Community Featured Women

We are TU: Nelli Williams

All photos courtesy of Nelli Williams

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.  For a discounted first-time membership, click here: 

The aim of this blog series is to highlight our 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.   

Note: In keeping with our ongoing equity practice, the “We are TU” series is focusing more directly on the need to foster a more equitable, diverse and inclusive fishing and conservation community. We have updated the questions as such. If we are to protect, conserve and restore our rivers and streams, we will need all voices at the table and all hands on deck

Nelli’s nomination said, “She juggles leading the Alaska program, being a leader within our community and raising two kids, while being strategic, optimistic, creative and smart. I hope I’m like Nelli someday! She continually inspires me.” Enough said.

Introducing: Nelli Williams  (Instagram @akfishingmomma) 

When you get to the heart of most conversations about clean water and healthy, wild land for fishing and hunting and outdoor recreation, most people, regardless of where they fall on the politics spectrum, support conserving these special resources.

Nelli Williams

What’s your hometown and current town? I grew up in Wittenberg, Wisc., but call Anchorage, Alaska, home now. 

What’s your history with conservation? My dad is a big Aldo Leopold fan and our many family outdoor adventures also came with Leopold lessons. I don’t think I really understood it as a kid, but it must have sparked something because by college I knew I wanted to study natural resources and chose a career helping inspire people to conserve the places they love. 

What is your history with fishing? I have very early memories of fishing for bluegills with my mom, sister and grandparents off the dock at my family’s cottage. My dad got me a fly rod for my birthday when I was a little older, it was fun, I caught some fish but I didn’t really get into it until I worked for a summer in Alaska. My now-husband invited me on an early morning before-work fishing trip in the early 2000’s and the rest is history. Now our hearts are most full when we spend the weekend in our boat with our son and daughter squealing with excitement when they catch fish.  

Describe one challenge you face and how do you overcome it. Parenthood is the biggest challenge by far I’ve ever had to face. It’s wild, wonderful, and joy-filled but it’s also filled with many moments that test your patience and very sanity. I lean into the joy and try to let the frustrating moments roll off the shoulders as much as possible. Also, when the going gets the toughest we get our family out on the river…it’s good medicine for kids and parents alike.  

On a broader note, I get sad and frustrated when divisive politics gets in the way of land and water conservation. When you get to the heart of most conversations about clean water and healthy, wild land for fishing and hunting and outdoor recreation, most people, regardless of where they fall on the politics spectrum, support conserving these special resources. Families play in these places on the weekends, fill their freezers, dream of future trips, want to share past memories of outdoor adventure with the next generation. When so many issues end up in political gridlock these days, I spend a lot of time thinking about and seeking ways to find common ground. I truly believe if we can bring anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts together to act to protect the places they love, we can achieve significant conservation success.   

What does ‘giving back’ mean to you? It’s when I can look my kiddos in the eye at the end of the day and feel good about something that I did, large or small, to make their future a little brighter.  

Describe a perfect day. A day with family and friends on our boat on an Alaskan river. Good snacks, a few fish, plenty of gravel bar time…and maybe topping the day off with time by a campfire sipping a tin mug of wine, laughing about the inevitable fish-netting fiasco of the day, and watching the kids roast marshmallows. 

What are your secret skills? I can catch (and net) fish while breastfeeding a baby.  

I’d like to see that community of anglers grow into a nation-wide force that gives back to the fishing places that give us so much in meaningful, change-making ways. If we don’t, who will?

Nelli Williams

If you could squeeze just one more thing into your regular routine, what would it be? Read more books (non-kid books) for fun.  

What do you want to see in the future of Trout Unlimited or in conservation? I was recently asked, “Do you think anglers should be required to give an hour to conservation for every hour they spent fishing?” My initial reaction was a pang of guilt that quickly turned into pure panic as I tried to calculate the conservation time our family would have to put in to meet this goal. Some simple math showed there are simply not enough hours in a week, or weeks in a year, to achieve this high bar (and we don’t fish an excessive amount). It would be a high bar. But as I’ve chewed on this question more over the past months, I’ve become more intrigued and excited by the possibility in this challenge. What if we, as anglers, gave back to the places we loved at a value that mirrored the enjoyment we get? Just think of what we could accomplish together. I think there is a ripe opportunity to inspire and empower anglers to rise to meet this challenge, especially as we see the rivers and landscapes we love and depend on facing an increasing number of threats. Think of what could happen to these special places if anglers, often the people with a strong connection, don’t do what we can to protect these places?  The stakes are high; but the opportunity is massive. I’ve seen TU members and supporters step up time and time again for the places they care about, but I know there are more anglers out there…and I’d like to see that community of anglers grow into a nation-wide force that gives back to the fishing places that give us so much in meaningful, change-making ways. If we don’t, who will? The next time I have to answer that question, I am going to say, “Hell yes!” 

What is an example of something awesome you’ve seen that helps make conservation or fishing more inclusive to new groups of people? I have been honored to get to help out as an instructor at the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy that TU helps to implement each year. Every year I go in as a “teacher” and come away learning just as much, if not more, than I taught. I am blown away at all the knowledge the students, primarily Yup’ik and Dena’ina kids from rural Alaskan villages, have to share about their culture, fishing and their inherent knowledge of the rivers, plants and how fish move, along with so much else! I think the more often we can bring people together to share different perspectives and ideas on fishing, the better. Fly fishing is often seen as an intimidating activity, so many people think there is only one right way to do it…but that’s SO not the case and I think we should create more spaces that welcome new perspectives, ideas and learning. 

Are you willing to share ideas for ways your average TU member can show up as an ally to communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the fishing and conservation world? Be a friendly, welcoming face on and off the river. Share your knowledge with someone else and be ready to listen and learn, too.

Name a person you admire. Why do you admire them?  My mom. She is incredibly kind, stronger than I’ll ever know, and she loves fiercely.  

Pictured: Nelli’s mom, Jan, with grandson, Mason.

Why Trout Unlimited? We are hyper local yet have national strength all at the same time. Our staff, members and supporters are the most dedicated I’ve ever seen. They aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, they speak up on issues that may be controversial but are so important that they will do it time after time, they take time to understand differing perspectives and find solutions that aren’t easy to come by. Top-notch community. And getting to fish incredible rivers every once in a while is also a perk!

If you want to join Nelli and grow the community and work of Trout Unlimited, we encourage you to join us! For a discounted first-time membership, click here: 

By Jenny Weis.