Women on the Fly Streamside clinic
Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore: The shores give way to an expanse of water that is Lake Superior into which our favorite tributaries flow. The river mouths serving as the staging ground for the trout gathering in anticipation of Mother Nature’s cues to embark on their annual upstream journey. Surrounded by vast forests are the picturesque waterfalls where our treasured steelhead venture in early spring in pursuit of the perfect spawning ground and a suitable mate. As the season warms and the spawning cycle reaches completion, the bright silver flashes of a hen digging redds and the trail of males usually found trailing close behind her begin to fade indicating they have begun their retreat toward their primary residence in Lake Superior.
For many anglers the end of the spawn marks the end of their annual steelhead fishing. While the visible activity may not be as apparent, a patient and knowledgeable angler can continue finding plenty of activity beneath the water this time of year. Fishing for backdrops is greatly satisfying and offers up a golden opportunity to lean on your knowledge of the water and understanding of the fish. This was the basis of our 2016 Women on the Fly Streamside Clinic that was held on the Baptism River this past Saturday, May 21st.
Five of our eight registered participants were able to attend the clinic, two North Shore residents and three made the trek from the twin cities area. Three ladies brought spinning setups and two used fly rods. Each woman was given a binder containing an outline of the day’s discussion topics, several articles related to what they’d be learning on the water and other information pertaining to the fishery, species identification, techniques, etc. so they have something to reference after the clinic. Anyone who’s been new to fly fishing and steelheading knows there is a great deal of information to process. Rods, reels, lines, leaders… Pockets, seams, tail outs, riffles… Steelhead, Kamloops, Brook Trout, Browns… Having the information organized and accessible for the women after the clinic is just as vital as going over it during the event. Our goal is not only to get them out and comfortable on the water but to provide resources to help keep them on the water.
It was my privilege to coordinate and lead the inaugural Minnesota Steelheader’s Women on the Fly Clinic. To help instruct and assist in the discussion were my fiancé Jared and Neil, Minnesota Steelheader’s VP. The weather was perfect as we gathered at the picnic tables near the Tettegouche lot for introductions and to cover the basics: Steelhead/Kamloop identification, habitat, history and life spawning cycles, a summary of typical species caught during the spring steelhead run, overview of techniques and when to apply each from shore casting to fly fishing, review of gear, reading water, river crossing and safety tips. When the class portion had concluded, the women had an opportunity to look more closely at the gear we talked about as the contents of my own hip bag were displayed on the picnic table. They asked great questions about the different flies and yarn colors and were able to take anything they needed; hooks, sinkers, yarn, swivels, flies and so on. We were now ready to go streamside!
The hike down to the water was beautiful. We paused on the bridge overlooking the river to review how to identify seams, pocket water, eddies, etc. Arriving at our streamside location we broke down into groups: Jared with Deb, Kady with Neil and I had Natalie and Samantha. Our teenage angler who was familiar with the stretch we were fishing and had some previous experience steelheading with her dad, floated between us. Our young angler’s wit and enthusiasm for the outdoors was contagious and we were fortunate to have her with us!
We provided lessons on snelling yarn, guidance on the areas to target and why and instruction in technique. It wasn’t very long after we had everyone in the water and fishing that one of our participants had a fish on. More specifically, Natalie had an approximately 24-inch bright hen on the end of her line that was jumping through the air and giving her a true, wild steelhead battle. It took a couple of attempts but we were able to land the fish. Handing Natalie her first river steelie was an awesome moment to put it mildly! Just as soon as we had stopped trembling from the excitement of Nat’s catch, I received word that Deb had caught a juvenile steelhead! I then ran upstream to check in with Deb who was up around the corner from us and when I returned to Natalie and Samantha I learned that Sam had caught a brook trout! We don’t go into these clinics with the expectation of catching fish because our primary objective is helping participants get comfortable on the water, become familiar with the equipment and work on developing good technique. We consider any fish caught to be a bonus so with 3 of our 5 ladies getting fish, we definitely hit the lotto!
We started the clinic at 9:45am and before I knew it, we had bypassed our end time of 12:45pm. Time absolutely flew by. My original intention was to work with all of the women one-on-one throughout our time on the water however I had only briefly been upstream with Deb and hadn’t work with Kady at all. Despite it not going exactly how I envisioned, the event exceeded my expectations. Kady was in great hands with Neil and she picked up the technique beautifully as did Deb under Jared’s instruction. Both Samantha and Natalie were quick to learn and asked a lot of great questions. The enthusiasm of our 15-yr old participant for the outdoors and for steelheading is admirable. She is incredibly driven and just an overall great young lady. Working with this group of women was an honor, they all did an amazing job and should be very proud of themselves. Every one of them earned their place on the North Shore as Women on the Fly!
The weather was perfect, the low water made it easy to identify the different types of water, Neil and Jared did an exceptional job with the ladies under their instruction and with adding to our discussion, we caught fish in the locations we were teaching the women to target for back drop fish and I had the best group of women I could possibly have had for our first event. At the end of the day everyone had a positive experience and were asking about future clinics. Our first clinic was a great success!
When we created Women on the Fly, we really had no idea what kind of response we would receive. We are the first to offer a North Shore steelheading/fly fishing women’s program so much of what we are doing and events we’ll be offering are essentially new, unexplored territories and concepts. To see the number of women wanting to learn and seeking the resources they need to become successful anglers is exciting. The North Shore’s female anglers are massively unrepresented but as we continue to develop and build Women on the Fly, there is no doubt that’ll change. More and more people are recognizing the value in the program and are offering their support. More and more women are realizing that it’s really not an intimidating sport if you have the right resources and knowhow. We have a great thing going with Women on the Fly and I am excited to see what the future holds for the program.
Thank you to Jared, Neil and all of our participants for making our first Women on the Fly Streamside Clinic a huge success!