all the skill and experience she has gained over the years trekking through cold mountain streams for trout, and you have the makings of an experience of a lifetime.
Simons is a volunteer for Casting Carolinas and Casting for Recovery, and she is also a member of the Mountain Bridge chapter of Trout Unlimited, located in upstate South Carolina. If you are interested in a guided trip with Simons Welter, contact Brookings Anglers at: http://www.brookingsonline.com
Debbie is from the Upstate of South Carolina, and grew up spin-fishing with her dad, spending nearly every weekend on Lake Greenwood in South Carolina, fishing for largemouth bass and stripers. She came to fly fishing on her own, and taught herself the sport. Gillespie has been a guide at Davidson River Outfitters for the past 8 years. The number one fish she loves to chase are muskies in Tennessee and Virginia. As far as trout go, she prefers the high-mountain “blue line” streams of Western North Carolina for wild fish.
Debbie said that she tends to get a lot of women for clients, and she says that is a good thing since fly fishing can be intimidating, and she wants her customers to be comfortable and to come away from the experience with some degree of confidence. She also wants her customers to understand the value of clean water and healthy fish. She emphasizes with her clients how dynamic the environment and stream habitat is and how protecting it is so much more important than just catching fish.
One of Gillespie’s most memorable guide trips was the time she took a family out fishing for the day, and the 14 year old daughter expressed that she wanted to be a guide someday. Debbie said it was pretty cool to hear that, because she had never met anyone who had wanted to be a guide before, and certainly not a teenage girl. She was delighted to share what she could about the life and routine of a guide to the enthusiastic prospect.
Debbie Gillespie is the kind of guide that will teach you something, as her methods are very much instructional. She guides clients of all skill level and believes that it is best if someone is introduced to the sport in the correct way. Having an experienced angler as a teacher can save a lot of time and frustration. Debbie knows how overwhelming it can be starting out, so she is always willing to share her knowledge and make suggestions.
The typical guided trips with Debbie are wade trips on private water, and she provides all the gear necessary for a successful day on the water.
Debbie gives much of her free time volunteering and making a positive impact on her community. She is the lead fly fishing instructor for Casting for Recovery Carolinas, a charity supporting breast cancer survivors through an outdoor life. She is also a co-founder of the Pisgah Area Women’s Fly Fishing where she instructs on fly tying among other skills. If you would like to book a trip with Debbie Gillespie, contact Davidson River Outfitters at: http://davidsonflyfishing.com
These two women are serious anglers and exemplary ambassadors of our sport. Their influence has the potential to empower more females to break into the world of fly fishing. The impact these guides have not only enriches the experience for both men and women, but also has great potential to change people’s perspective on what it means to be a female and a dedicated fly angler.