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What is it that gets people so excited about fly fishing? Why would anyone want to stand in the river waving a big stick? Well, it’s challenging, rewarding and fun—and how many other activities get you outside enjoying nature up close and personal plus discovering the secret life of beautiful fish and the insects they feed on?
My fly fishing started with a trip to Alaska. My husband and I were to be dropped off in the Gates of the Arctic for a week on a stream, and I thought it might be fun to try to fly fish. I ran out and bought a light 8-foot, 6-weight rod and a how-to book, “The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide,” by Tom Rosenbauer. It’s filled with all kinds of great information and is still available today. (There wasn’t the Internet at that time, so looking at YouTube was out.) So there I was in Alaska, looking at the book and trying to become a fly fisher. When I headed out to the river, boy, was I in for a surprise. It wasn’t as easy as the book made it out to be.
When I started I never knew where all my flies went. I tied them on and whipped the rod back and forth. Watching where the fly landed on the water was a task in itself, and on closer inspection the problem wasn’t always my vision. Often the fly was missing. Sometimes it caught in the trees or bushes. Or worse, in my eagerness I’d whipped them right off the line. I didn’t have waders or boots that fit. I found out that I really did need reading glasses because I couldn’t get the leader through the really tiny hook eyes without magnification. But somehow, I did catch a few truly beautiful fish on that first trip. I decided to continue when I got home—and I’ve come a long way, baby.
When I first started to fish back home, there were not too many women involved. One day I was driving along the river and there, standing in the middle of the river, was another woman (the first I had seen) fly fishing. I stopped and asked if we could fish together. She too was just starting out and we became best friends—learning together.
One time we were asked by a kind old gentleman if we wanted to join a fly fishing club. We jumped at the chance, but he said he’d need pre-approval before we could come to a meeting. They voted we could come and you should have seen their faces when we walked in. Our pre-approval was based on our names, “Kyle” and “Sam.” They really did yell that they had been tricked. Phil Chase, our friend, got the biggest laugh out of the whole thing. We stayed and made some friends, but were never allowed to go to “fly-tying night” at the club. No women allowed! We were permitted to go fishing with them with the caveat that they wouldn’t take us to the good places. And of course the old standby, “There might be snakes there.”
We carried on, fishing many different locations. We especially liked the Mongaup River, but struggled to catch a fish there until someone told us we needed to go at dusk, not at noon. Off we went, and boy did we catch fish. When we couldn’t see to replace the lost flies we headed back to the car only to find out the importance of headlights. We stumbled along not being able to see where we were, laughing the whole time. The next time out we bumped into the fisherman who had told us to stay later, and he apologized for forgetting to tell us to bring a flashlight. He confessed that the first time he stayed late he had ripped off the posted signs and burned them to see where he was going.
Kyle and I first discovered the big Delaware on a Fourth of July. It was extremely hot with bright sun. We didn’t know very much about bugs but were able to see that there were little yellow flies coming off the river. I will never forget the four brown trout I landed that day. That was the start of my love affair with the Delaware River. This was before the new valve was in place on the Cannonsville dam, so the summertime flows were always great: big brown trout feeding on top and not too many folks fishing. We both received a sunburn, but on the way home we needed to turn the heat up in the car because we were shivering from standing in the cold water for so long.
For my birthday one year I asked my husband to go with me to my first Somerset Fly Fishing Show. To my surprise he agreed. (He doesn’t fish.) I had a blast looking at and touching all the interesting gear, but not one booth representative talked to me. They all addressed my husband. The only booth that acknowledged me was the Urban Angler fly shop from NYC. My husband purchased a Winston rod from them for next my birthday.
But the journey now is much different. There are many women in the sport and many organizations will bring you into the fold. Every fly shop and club holds casting and fly-tying lessons. Many have trips that you can join, both close to home and to remote destinations. There are clubs that are primarily for women. The Joan Wulff Fly Fishers in New Jersey (www.jwffclub.org) and the Juliana’s Anglers Sporting Club in New York City (julianasanglers.com) both hold classes to get women started in the sport. Trout Unlimited (tu.org) and the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF, www.fedflyfishers.org) have listings of clubs in our area, and the IFFF has a list of certified casting instructors, which I believe is one of the best ways to learn proper casting techniques.
There are many good guides available in our area, and spending a day on the water with one can improve your ability by leaps and bounds. The industry has come around too, promoting clothing and gear designed for women.
So now could be the best time to gear up and join us on the river. You never know, fly-fishing could be your new passion.
[Patricia (Sam) Decker has guided on the Delaware and its tributaries since 2003. She is an IFFF certified casting instructor and can be contacted at Samfishesr@hvc.rr.com.]