If you have been a fan of fly fishing, you may have noticed that the faces on the stream are much more attractive these days. Women are taking a keen interest in the sport and they are having a positive impact! Not only are they participating, but in many cases, they are taking leadership roles.
Historical Entry of Women into Fly Fishing
Joan Wulff was one of the earlier women to pioneer the role of women in fly fishing. She was tutored by her father, Jimmy Salvato, at the age of 10, and went on to break the male barrier and become a champion in distance and accuracy casting competitions.
Joan was before her time and was greatly influenced by her parents and their involvement in the sport of fly fishing. She went on to become a national figure and her marriage in 1967 to Lee Wulff reinforced her interest in the sport.
Her fly-fishing school and her editorial and publishing career have made her a well-known celebrity in the world of fly fishing.
Women Currently involved in Fly Fishing
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Debbie Gillespie. She is a guide for Davidson River Outfitters, near Pisgah National Forest. She is a South Carolina upstate native and has been involved in many outdoor sports, including striper and largemouth fishing, mountain biking and hiking. She attended college in the upstate area and the lure of fly fishing led to national travel.
Debbie’s interest in fly fishing led to exploration of many of the North Carolina trout streams and she developed her skills there. That interest led to sharing her passion for the sport by guiding for DRO. She is also a valuable member of the Pisgah TU chapter.
Talking with Debbie led to her mentioning a friend that is actively involved in the sport, as well as being a mainstay of the local community.
When I tried to contact Jessica, she was not available. It happened that she was on a road trip with her volleyball team from Rosman High School. She is a high school coach as well as managing Headwaters Outfitters, serving on the local Tourism Development Board, Heart of Brevard Board, and organizing Pisgah Area Women’s Fly Fishing. Her entry into fly fishing was a natural progression, as Headwaters Outfitters was established by her parents in 1992.
The Fly Shop and Outdoor Outfitters is located in Transylvania County, which allows easy access from surrounding cities. Guided fly-fishing trips are available to some of the best trout water in the southeast. They offer trips to public waters as well as private access to quiet, peaceful streams. They also offer trips to delayed harvest waters.
In addition to fly fishing, from April to October, they offer canoe and kayak trips on the French Broad River. These are family-oriented trips that can range from 3 to 7 hours on class 1 water. An overnight, riverside camping trip is also available.
Headwaters Outfitters has nine full-time guides and is a full-service outfitter. They have a special “School of Trout” class that is headed up by Patrick Weaver, Education Coordinator. This class lasts seven days and is occasionally offered free on select dates.
Jessica Whitmire met Debbie Gillespie at a Tuesday night fly tying event. Jessica said that she has an interest in fly tying, but is not as skilled as Debbie, by a long shot.
Jessica co-founded Pisgah Area Women’s Fly-Fishing (PAWFF) with Debbie Gillespie and Hannah Myers (a guide at Headwaters Outfitters). It promotes educational classes to get more women involved in the sport, and to get them started on the right track to success. They promote educational events, social networking and community projects.
Women have been actively involved in special events such as Casting for Recovery, and have made valuable contributions to the communities they serve.
Jessica mentioned that it is gratifying to see the inclusion of female guides at many of the major outfitters. They have established a connection to the outdoors that leads to a greater appreciation for the environment. She said that it is about more than catching a “big” fish. It is about learning to enjoy nature and participate it, in a new experience that is very fulfilling.
On a personal note, I have observed that women often make better students than men. As a man, I know that we tend to think that we don’t need someone to teach us. Women are often more receptive to teaching and can become very successful guides and teachers to others. Women tend to be more patient with newcomers to the sport.
It is gratifying to see the upsurge in interest of women in learning to fly fish. Andrea, one of my daughters, moved to Colorado a couple of years ago and she expressed an interest is learning to fly fish. On a trip to visit, I carried some gear and she already had a rod. We fished in a small pond nearby and she caught a largemouth bass. It was a revelation to her and she expressed a desire to learn more, going forward. She and her husband are considering a float trip on one of the Colorado rivers next spring.
The bottom line is that we all need to be more aware of the environment. The entry of more women into the sport of fly fishing is a win-win! There is no better place in the world to learn about the workings of nature than on a stream.