Fly Fishing Mavens

7I9A34657I9A3272 7I9A3294 7I9A3373 7I9A34487I9A35337I9A36227I9A3584I was in Missoula last week for the Orvis Guide Rendezvous.  The main event for me was a facilitated discussion Orvis hosted with 35 other women who fly fish over a span of two days.  I’ve never really been into girl power, I mean, I don’t do any of the things I do outside or in life because I have something to prove or because I have a big, ugly, feminist chip on my shoulder (don’t be confused, I am a feminist and believe that women have the right to try and do anything they wish in life — I live the life of a true feminist in that regard).  I do the things I do because I genuinely like to do them and because I pretty much always do exactly what I want to do in life.

I’m Jillian Lukiwski.  I do what I want.

But let’s get back to the subject on hand.

I found myself sitting in a room with 35 woman of varying ages and talents who all like to fish or have built careers or businesses around fishing and it was pretty incredible.  In point of fact, I have never felt such a sense of sisterhood with a diverse group of women ever before in my entire life!  The way we all patiently heard each other and allowed each other to speak was utterly magnificent to behold.  Let me tell you something else about those girls, they were all fit, sun kissed, intuitive, gracious, patient, intelligent, well spoken, wise, driven and every single one was outrageously beautiful — I mean physically beautiful…total bombshells.  It was a wild batch of wonderful female specimens.  There were only two men in the room over the two days of meetings but I found myself wondering if they saw us the way I saw us — just a super batch of completely radiant gals gunning hard for meaningful, well lived lives.  I am 34 years old and I keep wondering why it took me so long to find this tribe?

I found our discussion stimulating and deeply meaningful beyond the sense of sisterhood I felt.  Orvis has an incredible vision and I think it’s safe to say they are blazing a trail when it comes to women and fly fishing.  They want to see a 50/50 split in the field, an equal amount of women and men on the water catching fish.  They want to figure out how to keep women fishing because let’s face it, once kids are in the picture, it can be difficult for women to keep up any kind of lifestyle or hobby for a while.  Sometimes, when we put something on hold, it turns into something we quit.  Orvis doesn’t want that for women when it comes to fly fishing (or any outdoor pursuit).  Folks can pack an infant on their backs and go fishing (I know a few really cool girls who fish like this) but once a kid gets too big to carry, how do we keep ladies on the rivers and lakes fishing?  We didn’t totally find the answer to this specific question as a group but we talked a lot about what is important to us as sporting women and how we thought we could draw more women into the lifestyle and activity, and how we thought we could keep them doing it for their lifetime, teaching the people around them to love it, too.

After those long meetings we hit the rivers of Montana and I had one of the best river days of my life.  I was actually somewhat nervous to head out with some of these ladies because they are notoriously talented (and in some cases famous) fishers and I am by no means an expert angler.  I have moments of genius on the river but have developed many of my techniques by simply exploring with a fly rod in hand and discovering what doesn’t work and what catches fish.  I’ve never been officially guided, in part because Rob and I have a raft and we simply take ourselves out and explore, or I am fishing alpine lakes, or simply wading rivers or creeks with nice pocket water.

I’ve always loved the beauty of surface takes and have always favored dry fly fishing for this reason, to the point of complacency.  It’s good to know what you love but what I realized is that there’s an huge world out there begging to be fly fished by me.  I want to learn to fly fish every way possible, salt water too.  I want to know how to do it all.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I could be doing with a fly rod!  While on the river with six girls in Montana I learned a ton about streamer fishing and I learned to double haul!  The depth of knowledge was there for me to dive into and so I dove, fearlessly and without shame.  I’m so glad I did too.  I find learning utterly thrilling.

This leads me to something I realized while in Montana: women fish differently than men.  I don’t mean the technical approach to casting, I mean in the way we approach the entire experience.  I’ve fished with Robbie my entire fishing career and he is production driven no matter where we are.  He wants to catch fish.  When we are on the river in our boat, he has been known to say, “Jillian, if this raft is in the water, there had better be line out.”  I thought this was just his way of fishing but then I started talking to other girls about it and it turns out this is generally the male way of fishing.  For women, it’s about catching fish, but it’s also about relaxing, watching birds, dropping anchor to watch herons build their nests, swimming, collecting rocks on the gravel bars….

