Wyoming Women in Fly Fishing


Wyoming Women in Fly Fishing


Written by Brenna Burgos

One of the most striking aspects of fly fishing is its ability to capture the interest and passion of a broad range of people. Women are no exception, and many find their true calling on the river. Still, it never ceases to amaze me when I read article after article, and sit in numerous meetings where fly fishing industry folk inevitably pose the question: “How do we get more women into the sport?” For a long time, I sat back quietly in those meetings, but now I always speak up: “We are already here; all you have to do is open your eyes!” This usually elicits blank stares, confused looks, and a flurry of requests to explain.

I could direct them to a plethora of studies and statistics, but instead, I offer a more straightforward answer, “We just aren’t a walking billboard for big industry names, tossing back PBR’s, and dropping slang like “Dude bro, sick fish!” We are anglers, yes, but we are moms, corporate gurus, students, and small business owners. The fact is, women have been in fly fishing for decades, and according to some historians, the first known female angler was Dame Juliana Berners in 1496. During the 19th century, Mary Orvis Marbury published the bestselling book Favorite Flies and Their Histories, which remains a standard reference for identifying flies. While there definitely has been an influx of female anglers, many feel the shift has more to do with the industry and fly shops recognizing the female presence, more than women “getting into” fly fishing.

I learned to fish at a very young age and was usually the only girl on the river. Thankfully, my family has always been supportive of me fishing, (and life in general) and I never felt less than simply because I was a girl. I came to realize later in life it is not always that way. For the last handful of years, I have been consumed by fishing and wanted to create a sisterhood where women would feel comfortable being involved in fly fishing at any level and experience. What’s better than chasing something challenging, yet attainable with some of your best girl friends?

I dreamed up the idea of Rods, Reels & Heels in Colorado about 5 years ago, but it was slow going, as not many fly shops were open to my idea of women’s classes and a women’s lifestyle brand, just yet. I wanted to offer products designed by women, for women. It was equally important to carry products that reduce waste, like our recycled wader koozies and leather coffee sleeves. Once I moved to Wyoming, I was fortunate to find that the Fly Shop of the Bighorns more than welcomed these ideas for women in fly fishing. Since then, Rods, Reels & Heels has hosted several beginner classes and a couple advanced classes as well. The shop also offers fly tying events, day fishing trips, and we have weekend float trips planned. Rods, Reels & Heels is also involved in giving back by collaborating with local non-profits like Joey’s Fly Fishing Foundation and national organizations like Trout Unlimited. I am excited to see the women’s fly fishing community continue to grow, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

One of the best parts of getting involved in the angling community has been the other women on a similar path, passionate about fly fishing and their related businesses. There are three Wyoming ladies, in particular, stand out for me: Alyssa Halls of Owl Creek Flies, Christy Carlson of Pioneer Anglers, and Liza Scott, a fly fishing guide with Rock Creek Anglers.

Alyssa started fly fishing about six years ago, finding it as a way of “communing with the wild” and “staying in tune with my environment.” It became a hobby she shared with her husband, along with fly tying. They opened Owl Creek Flies in Thermopolis in 2014. Alyssa feels that the fly fishing community is supportive of women, although they sometimes assume her love of fly fishing and leading guide trips is due to her husband, rather than being a shared passion. She does not expect any special treatment in the fly fishing community because of her gender, though, she gathers that women fly fishers do want to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts. Alyssa believes that with the increased exposure of fly fishing thanks to new outlets, like social media, as well as an increasingly supportive community of anglers – the representation of women in the industry will continue to grow.

Christy began dabbling in fly fishing about 15 years ago, but it was just a hobby, and she did not take it very seriously in the beginning. This was a hobby she shared with her husband, and once they opened their fly shop, Pioneer Anglers in Alpine, in 2009 together, she began to learn to tie her own flies. She recalls the first time someone came into her store asking her to teach him how to tie a fly. She was nervous, but it was successful! This was a turning point for her. “Sharing is caring. Sharing what we know and learn with others is what makes the world go ‘round.” Though, Christy has had both positive and neutral, if not negative experiences as a woman in fly fishing. The negative experiences have often been a result of not being acknowledged as quickly (and sometimes not at all) as a male customer upon entering a fly shop. Moreover, frequently she finds herself left to her own devices trying to figure things out and locate needed items. These types of experiences inspired her to be sure that Pioneer focuses on women, too, as well as very young fly fishers and aging adult fly fishers; “the groups having the worst experiences in the ‘bro bra’ shops.” As women establish a bigger presence, Christy has noticed an industry shift overall. While some companies are making changes that are just “fluff and flash,” Christy appreciates those who take the feedback from women seriously to inform their products to be a better fit for women, too.

Liza picked up fly fishing 10 years ago, and as a guide for Rock Creek Anglers in Buffalo notes that often times, “people simply seem to underestimate the ability of female anglers.” Whether it’s managing a drift boat, casting to the other side of the river, or tying up flies, women are just as capable and eager to fish and deserve the same respect as our male counterparts. She also explained how kids seem more engaged with her and other female guides. Liz also states that fly shops and the industry, in general, could help women feel comfortable by offering more women-oriented apparel and gear in the shop and hosting women’s events. In the end, Liz explains, “it’s about passing along a passion.”

A woman in fly fishing is not a new thing; we’ve just finally been able to break through molds of how we should look or act on the water. We are shaping the future of the angling world and the fly fishing industry has finally started to see that women, do indeed make damn good anglers.

About Wyoming Magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *