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Reflections on a Weekend Fly Fishing Among Women (Part 3)

Reflections on a Weekend Fly Fishing Among Women (Part 3)

Note: This is the third 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 and part two.  

Why Fly Fishing?

Over the course of preparing to write this article on the women’s fly fishing clinic, I had the chance to interview several of the individuals involved to hear about their experiences with the clinic and beyond. There was one question I asked all of them: “Why fly fishing?” I found their answers inspiring, so I decided to share them below:

The co-founder of Wolf Creek Angler and a dedicated fly fisherman, Jason’s immediate response was “Is there anything else?” While he doesn’t begrudge other anglers their fun with conventional gear, for Jason there is only fly fishing. “I love the artistry of the sport and the soul stirring fulfillment I get out of my hours spent in solitude with a fly rod in hand.” As for the guiding, starting a fly shop, running skills clinics, and supporting projects like Mending Waters (a program dedicated to helping veterans and active military personnel find healing through fly fishing)… He loves giving others the chance to find that love for themselves.

Women Fly Fishing from a Drift Boat
Drifting the Missouri on a gorgeous afternoon. 

Shalon had to pause and think for a moment. “That’s a good question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I really like the intricacies of it. I’ve developed an addiction to flies… I love looking at the patterns and I love doing seines.” Seine, in this context, refers to a small, fine-meshed net that is used to capture a sampling of aquatic insects in a river or stream—a handy tool if you’re unsure which fly to use. In the end, though, it’s really the whole package for Shalon. The romance. The challenge of wrangling a fish or working on her cast. “I’m always learning something new,” she remarked over the phone, and there’s something deeply beautiful in that. As for attending the clinic—surrounded by a group of boisterous, supportive, adventure-hungry women—Shalon admitted that, “It’s one of the more meaningful trips I do all year… And that’s worth something.”

Madeleine, who spent much of her life hopping across the central and eastern United States, is often too busy catering to fly fishermen when the weather’s good to do much of it herself. She stumbled upon the job posting at Hidden Canyon Lodge by chance back when it was first opening. She landed an interview. The interview led to a cooking demonstration… “And I was moving to Montana.” Since then, she’s gotten to embrace her passion for cooking while working alongside stellar people in a truly scenic part of the state.

The job comes with its share of challenges—power outages, septic issues, boulders falling on propane tanks from the looming cliffs above… These all come part and parcel with working in a remote river canyon, but so do the grand views, the constant susurrus of the river, and the opportunity for solitude. “Living by myself in winter… It puts you strangely in tune with things. I can step outside and know whether a rustle is a bobcat or a bear.” Madi hopes to do more fly fishing in the future and sees events such as this clinic as a turning point for the industry. “Men, when they’re new to the sport, there’s more of an aggressive attitude,” she reflected—and I could hear her smile through the phone. “Women don’t use their strength as much. I think they’ve got more natural finesse when learning to cast.”

Reeling in a Trout with a Craig Fly Rod
Cat Joyner fights a trout on her Craig Fly Rod. 

Finally, I asked my mom (Cay Joyner), wondering if her fourth outing with this group of women has had any impacts on the way she sees fly fishing.

She came to fly fishing later in life, largely through meeting and falling in love with my stepdad, Scott. “I always thought it was beautiful to watch a truly gifted fly fisherman cast a dry on a still summer day during a hatch,” she remarked. Stepping into the sport late was intimidating. She was surrounded by skilled fishermen—all men eager to help—and it was a struggle at times to relax into the process of learning. “I think the people who are teaching you to fish always want to see you catch fish…” Which doesn’t always lend itself to patience.

Though she picked up a lot of her skills prior, the women’s clinic gave her the confidence she’d lacked in rigging her own rod, picking her own flies, and reading the water. Now, she actively seeks time on the river, whether it be among friends and family or by herself. “Fly fishing has… provided me with another way to connect with God. Call it what you want—a connection to nature, the universe, the spiritual world, a sense of something greater than yourself. The sound of the river, the sight of the landscape around me, the color of the fish… Each new fishing experience is an opportunity to find a new connection to that side of us that longs to be connected to something better and greater.”

Mid Canon Fishing Access Site and Boat Launch
Morning at the Mid Canon Fly Fishing Access along the Missouri River. 

When I try answering this question for myself, it feels like it might just be another iteration of what’s been said above. To some, fly fishing might just be one more way people have found to exist in the outdoors. But the more I learn about the sport, the more I have to admit that there’s something special to it.

Maybe it’s like Shalon said—the romance of standing in a river, a single human being surrounded by the power of rushing water. The improbability of existing in a great big universe that you’ve somehow been lucky enough to find a tiny little nook to fish in. Maybe it’s the joy of constant discovery. Of honing old skills and seeking out new ones. Maybe it’s whooping across the river in spite of the glares from other passing fishermen because your new friend has just caught her first or second or twentieth trout.

Or maybe it’s the literal connection of your line to something living, wriggling, fighting. Probably, it’s all of that and more.

Holding Rainbow Trout Caught on Craig Fly Rod
Hannah Dreesbach presenting a rainbow trout caught on a Warm Springs fly rod. 

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A final 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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  • So enjoyed reading Hannah’s article. It is wonderful to see more women in the sport enjoying the tranquility & calming experiences of nature.