top of page

West or Bust

The saying “fly fishing saves lives” has been spread across the angling community for a long time, but it resonates especially with those of us that have a passion for this sport.  Two and half years ago, I was a completely different person than I am today and I owe a lot of that to fly fishing. Back then I was unhappy with my life and was doing some major self-reflecting. I was working and making great money, but working 60+ hours a week. I was devoting some of the best years of my life to my job. I was in a dead end relationship, living in Minnesota and never traveling or experiencing anything new.  I was in a “safe” place and needed to make a major change.  I needed to create an environment where I would be happy.  So I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job and decided to start a new hobby - fly fishing!

I have hunted and fished my whole life, but never fly fished before. I had been drawn to fly fishing growing up, I just never knew anyone personally that was into the sport.

I am the second oldest of seven girls in my family, that’s right - SEVEN!My poor dad.

Since he did not have a son, he definitely honed in on my interest and passion for the outdoors. He was my go-to when I needed help learning something new.  I loved the time we spent together and I am so grateful for the knowledge I acquired from him; but he has never touched a fly rod in his life!  Without anyone to teach me, I did what any 24 year old would do - I Googled it!

I found a fly shop that was 45 minutes from me - Bob Mitchell’s. I signed up for all the classes they offered and purchased my first fly rod.  I couldn’t wait to get it out on the water, but quickly realized it was winter in Minnesota and a harsh one at that. While waiting for spring, I learned to tie flies. I went to all the fly tying nights, learned about knots, bugs and hatches, and spent hours watching YouTube videos.  I even got out casting on a snowy field.

I was baffled at how hard it was to find an angler to take me out. I had yet to meet a female angler in Minnesota.  I found myself a ‘woman in a man’s world.’  They acted like my intentions for learning the sport were insincere, but that just pushed me to prove myself and show them they were wrong. It helped that I was a tomboy growing up and had had similar experiences before while hunting, restoring old houses and when I bought my first motorcycle.

I learned that I could either prove them wrong or show them right.

I eventually did meet a great group of men in Minnesota and one, Josh, took me out on the water for the first time. We went to a small stream and parked the car.  I wanted to throw on my waders and jump in the water.  I could not contain my excitement!  He quickly stopped me, told me to relax and taught me to investigate the water.  On the bridge above the river I saw multiple trout rising.  After about 30 seconds of watching mouth after mouth mowing down dries, I said “I’ve seen enough, let’s go!”

I had waders that would barely stay up and boots that were two sizes too big - I cinched the waders, tightened the boots and crouched into the water.  I had been practicing my casting for months now, but only a couple times actually on water, and never with a dry fly and a dropper on.  After a few test casts, I could resist getting my flies to the rising trout on the other side of the stream no longer.  I finally got my fly above the rising fish and waited as eagerly as I watched the fly drift, slowly approaching where the fish were rising. Then BOOM! A fish ate my fly! I felt the adrenaline take over and heard Josh yelling “get your rod tip up!”  Screaming with excitement, I start stripping my line in trying my hardest to keep tension on the line.  The fish was running and jumping out of the water and my jaw started to hurt from the giant smile on my face. The feeling of fighting a fish on a fly rod was incredible.  

I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner!

A few minutes later I landed my first fish on a fly, a beautiful brown trout. That moment the addiction set in.  It sparked excitement that I had not felt in a long time.  

As cliche as it may sound,I met my now boyfriend on Instagram.

He was in Arizona, I was in Minnesota, and he was a fly angler.  After diving into a long distance relationship, with each trip to meet, KC would take me out fishing. And then he got a job offer to Portland, OR. He wanted me to join him in his new life there and I said “what the hell, why not!?”  A month later I packed my car and drove across the country thinking I was crazy. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, but found myself falling in love with all it had to offer.

In this new environment, we learned the water together, fishing for different species every time we went out.  I struggled with that.  One day we would be stripping streamers under fallen trees, the next nymphing a deep run, casting with an indicator and mending and feeding line, or at a small stream hopping and climbing from pool to pool fishing caddis to rising sea-run cutties. I was learning while I was fishing, and I was forced to learn fast.

Anytime he caught more fish than I did, I couldn’t help but over think.  What am I doing differently? What fly does he have on? What tippet is he using? How is he presenting the fly? I had to remind myself that he has been fly fishing since he was 7.

Once I stopped being so hard on myself I really began to grow.

 I realized how much I had actually learned when we went back to one of our first small streams and I out fished KC.  I finally felt that I was just fishing and enjoying the beautiful moss covered trees, small waterfalls trickling into the creek and the small cutties rising to my fly.

I have now been in the PNW for a little over two years with only one hook up on a steel-head.  I am beginning to think they really are unicorns! Luckily there are a lot more fish in this state other than steel-head, and I have been fortunate to fish for them!

Two years ago my goal was to become a great angler.  I have since realized I will never be the perfect angler, but I am becoming a well-rounded angler who continues to grow each time I step into the water. When I look back on the past two years, I reflect on how fly fishing has impacted my life in ways I never thought possible.  This sport pushes me to challenge myself, brings me the solitude to maintain a healthy way of thinking, and takes me to the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  Most importantly, it brings out the best in me.

That’s why I will keep casting for as long as my body lets me.

Written for Dunn Magazine

bottom of page