Ever since I was a small girl, I’ve been told I’d make a good guide. I have great memories of showing guests how to fish when they stayed at my parent’s lodge on the Bighorn River in Montana. I’d always strap on my fishing boots, grab my rod and a few grasshoppers (live ones) and escort the newbie to the river.
“Evenings are the best time to fish and you have to cast into the foam line,” I would say in my most professional 7 yr old voice. When they asked me to show them where to go, I always took them to the one place I knew was fool-proof. An eddy that was full of bright shiners called Goldeneyes that would eat just about anything. It never failed me.
Even in Alaska, clients always asked if I had any intentions of becoming a guide. I always replied that it was something I’d given thought to, but deep down, I honestly didn’t think I would be capable of it. Lugging around 16ft jet boats, lifting heavy boat motors, dealing with bears and coping with copious amounts of different personalities while trying to catch a fish didn’t seem like something I’d be very good at. It was a daunting and scary thing for an 18 year old fresh out of high school, not to mention the fact that I was a girl. Despite my concerns and doubts, I gave it a try anyway.
Now at the age of 24, I’ve been guiding for 6 years and it has been one of the most impacting experiences of my life. While that first year was challenging and frustrating for me, I learned things that have shaped me into the person I am today. It allowed me to step into the shoes of a responsible, capable, strong (mentally and physically) and confident young woman; traits that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Many folks have asked me if I ever run into any discrimination being a female guide and the answer is unfortunately, yes. In the 6 years that I’ve been guiding I’ve only had one client make a fuss and surprisingly, that client was another woman.
As everyone knows, the fly fishing industry is dominated by dudes. And that’s because it’s a dude sport, a dude thing to do. However, females are starting to come out of the wood work and are showing up in fly shops, magazines, television shows, competitions and most importantly, out on the rivers. In the past couple years, I’ve met several other women who guide in various parts of the world and it’s been like a breath of fresh air. “Girl talk” just isn’t the same when you have three fully bearded guys staring at you with lost, uninterested expressions. I always ask these ladies about their experiences and if they’ve ever run across discrimination. Thankfully the answer is, “Not much” which brings me to believe that discrimination against female guides isn’t as prominent as many may believe. Nearly every client that has stepped into my boat was a joy to be around, courteous and gave me props for doing something many women wouldn’t.
So with that being said, to any woman out there who has the desire to hit a river by herself or wishes to start guiding, just go for it and don’t worry about the guys. I’ve always taken pride in being a girl on the river and there’s no reason why anyone else shouldn’t. It’s a liberating and exhilarating experience that will stick with you for life. You’ll also be surprised by how many times a guy will walk up to you and ask, “What are they biting?”