We care about clean water, healthy fisheries and vibrant communities. We roll up our sleeves to volunteer, we sit on our boards, and we strategize as members and leaders of staff. We want you to join us.   

Thanks to initiatives such as TU’s decades-old Women’s Initiative – now Diversity and Inclusion Initiative – and those of our partners, new groups have engaged in coldwater conservation and the sport of fly fishing. The aim of this blog series is to highlight these friends, in hopes of making many new friends of broad stripes. In this series you’ll meet people of diverse communities – our good ideas, what we have in common, and where we differ. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them here.  

Since it’s not possible to sit down and have coffee or spend an afternoon on the river to show you what we’re up to, a blog post will have to do. As you read, we hope you’ll consider joining us. We need your ideas to help make a bigger impact.    

Together, we’ll help protect the special places we love.    

The person who nominated Meredith to be featured said, “Sometimes it’s not all about the people that go fishing every day and have pretty pictures, sometimes it’s about the people behind the scenes making plans and advocating for other people to be able to get out and enjoy the sport.” We couldn’t agree more. Meredith’s nomination also said she works, “every single day to be an advocate for women and kids in fly fishing [and] shows up for the angling community in one way or another.”  Read on to learn about Meredith. 

Introducing: Meredith Sessoms. (Instagram @meredithsessoms_ )  

What’s your hometown, and where do you call home now?  I grew up down in Asheville, N.C. My family hails from the region… I predominately fished various local ponds and little lakes in the area with my grandfather, brother and cousins with just a hook and worm. In 2014 I moved to Boone, N.C., full-time where Patrick, my then boyfriend (now husband) was guiding and going to grad school. I’ve been here for 5 1/2 years with no plan on leaving. 

Briefly, what’s your history with conservation?  Growing up in the mountains, I feel like you always have this part of you that enjoys the natural beauty of the world, such that conservation is simply built into you. I’ve always had a love for nature and the outdoors but it wasn’t until I really started fly fishing and got more involved with the angling community that I took a more active role in conservation. I’ve been involved with stream clean ups, stream restoration projects, public land projects and, as President of my local Trout Unlimited chapter, I put together a grant through our state council that allowed us to do a live staking on a portion of wild trout stream in our area. Our philosophy as a fly shop is that if we get more people involved in the sport and if we can open and keep public access open, then we will have more people wanting to protect our precious waterways and lands.  

What is your history with fishing/fly fishing? I actually didn’t start fly fishing until the spring of 2014 when I came to visit my now husband, Patrick for a weekend in Boone. He took me on a float trip over in Tennessee on the Watauga river. I ended the day on an 18” wild rainbow. I’m a big fan of those logic puzzles, and that’s kind of how I view fly fishing. It’s a giant puzzle of getting your drift or line just right to get that fish to eat. I fell in love with it, of course it helped that I was pretty smitten with my guide! I started out being more or less a guinea pig for Patrick. We would go on our days off to explore new streams around Boone or spend the entire day from dawn until dusk fishing the tail waters. I’ve learned so much from him guiding me that I’d like to think I’m a pretty self sufficient angler on my own now. Everyone says it, but I don’t make it out as much as I’d like anymore but when I do it’s such a special thing, even if you get skunked, you have had a great day! 

Describe one challenge you face & how do you overcome it. A challenge that is going to be obvious is being a female angler, but add in shop and guide service owner, along with teaching clinics and classes to that and it makes it much more difficult. I constantly have people ask me if there is someone else they can talk to that knows about fishing, they just assume that I’m going to be a college student that is just filling space in a shop. I can’t even count how many times someone has said something to me that they would never say to my husband. One of the times that sticks out most to me is when we had just gotten three new product lines in, that I actually helped pick out, and had spent extensive time field testing. An older gentleman came in one day and began talking to me about the products- before I even had a chance to discuss the rods, he told me I’d learn about the products more the more time I put on the water and in the shop, as if I didn’t know how to fish. I thanked him for the advice and then proceeded to tell him about the different products and why we carry them in the shop. Needless to say, by the end of the conversation he knew that I had a pretty deep knowledge of fishing. As much as I want to stand there and wave the female angler flag, I’ve come to learn that if you continue that conversation and steer it in a way where you have control of the information, they always end up realizing at the end you know exactly what you are talking about. To me, shouting and jumping up and down gets you 1/2 as far in the world. 

What does ‘giving back’ mean to you? Giving back gains an entirely different meaning when you have a child. Of course I want myself to enjoy the beautiful world around me but once you are responsible, on that level, of another life it totally changes. Ruth is almost a year and a half and she has yet to get to fully enjoy this world and what it has to offer. I sit there and think about how the world is going to change by the time she’s 10. Is the wild trout stream across the street from us going to hold native Appalachian brook trout? Is she even going to be able to access streams across the state or country to go fishing? I’ve been lucky enough to experience a huge Colorado brown trout and a massive California rainbow but what will her experiences be?  