I thought I was alone this whole time but as it turns out, I fish like a female and there is a tribe of gals who fish who have been waiting to claim me for what I am.  We women fish to catch fish, but also to be immersed in the natural world and to dawdle there a bit, between casts, between catches, to enjoy the wind and the sunshine, we want to baptize ourselves in the elements, drift in and out of a sense of wonder, pause, look up from our fly line where it floats in the water and feel it all.  We want to celebrate.  We want to ponder the meaning and mystery of life.

This is what we found ourselves doing on the river, the six of us in our boats, truly reveling in the magic of the river, enjoying the way we all delighted in the world around us and cheering like a pom squad in short skirts when anyone caught a fish or had a bump or a bite, no matter the fish, no matter the success or failure, we did it with the fullness of joy.  When I really nailed my double haul, having those girls tell me it looked strong and knowing they were genuinely delighted by my effort was deeply meaningful for me.  It made my heart grow bigger.  It made me want to invest my love in each and every one of those ladies.

In short, we don’t want to fish like men (though I sometimes say I want to fish like a man when I’ve been reading a lot of Hemingway), we want to fish like women.  We want to do it our way and still fit in a lifestyle and world that has always been owned by affluent white men.  We want to have a place there and we want it without having to compromise how we go about doing it and experiencing it.  We want men to enjoy fishing with us and we want to celebrate with men, as we fish, and share with them the fullness of the joy we feel when we’re on the water.  Be prepared to have a great time, guys, we might even shotgun a beer or two while we’re with you (except not me because I don’t drink beer).

In short, I am a girl and I like to fish.  If you are a girl and you like to fish, I want to fish with you some day.  If you’re a guy and you like to fish, I want to fish with you too, and hopefully you’ll delight in the fact that I fish like a girl.

Since I’ve been home, Rob and I kayaked to our secret spot on the river where some huge rainbows reside.  Those fish are wonderful and naive because no one knows they are there and so they never get fished.  I caught three big, beautiful trout on a streamer (the first fish I have ever caught on a streamer) and I had a fourth on but he breached like a humpback whale, looked me in the eye while his body was hanging there in thin air, and spit out my fly like it tasted dirty — like I wasn’t worth his time or his beauty before he landed back in a river lit neon pink by the sunset.  What a badass.  Oh my soul.  Robbie caught a 24 inch rainbow moments later and it didn’t fit in the net and I thought I would perish watching the back of that fish cleave the surface of the river as Rob was bringing him in.  I showed my husband my double haul.  I told him I would teach him what I knew and that we could practice together and master the skill – he was thrilled because he is a humble, wonderful man and he doesn’t mind learning from me.  It grew dark and we kayaked up river, loaded the boats in the truck and headed home.  Happy.

It’s only April.  I hope I don’t put any of you non-fishing folks off by all the fishing I am going to do this summer.  I hope I inspire you to go outside and connect with the natural world in a way you love — secretly, I hope you go to a river or lake and try your hand at fly fishing.  If you do, report back and tell me about your experience.  I would love to hear about it and I would love to fish with you someday.

[insert fist bump here]

XX

Comments

  1. Awesome. Love it. Thanks for sharing and for inspiring us all. And I am willing to bet that is exactly what those two men thought in the room!

  2. Fish fist bump back at you! How inspiring! I am itching to get back out on the rivers again, hurry up break up.

  3. When I was a little girl we would visit a farm on Trout Creek Road in Wisconsin. The woman who lived on the farm would take me, a big city girl, fishing in the creek. I would coax the trout onto my hook with this rhyme: “Fishy, fishy in the creek, catch my work and don’t be meek.” The rhyme worked splendidly and I, a big city girl, was able to provide freshly caught dinners for my parents. That lovely woman, not my dad, taught me to fish. Maybe someday instead of just fishing themed Father’s Day cards, there will be some for Mother’s Day too. 😉

  4. Hi Jillian, I read and absorbed every wonderful scene you painted with your words. I fish like a girl, growing up with 4 brothers and 2 sisters, we lived outdoors, not so much catch and release back then, we eat or smoked our fish. We lived beside a fish hatchery, so we were lucky to know the alpine lakes that were stocked or where the wild fish lived in the placid pools of water in the deep back country..I have a girlfriend I have fly fished with and we are the same as you describe, we look around us and bring the surroundings into our souls.
    Thank you for this lovely lovely story of fishers that fish like girls! Sending your BC sunshine and love.

