Reel Women Fly Fishing in the Vail Valley

The line glides out, the fly lands on a pool of water, the fisherwoman waits patiently, tempting the fish beneath the water. If the fish refuses the fly, she reels in the line, searching, finessing the fly gently down the river.

Women have discovered what fishermen have long known: fly fishing is good for the mind, body and spirit. Working on technique and absorbing the quiet relaxation of the water, the scenery and the sunlight gently dappling through trees on the river bank requires concentration: It’s a complex sport of wits, finesse and patience, as solo or social as one wants and there’s no end to the learning.


Cordillera resident Pam Smith started fly fishing a few years ago and speaks with pure delight about fishing, the rivers and the awe-inspiring trips she’s taken in search of the fisherman’s high.

“I’m still in the novice category, I’ve learned a lot in the last two years, I’ve really gotten into it,” Smith says. “It’s one of those sports where you can be a novice and still have a lot of fun. There are so many pieces – the right equipment, the flies, the water and the weather.

“I’m always thrilled if I catch a fish. It’s like golf in that there’s so much to learn, it could take a whole lifetime; and you would never learn it all.”

There’s so much to learn: the weight of the line to use, casting techniques, taking into account the way the wind will affect the line, and if you are casting upstream or downstream and, of course, what type of flies to use.

Don’t be a hero, Smith advises – take a lesson, go to a casting clinic, hire a guide to learn how to tie a line, which fly to use, where to go and how to untangle the inevitably tangled line.

Many women start fishing because of the man in their lives, whether father, husband or son, maybe taking the two-day clinic offered by Fly Fishing Outfitters at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. Starting off on dry land is easier and lets you decide if you want to invest in the sport, explains John Packer, owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters in Avon. Get the basics down, and then explore the rivers.

“For novices you definitely want to go with a guide or someone who knows a lot about it. I’d say it would be bordering on dangerous to be out there by yourself, you could slip, you could lose your equipment in the water,” Smith says.

Jill Chalfant has been fly fishing since she was little and she echoes Smith. Fly fishing comes with a steep learning curve, but being on the river, lake or ocean, is reason enough to give it a try. There are no double black diamond ratings, no score keeping or trying to best your opponent. Chalfant even talks about the lifelong challenge of getting more experienced instead of getting better. “There are so many rivers in the world to explore, let alone the ocean! In each environment the surroundings are unique and so are the insects and fish… you really have to take everything into consideration,” Chalfant says enthusiastically.

She clearly remembers reeling in her first fish before she even reached her double- digit birthday. Not one for dolls and dress up, she relished the time on the river with her father.

“I grew up fly fishing with my dad and caught my first fish on my own when I was 8. It was a Rainbow trout on the Yampa and I can seriously close my eyes and recall the moment! It was truly when I was hooked,” she says with glee.

The sport wasn’t a passing fancy she turned her avocation into a vocation for five years, met her husband on the river and now the hobby is a multi-generational adventure. They have two little girls who accompany their fly fishing parents.

Similarly, local guide and photographer Katie Fiedler Anderson started fly fishing as a way to hang out with her dad – they’d stroll riverbanks and she’d suggest tracking down river, and he’d be happy to comply. Fiedler Anderson wanted to share the freedom she found on the river and accomplishes that through guiding with Gore Creek Fly Fisherman.

“Being a fly-fishing guide takes a strong will and a lot of determination to succeed. From the bugs (entomology), to the water levels, to the weather, to the client you are speaking to; there are many factors that are constantly changing,” she says. “I know men and women are on an even playing field. There is a satisfying element to taking someone fishing who had an image in their head of what a guide should look and act like; and then seeing them start to think outside the box. It makes me feel as if I accomplishing a little more than just fishing.


Being a female guide is very rewarding.” It seems like fly fishing might just be made for women. Sure, women might first accompany their husbands as a way to while away the afternoon, but before long, the fairer sex is out fishing the brawnier one. “Fly fishing is all about patience and timing, men want to muscle it out there and women are naturally better,” Chalfant says.

“One of the things is that unlike other sports where men usually excel because of strength, fly fishing is the exact opposite. Fly fishing is not about strength, it’s more about finesse and timing,” adds Packer.

Finesse, timing and maybe, just a little, competitiveness. When Fiedler Anderson had the chance to take ski champion Lindsey Vonn out on the river, she jumped. As the group got to know each other, Vonn soon went from recreational fisher to competitive athlete. “I had never taken anyone fishing who was that focused and competitive with themselves. I have a lot of respect for an athlete who rises to the challenge every day to win and be their best, and it was very interesting to see that unfold in front of me. Not only did she want to catch a fish, but she also wanted to learn how to tie her own knots and pick her own flies. She wasn’t afraid to cross the river and get to a spot way on the other side. I can’t say I
have ever been with someone who had only fished a few times and immediately wanted to do more than just catch fish,” Fiedler Anderson remembers. It’s easy to get hooked on a sport that can bring you anywhere around the world: next to grizzlies in Alaska, bone fishing in Bahamian waters, salt-water flats or on rivers in Colorado.

“It’s so much fun, oh my gosh,” Smith reveals about a day when she out fished just about everyone while on a guided trip in Alaska. “We hit this fishing hole on the Moraine River, called nirvana. We hit it just right, my guide and I. Every time I threw my fly I caught a big fish – 26- and 30-inches long. I caught 12 fish that day. It was unbelievable! We were laughing our heads off. The second I would throw it in, I would get a fish. “You feel a connection to that fish then when you have it in the net and you can see it, get the hook out, let it back in the river. It’s such a thrill.”

That enthusiasm is contagious – and one of the reasons Matt Sprecher, owner of Minturn Anglers, loves taking women out fly fishing. “I think they have the right attitude going into it, they are happy and don’t care as much as a guy. Fly fishing is a mental thing, it takes a lot of confidence and a lot of letting things happen, if you force things [it doesn’t work],” he confides. “They are better listeners, are more patient, use more finesses than a guy. It’s not a muscle thing, you can’t force it, you have to finesse it.”

Ready to get your wader-clad feet wet? Find a local fly shop – the guides will talk eloquently and loquaciously about all things fly-fishing. Manufacturers are listening too; top brands are making women’s-specific clothing, rods, reels and waders. After all, it doesn’t hurt to look good while you’re reeling in the big one.