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Reflections on a Weekend Fly Fishing Among Women (Part 2)

Reflections on a Weekend Fly Fishing Among Women (Part 2)

Note: This is the second in a three-part series on a women's fly fishing clinic that took place in April of 2024 on the Upper Missouri River. Need to catch up? Read part one

Saturday: Fishing through the Rain

Women have become an increasingly important demographic in the world of fly fishing. With more and more women showing interest in the sport, it’s no surprise that businesses have started catering to them. Women-specific clothing, gear, and skills clinics have been on the rise. Shalon, Jason, and even Kara—who runs Damsel Fly Fishing with her sister, Lynae Axelson—have all jumped on the bandwagon… And that’s opened up a plethora of new opportunities for women in the area looking to get into fly fishing.

Business ventures aside, their main goal leading up to and during the clinic has always been to provide a safe and welcoming space for participants to learn in. When I asked him what he hoped participants would take away from the clinic, Jason remarked that, “While we are, of course, focused on teaching the basics of fly fishing—tackle, entomology, casting, knots, etc.—what we’re really hoping for is an experience that is student-driven.” He also pointed to the bonds formed between participants and guides as an important aspect of the experience, believing such relationships lay the groundwork for future events and experiences tailored to participant needs.

Saturday, the first official day of fly fishing, was a prime example of how those relationships have molded and enriched the clinic over the years. With many of the participants coming back from the previous year(s), the guides decided to move away from more classroom-style teaching and spend as much time as possible on the water giving one-on-one instruction.

The morning presented a gloomy canvas: low clouds shrouding the green hills and craggy canyon walls along the river. The Missouri loped by the Craig boat launch in currents of steely grey and the rain began almost as soon as my mom and I stepped into the drift boat.

Fly Fishing Drift Boats Sheltering From the Rain

"Drying off" under the shelter of a bridge. 

Our guide for the day was Kara. Quick, confident, and full of stories, she’s a hoot to be on the water with—and an excellent instructor. Despite the positive presence, however, I felt myself slipping back into a place of anxiety. My fingers, already stiff from the rain, fumbled with the line as I tried to remember the motions of casting, mending, and setting the hook. I’d done this before, hadn’t I? Shouldn’t I at least be passable at it?

Five or six missed strikes later, I felt the familiar frustration of being a beginner. The rain hadn’t let up. My mom had caught several nice trout, but I knew she wanted more than anything to see me experience the thrill of catching fish… In that moment, I was sorely tempted to wallow in self-pity.

But it dawned on me then; it’s not every day I get to be on the Upper Missouri—a land rife with dramatic scenery and wildlife. More importantly, it’s not every day I get to go fly fishing with my mom. I’d come to this clinic hoping to approach fly fishing with a different perspective and now was the time to put that into practice. So, I did. I practiced my cast. I practiced being there in the moment. I practiced fly fishing the entire day, and by the time we reached our take-out at the Mid-Canon Fishing Access, soaked and shivering, I’d caught a Missouri River Grand Slam (that’s at least one brown trout, rainbow trout, and whitefish, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term). The best part? I’d had fun doing it.

Fly Fishermen Laughing in the Drift Boat

Guide Kara Tripp and participant Cat Joyner laughing in the drift boat... You had to be there.

That night, the lodge was alive with talk of all the fish that were caught. One participant hadn’t fished in forty years. That morning, she’d been nervous about picking up a rod and getting in a drift boat. Now, she sat by the fire with a mug of tea, her face split in a broad smile— “I’m so excited to get back in that boat!” There was something deeply infectious about her enthusiasm.

Sunday: Queens of the River

The last day started with sunshine and comradery. Rigging up our rods outside the lodge, I struck up a conversation with one of the other participants. It was her second year in attendance at this specific event, but she’s been to other women’s fly fishing clinics as well and attends a fly tying club back home. When I asked what the biggest takeaway from these experiences has been, she only had to think for a moment. “Community.”

I chatted with a few of the other women throughout the morning, curious about their takes on the clinic. One participant pointed to the food as the highlight of the weekend—only half joking. I approached another, the older woman who was so excited to get back in the boat the day before, intending to ask her what it’s been like to fly fish again after so long. Instead, we spent a good fifteen minutes talking about some of the long-distance hikes we’d done across the pond in Europe. I couldn’t help but smile. Community indeed.

My mom and I fished with Libby. Though there was hardly a rain cloud in sight, the day promised to be a windy one—the occasional gust through the canyon set my rig into knots more than once. Between Kara’s aid the day before and Libby’s own brand of easy-going, practical approach to instruction, I started to find a groove. Before lunch, I’d managed to double the number of fish I’d caught the day before—and it was a blast.

Rainbow Trout Caught on Warm Springs Fly Rod

Rainbow trout, brown trout, and white fish abounded.

The guides kept the drift boats closer together for the last day. Though we were all focused on fly fishing, it also quickly became clear that this was not a group that shied away from being loud and energetic. Every so often, a wave of hoots and hollers announced that it was “Fish on!” in at least one of the boats. Fly fishing can sometimes be a window into the silence and solitude only nature can offer. That day, however, it was about reveling in the pure joy of wrangling fish in good company. In that moment, we were all queens of the river—and nothing could dampen our spirits.

Women's Fly Fishing Clinic Drifting the Missouri

Queens of the river.

This women’s fly fishing clinic began as a way for women to find their confidence in the basic skills of fly fishing. After four years, it’s turned into a community of anglers who find mutual support and comradery in one another. “We want to continue to bring all of you in as a group of fishing friends and to continue to help you all further develop and hone your skills…” Jason told me later, adding that, “we’re also anxious to bring in new groups of beginners and start the process all over again.”

For my part, I walked away with a newfound desire to spend more time on the river. The women’s clinic had shown me a group of anglers of all different skill levels who all engaged with the sport in different ways. Some were there to hone their skills and feel more confident fishing by themselves. Some were there because they wanted to spend a weekend fly fishing with a fun group of people. Some were there because they hadn’t touched a rod in years and wanted to give it another go. For a long time, I’ve avoided fly fishing because I felt I guilty that I didn’t love the sport as much—or perhaps in the same way—as the avid anglers all around me. I realize now that I might’ve been missing the point.

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We'll be dropping part three of this three-part series next week, so stay tuned! In the meantime, a shout out to the organizers, partners, and guides who made this clinic possible:

Thank you to the staff at Hidden Canyon Lodge, who constantly worked behind the scenes to provide us with delicious food, pristine rooms, and friendly customer service. Thank you to our guides for sharing your endless patience, knowledge, and passion for fly fishing. And thank you to Jason, for your behind-the-scenes dedication in organizing this event. All of these wonderful people have found ways to embrace their love of fly fishing while also sharing that passion with others—check out their businesses below!

Questions? Comments? Fly fishing stories? Share them in the comments section below! 

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  • This weekend is one of the best all year! Love growing the “community of anglers” and “fishing friends” with you. Thanks for celebrating our learning and fun together by sharing the story.

  • My wife and I saw yall on the Mo. We were wondering what group you were with.

    We were both led to flyfishing by Beryl Rea “The trout scout’” in Bishop Ca. about 18 years ago. We moved to NW Montana almost four years ago.

    Laura is a member of Missoula FlyGals and the sport has been life changing for both of us. Great to see more ladies discovering the magic!