    • Dagmar,

      I have something to say about catch and release — I think it’s great. But I also keep some of my fish I catch for us to eat. We actually just ate a nice little trout we caught at our special spot the other night. It was delicious. It’s great to fish catch and release but I also view fishing as a life skill that can feed myself and my family. I think it’s good to eat what you catch from time to time, if a river system can support it.

      Love knowing you are one more lady who fishes like a girl!!!

      XX

  5. You know, Jillian, this wonderful and inspiring story reminds me of the way things are on this planet right now, the way they have been for a while actually, and the way they could be, if every woman could gently bring her woman’s way to do things with love and reverence, into our production-driven societies. I can’t help feeling that it is coming, that you and these beautiful ladies are really the sweet pioneers, the sun-kissed coaxers of a free river-loving world.

    Also, I have always had this dream (among others) that one day, I would be able to fish like a dreamy child, lulling trout into my hands to hold them there a little while, to feel and admire their vibrant trout soul, and to release them gently. Somehow, your story makes me aware that there is a place for my own sensitive soul in this world of river lovers, too. Thank you. xo

    • I agree with you. This is beautifully said, “if every woman could gently bring her woman’s way to do things with love and reverence…” Women have such a different approach to life and work than men. It’s not better. It’s just different. But it brings so much balance to the work place, to the home, to the world.

      I also love your phrase, “…the sweet pioneers, the sun-kissed coaxers of a free river-loving world.”

      You can catch fish like that, you know! Tickle them into your hands! It’s magic! I hope you do it someday.

      XX

  6. Well done! I hope my wife makes good on her promise to let me teach her to fly fish one day, when the kids are a little older, though I constantly remind her there is no time like the present! I always tell people, if I wanted to just catch fish I’d just go drown a worm at the dam and call it a day. Fly fishing to me is more of a meditative experience. But as altruistic as I try to be, maybe it’s the man in me that whispers “hey dude, you are standing in the creek with a fly rod in your hand, the point is catching a fish, so quit missing strikes!” Really enjoyed this blog and will follow, thanks!

    • I agree. There is no time like the present. Set up a day to do it, give the kids to a sitter or their grandparents, and surprise her with a day out on the river. Be patient when you teach, let her dawdle if she wants to, pack a picnic. Make a date of it.

      I’m totally guilty of missing strikes because I am daydreaming or rubbernecking an osprey…no shame!!!!!!!!!!

      🙂

      Thanks for being here, Tom.

  7. Jillian, I’m so glad I got to meet you last week… Your enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. Can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!

  8. This is all SO GOOD. I grew in the mountains of Colorado, but when I learned to fly fish at the time I was more interested to scrambling over rocks than waiting with a line. So I stopped for several years and last fall was the first time I fished in adulthood, reeling in silver salmon in while living in Alaska. I’m moving to Missoula next month and really looking forward to learning how to fly fish (and meet some of my own badass fishing ladies).

    Thanks for reminding women that fishing is cool. That we are and need to be wild. I always look forward to your writing and your photos.

    • You’re going to love Missoula and there are a lot of women who fish in that town. I think you might be right in time for a “ladies night” at one of the fly shops there, actually! There’s supposed to be wine, a trailer backing workshop, and a heck of a lot of ladies who fish!!! I wish I could remember which shop. You can probably google it: “ladies night fly shop missoula” someone said there’s an official Facebook page for the event…

      Welcome back to the interior West! I hope you have an incredible summer!

      • Thank you! And I’ll definitely check it out the fly fishing night. Looks like it’s with Blackfoot River Outfitter. I think that will be an excellent place to look for some new friends.

  9. beautiful. well-written. and i agree with your take on how women and men fish :: differently.

    but, then again, women and men do many things differently, and i find that with age comes wisdom and grace and the capability to recognize and ALLOW the differences.

    i cannot wait to take my fly-fishing set-up out for some practice. and maybe a fish or two.

    once again, you held me captive with your words….

    xx

    • Exactly. We don’t do it better. We just do it differently.

      Did you get a fly rod!!!??????????????? Head up to that little lake, just up the road from your house. I think you told me they stock that little pond where all the people park their campers…it’s a great practice pond.

