Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Proud Wyoming Women's Retreat

Katy, with support from her friend Tiffannie, was able to land this beauty of a brown trout at the last bend before the boat ramp during the Women’s Fly Fishing Float. Photo by Miguel Valdez.

By Sadie St. Clair

When the Seedskadee Chapter of Trout Unlimited started the annual Women’s Fly Fishing Float five years ago it was our goal to help women gain knowledge and confidence so they could pursue, or develop, their passion to fly fishing.

As a female fly fisher, I that it is hard to get started in the sport and it truly does take a lot of patience to perfect the art form.

Our chapter, based out of Green River, Wyoming, was recently honored when the Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism asked if the annual float could serve as the headliner for and special event recognizing the 150th anniversary of Wyoming’s Women’s Suffrage.

Taking a break from drifting down the river to do some shore casting during the Women’s Fly Fishing Float. Courtesy of Sweetwater County Travel & Tourism.

The Proud Wyoming Women’s Retreat was held recently in Green River. The float took place on the Green River in the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Organizers told us they wanted to partner with our fly fishing event because it allows women to get involved with nature doing a “man’s sport”

Hillary Walrath, who serves as Trout Unlimited Project Leader on the Henry’s Fork of the Green River and is also a chapter member, has been working on the women’s float from the start. I offered to help any way I could. The fly fishing portion of the retreat drew a lot of interest, so we decided to add the option of wade fishing and fly tying.

About a week before the event, the ladies volunteering to help teach fly tying gathered at the new wine and book store, Sidekicks Bookbar, in Rock Springs. With guidance from Hillary and easy sipping of wine from Jackson Hole Winery, most of us felt comfortable we could teach others to tie something that a fish would hopefully like to chase. Most of us also came to the realization that there is such a thing as too much dubbing.

Mike Brown demonstrating how to cast a fly rod to the women attending the chapter’s annual BBQ. Christian Chavez photo.

Since most of the 45 women signed up to fly fish were beginners, the Seedskadee Chapter offered a Women’s Casting Clinic. Mike Brown, owner of Wyoming Embroidery and Sporting Goods, volunteered his time to teach the women how to cast and what it means to load the rod. It is always an incredible thing to watch someone who is new to fly fishing go from not knowing how it works to being able to cast the rod where their line goes back straight to landing perfectly in front of them. Thanks to Mike’s advice and the help from our chapter members that evening, the ladies were ready to hit the water Saturday morning.

Everything seemed to be in order, until I received a text message from Hillary the day before the float. Her entire family had been diagnosed with strep throat. I went from only having to teach the wade fishing and fly tying to being the person running the entire fly fishing event.

Hillary explained everything that needed to be done and then still went and picked up all the fishing gear and fly-tying material. I honestly could not thank her enough for taking the time to do all of that.

One of the unique opportunities I was able to participate in was sharing a little bit about my background and what our chapter does during the Friday night registration for the Proud Wyoming Women’s Retreat.

Even though I come from a family ranch in Montana, not too many people are aware that I don’t come from an avid fishing family. I just have always liked aquatic species of all shapes and sizes. Another thing is, I have only been fly-fishing for three years and all of it has been here in Wyoming. I believe the women at the registration that night felt like they could relate to someone. As chapter president, I was able to show that I am a Proud Woman of Wyoming and am here to be a role model to them.

The wading fishing group learning how to put together their fly rods before heading out to the river. Photo courtesy of Sweetwater County Travel & Tourism.

Saturday morning finally came as I arrived at the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge headquarters by 6:30 a.m. Some of our volunteer guides had started to roll in while I made sure everything was ready for the day. As the 45 women entered the building, you could feel the excitement building as everything became real. After introducing myself and all our amazing volunteers for the day followed by a safety presentation from Tom Koerner, Seedskadee Refuge manager, and law enforcement officer Jack Valentine, I was able to send off the ladies who were floating the river for the day.

Now the fun began as I handed out fly rods and reels to the ladies so that we could go out to practice casting before heading to the water. For our wade fishing and fly-tying group, we had 15 individuals ranging from beginners to a few years of experience. Robin Robinson, blog writer for Wyoming Lady Anglers/White Mountain Women and an avid woman fly fisher, volunteered to assist in teaching them how to cast and work with the elements for the day. We even had Tom demonstrate what it would look like if there was a fish hooked on by pretending to be the trout while I fought him in. For me, that is always the most nerve wracking moments because I am never too sure if I set the hook enough but it’s the best for an adrenaline rush.

After casting was complete, we all suited up in waders and followed Tom down to a side channel just below the fish screen and head gate that our chapter helped install to prevent fish entrapment down the irrigation channel. We did not want to be on the main channel since the Green River was flowing over 6,000 cfs from high flow runoff. It took a little while for myself, Robin, Tom and Jack to get all the women rigged up with a nymph setup.

Excited anglers preparing to hit the Green River. Photo courtesy of Sweetwater County Travel & Tourism.

I made my way down the river bank helping each lady with questions and instruction on what their line should look like in the water. Everyone seemed to be having a great time even though only one lady was able to land a fish; another caught a crawfish. You could not have picked a more perfect day. There was only a slight breeze and the sun was out in full force making it comfortable for everyone. Not too many opportunities happen like that for a planned event in Wyoming. The big W – W—d – seems to always make itself present.

After lunch, our wading and fly-tying group found themselves inside learning how to tie flies. This art form had always intimidated me since I was in grade school because the hooks always seem to be small and how in the world could someone make it look like a bug. I was raised around small creeks, so I never really saw a larger hook until I started fly fishing.

Kelly Gray assisting participants learning how to tie a grasshopper pattern for the first time. Sadie St. Clair photo.

Our chapter, with help from the Upper Bear River TU Chapter out of Evanston, Wyoming, was able to have a vice for everyone. Kelly Gray, a volunteer, started us off with the simplest fly to tie: the San Juan worm. It took them a little while to figure out how to wind the thread around the hook and understand where to stop and wrap on the red chenille. One lady expressed that tying flies just might be her new crafting hobby.

Next up we had Robin demonstrate how to tie a leech pattern. All the ladies seemed to have figured it out now and were making great progress. It is always a feeling of enjoyment to learn a new skill and even better to experience it amongst new friends. Jessica Gray had the next fly, a grasshopper, and it was a treat for them. She had picked up bodies and legs that were already cut out for all the different parts allowing for the assembly to be super easy. Once they finished that one, we had Tom finish off with tying his own special creation, the Killer Bug.

Double the fun. Andrea and Tricia experienced what it was like to catch a fish at the same time. Dan Parson photo.

As the day came to a close, new conversations were made and connections created. The women who had floated the river started to show up and expressed it was a great day out on the water. The high flows made fishing tough, but most had fish on and a few landed them. I overheard JoAnn Stearns say, “Our guide was wonderful, and I swear he did everything short of diving into the river to put a fish onto my hook just to help me catch a fish.” Knowing that everything went as well as planned even though our fearless leader, Hillary, was not able to attend, allowed me to feel at ease.

I am proud of the role our chapter played in the Proud Wyoming Women’s Retreat. We truly achieved our goal to help women feel more comfortable with fly fishing. I have no doubts I will see some of the women out on the water now.

I would encourage anyone who is just starting fly fishing to get into contact with their local chapter. More than likely they already have fishing days, casting clinics, and fly-tying opportunities where anyone can come participate.

Seedskadee Chapter #533 of Trout Unlimited is looking forward to next year’s event and wish everyone a very fishy summer!

Sadie St. Clair is president of the Seedskadee Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Wyoming. She is based out of Green River.

By Brett Prettyman.