As we prepare to share stories and experiences of steelheading ladies, I figure it's time to provide a glimpse into my own journey.
Many folks envision a successful steelhead angler as someone with a particular grace with a fly rod. An example of intense focus and patience. A person at ease on the rugged terrain that must be traversed through dense forest and swift, flowing rivers. An individual who exudes that special sense of peace when in nature...
There I stood one April morning on a North Shore stream for the first time. The cute guy I had convinced to take me fishing had provided a couple lessons in casting, drifting, knot tying and yarn cutting but that was the limit of my training. As gentle rays of the new day's early light peered delicately through the trees, we began to fish. After a few unfruitful drifts we trudged further upstream and again I presented that little snippet of yarn, while in the back of my mind wrestling with the rationale of expecting a fish to strike the tiny bundle of fibers. Within seconds however the proof
was right there, ripping line from my fly reel, testing the strength and flex of the 9 ft., 8 wt. rod and jumping through the air, putting on an impressive display. That quiet, serene morning took a turn very quick when I hooked that steelhead. I froze in both shock and awe at the utter power of the fish while Jared and his buddy started yelling instructions. Mind you, until this moment my battles as an angler had been with pan fish, walleye and the occasional pike on walleye rods and spinning reels so most terms being hurled at me were completely foreign. Despite the guys' best intentions to help, I just didn't understand what on earth they were telling me to do. I lost my first steelhead. As it turned out, that was the first of many steelies I would lose until our last stop on the last day of our last trip of my second steelheading season.
Remember those ideal attributes of many successful steelhead anglers I mentioned earlier? Well as a hot-headed, Irish girl I was not naturally blessed with those qualities. For some of us, having those traits from the get go isn't what makes us great steelheaders. In my case it was the determination and drive to be a great steelheader that helped me to develop those attributes.
I spent two seasons hooking fish but failing to land them. Or Jare would hand over the rod when he'd hook a fish and I could land those. Two seasons of hat-stomping frustration and some colorful language eventually led me to find patience and peace. Two seasons of demanding unrealistic expectations of myself despite inexperience and unfamiliar conditions taught me to focus on the present, to be more open to change and to further my adaptability. The learning curve was pretty steep but finally after two challenging seasons I made my first official steelhead catch. Though it wasn't an impressive steelie nor a dramatic battle, I wouldn't change it for the world. That moment signified a lot of work and represented many obstacles overcome. The pieces had finally all fallen into place and I've been a steelheader ever since.
Not long after that, Jared and I decided to move up to his childhood home on Minnesota's majestic North Shore and are raising our family here. The opportunity to frequent these rivers as often as I do is amazing. You'd think by now I would've learned how to walk the trails with more grace than an elephant on roller skates but not the case. I still face-plant in mud on a regular basis, still take out frustration on any inexpensive piece of gear that can be hurled to the ground without breaking from time to time. I still about jump out of my waders when a small critter catches me off guard while I'm fishing. Some things may never change but some of my favorite aspects of the sport are the unique adventures, constant challenges and the crazy experiences.
I want other women to experience the empowerment that comes with conquering these rivers and battling these strong, beautiful trout. I want women to see that they have a place among the guys and know that while we are the minority, there are more like-minded women out there than we realize.
It's an honor to be a part of a program like Minnesota Steelheader's Women on the Fly and to be able to help share the stories we otherwise wouldn't hear. A couple such stories will be coming up soon and if you would like to share yours, we'd love to hear from you! Feel free to shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org anytime!