      XX

  10. When I lived in Montana (Darby, southern end of the Bitterroot) my property was right on the Bitterroot river. I fished a lot – but not with any grace or style. I figured if I could get the fly close to where I wanted it, I was doing good. Sure would have loved to have attended that event and maybe learned a little more about what I was doing. When I left for the Midwest, I left behind all the fishing gear (given to a friend) and I think now it would be all about starting over. But ohhhhhhh, I want to, want to, want to.
    You GO, Jillian! Savor every moment with the Tribe and bring the outdoors to the women who want it and to the women who don’t know how to find it. Good on Orvis and Good on You!!!

    • I LOVE Darby. It’s so cute.

      You should start over. If you can make the time this summer, you should go to one of the Orvis fishing classes. Look them up online and get registered!!! It would give you such a great foundation and you don’t have to fish rivers. You can fish lakes! There can be great trout fishing on lakes! Get back at it, sister!

      XX

  11. Oh my lord I love this post! My husband bought me a fly rod last year and I have not gotten out nearly enough to use it. I would love to get together with a tribe of fly fishing women out in SoCal! If anyone is from my area lets go!

  12. Thank you for your blog in reminding us women to always go outside and explore the beauty residing outside of ourselves, the beauty reflective of an inner beauty…along with depth of vibrancy and yes, female and male camaraderie. Fly fishing I vicariously know of through an ex-boyfriend and although I’m not sure if it’ll ever touch my life’s scope, it’s nice to learn of it via your blog’s rendering.

  13. I love this post so much!! I got really big into fly-fishing last year, and I have to agree on the men/women difference in fly-fishing. Going out of my boyfriend, it’s always about catching fish…I always love the experience of it all, putting my 4 piece rod together, threading the line through the eyes of the rod…it all starts out very meditative. Then out on the river it’s magical! If you can make it into the Wind Rivers, that’s an amazing place to catch goldens! I love the variety of gold in them.

    • I’ve been trying to get over to the Winds for a few summers now! I might be there on a pack trip this year…and I never leave home without a rod…

      I caught my first golden trout in the high Sierras with Robbie (which are the stomping grounds of his youth). They’re gorgeous fish.

      XX

  14. Jillian, Just loved meeting you this past week and reading this. You’ve got a lovely gift with words as I was filled with a range of emotions while reading it, which I think is what all writers hope/intend to do.I can only imagine the grin and giggles you had in writing parts of it. I’ll be sure to share with my FB audience.By the way, did you get my email? Hopin so:) Take care and let’s connect soon.

  15. That is great you able to get out to the Montana rivers. I would go there every year with my dad and they were some of the best memories of my life. It looks like you were able to hold your own with those expert anglers also.

  16. You guys are doing a great job, enjoying every bit of your site!
    Thanks for sharing, passing it on to my girls.

  17. Good Morning!!!

    Through a meandering path of searching for airstream photos, a friends suggestion who follows you, fly fishing pictures and beautiful jewelry I found my way here and I’m so glad I did. I loved your description of how women fish – it’s so true! As the wife of an avid fly fisherman, TU chapter president and conservation minded man fishing is an undeniable part of our life and I’m completely new to it all but I’m so thankful for a man who takes us fishing, teaches freely and totally understands when I wonder off taking pictures of moss or beauty that can be passed by with only fish on the brain then find my way back To the stream.
    Again thank you so much for sharing beautiful bits of your adventurous life!
    God Bless

    • Brooke,

      You’re a lady of many talents!!!

      I had to teach my husband about this…you’re lucky you found your way to a fella who already knew it. 🙂

      Thanks for being here!

      X

  18. Jillian, fabulous writing and great photography. Love the message. Glad to have been pointed to your blog by one of our fly fishing mavens. If it means standing still hip-deep in a river, taking a moment to appreciate the cleansing power for the watershed and the soul, I’m proud to say that I fish like a girl!
    Rick Matsumoto, Board Member, Colorado TU

Trackbacks

  1. […] At the 2016 Orvis Guide Rendezvous in Missoula, Montana earlier this month, the first annual Women’s Leadership Lab brought together 35 female anglers and businesswomen to discuss how to attract and retain more women in the sport. Writing on The Noisy Plume blog, Jillian Lukiwski offers her impressions of the whole event in a post titled “Fly Fishing Mavens.” […]

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