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]