Photo courtesy of M. Sessoms

I sit there and think about how the world is going to change by the time she’s 10. Is the wild trout stream across the street from us going to hold native Appalachian brook trout?

Meredith Sessoms

Describe a perfect day. I’d say that my perfect day is probably a few years off but it would involve waking up before the sunrise and getting everything together to go float fishing. I’d wake Ruth (my daughter) up and get her all dressed out in her little Redington youth waders. We’d start the day putting the boat in on the upper Watauga, just below the dam. She’d sit up front while my husband rowed us down the river. She’d be smiling and giggling the entire time. Probably counting the fish as she pulls in 5 to my 1. That trip would really come full circle for us- that stretch of river was my first ever fly fishing trip and it was the section we got engaged on.  

When was the last time you thought, “Dang, I’m pretty awesome”? Over the summer we had a stretch of several weeks of above 80 degree weather with literally not a drop of rain. Living at about 3300ft, a lot of the houses don’t have AC, ours included, to say it was brutal is an understatement. We have a very nice greenway area that follows the New River through town. Patrick was guiding while we were sweating at the house in front of a big fan. I packed up Ruth and one of our black labs and headed to the river. I got us down the greenway, to our little swimming hole and back to the car by myself and without any problems. I got everything packed up and thought “holy crap, I just did all of that by myself!” Definitely a little mom win that day. 

If you could squeeze just one more thing into your regular routine, what would it be? Definitely any type of outdoor time involving water. Having a toddler and running a shop and guide service, my days are filled with work and taking care of family. We are lucky enough to have a fantastic backyard but we don’t always have the ability to make it to a body of water. For some reason my soul is just drawn to water, doesn’t matter if it’s a stream, lake or even pool- I just enjoy being in water. Which is weird for anyone that knows me because I’m really not that big of a swimmer- I do much better at depths waist high and less, perhaps I’m just a natural wader. Maybe that’s one reason I enjoy fishing so much- it allows me to connect with that aspect of nature I love so much. 

Perhaps we should steer away from online gratification and focus more on getting our hands dirty… Every state, region and town in this nation could use some sort of conservation initiative- what can you do in your own area for the betterment of fisheries?

Meredith Sessoms

What do you want to see in the future of Trout Unlimited or in conservation? I’d like to see people get more involved. Wait, what? I’d like to see people in the field, at the heart of the problem. I’d like to see people tackling issues and coming up with solutions. Social media is a fantastic tool that every business, nonprofit, person of interest, etc should be using, but I think it also creates a culture where you repost a picture or share a post to your Instagram story and you pat yourself on the back. Perhaps we should steer away from online gratification and focus more on getting our hands dirty… Every state, region and town in this nation could use some sort of conservation initiative- what can you do in your own area for the betterment of fisheries? If you’re concerned about a stream in your area that just hasn’t been fishing well this year – contact your wildlife commission biologist. If you see public access dwindling in your area, be a voice to help change designations and laws. What we have has been handed to us by God, what we have needs to be taken care of and posting a picture on social media is a great step but let’s take it even further. Let’s actually do something about it. Essentially, my biggest goal for Trout Unlimited is to have its members think globally but act locally. You can make a large impact not only with these big ticket conservation items, but also with small projects right in your own backyard.   

What is an example of something awesome you’ve seen that helps make conservation or fishing more inclusive to new groups of people? This actually happened recently, one of the college kids that frequents the shop sent me an email about getting some local middle school kids out on the river for an afternoon. The organization is called the Western Youth Network and they help kids that come from unconventional backgrounds- they live with grandparents, live in foster care, etc. I had no idea he even interned there but he was so passionate about getting these kids out on the water. I was so proud of him for being such an ambassador for the sport for kids that wouldn’t have had access to it if it wasn’t for him. I met the group out at the river that afternoon with a few of our guides and they all had a blast! They are even going to plan an outing for the Spring! Who knows if they’ll pick up a rod in the next year but somewhere later in life I hope one of the kids takes it up as a sport and remembers that afternoon.  

Name a person you admire. Why do you admire them? Out of the countless female anglers out there today that continue to make headway in the industry I think the person that I admire most is still Joan Wulff. Not only did she come into the industry during a period of time in history where it was common for the women to be housewives, nurses, school teachers, etc., she was kicking everyone’s butt in the fly fishing world and did it with such a grace about her. If I can accomplish a quarter of what she did and still have that grace and respect, I’ll consider myself to be an successful person. Not to mention her video has been played countless times in our house- still haven’t gotten my cast perfected but working on it! 

Why Trout Unlimited?  I feel like whenever you think of stream conservation and/or restoration you automatically think of Trout Unlimited. TU has the administration structure in place to help get local chapters going to make sure that they can concentrate on issues that directly effect them. TU also has the financial structure in place to help with big projects that you might want to take on – like the Embrace a Stream Grant. It’s nice to be under an umbrella like TU has to make any project a successful one.  

If you want to join Meredith and grow the community and work of Trout Unlimited, we encourage you to become a member!  For a discounted first-time membership, click here: https://gifts.tu.org/we-are-tu