Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Lady angler goals

Baby Skeena and Baby Morgan on the Kenai River. Photo courtesy of the Williams family

By Jenny Weis

My dad and uncle fished at our family cabin growing up, my boyfriend taught me how to fly fish, and most fishing trips among my friends were male-only, with no invitation extended to the females.

Truthfully, for a long time, I didn’t get it. Trying to understand what fly to use was so overwhelming. Once that was resolved, I’d have to ask how to tie the fly on, how to cast, and where.

Luckily, once I moved to Alaska, this slowly started to change. It’s a great place for beginners. We’re so spoiled here — you don’t need nearly the skill or patience to hook into a fish on our scenic, glacier-fed rivers as you do in Wisconsin or Colorado, where I’d dabbled with fishing previously. Of course, once you net your first fish — you’re hooked (hopefully not literally), and determined to figure it all out.

Over my first few years as an Alaskan, my total time clocked on the water and my fishing skills grew rapidly. I’d even frequently out-fish my husband, who was stuck rowing, while I casted to my heart’s content. He complained, but I know he was happy to see me finally understanding how much there is to love about this weird sport of his.

Female angling is still a relatively small subset of the community, but noticeably growing by the year. There was one particular day on the river a couple summers ago that solidified Badass Lady-Angler Goals for me.

A seasoned angler, Nelli joined our boat on an afternoon staff retreat outing to hang with the team, and watch her 6 month old, who’d come along for the ride. It wasn’t Baby Morgan’s first time on the river, and she came ready with tiny sunglasses and an adorable PFD that almost swallowed her whole.

As a staff, we were having a disappointingly slow afternoon, despite a boatful of seasoned (mostly male) anglers. Nelli decided to pick up her rod and try her hand since she’d been watching us for a couple hours.

While breastfeeding Morgan, Nelli made a few casts, placing her fly exactly where my eye guessed it should land, letting it drift, and re-casting a couple times. Morgan didn’t seem to notice.

Reclined casually in the bow of the boat, just a couple casts in, a large Coho rose, took the fly, and just like that, Nelli (and Morgan by association) were hooked up.

I’ll never forget the awe and simultaneous thoughts of, “This lady is seriously bad-ass” all of us in the boat had at that moment.

Alaska has an array of admirable fisherwomen like Nelli, paving the way and teaching the rest of us how to get it done on the river… breastfeeding-while-casting optional.

If you’re wondering, she got the fish in.

Like I said… Goals!

Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage.

By Jenny Weis.