Six women who are revolutionizing the world of fly fishing
by Travis Hall
To the casual observer, the world of fly fishing may look like a totally male-dominated endeavor. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will inevitably discover the long-held and enduring legacy that female anglers have imprinted on the sport.
It was Joan Wulff who changed the sport forever
In 1943, at the age of sixteen, she walked away with top honors in the national dry fly accuracy championship. From there she would go on to rack up twenty-one additional casting titles before ultimately winning the National Fisherman’s Distance Fly Championship with a cast of 136 feet against a field of all male competitors. By the early 1950s, a time when women’s rights were severely limited, Joan Wulff was widely regarded as the best fly caster in the world.
Wulff used her deep knowledge and innate understanding of fly fishing and techniques to become one of the single most recognizable figures in the professional fly fishing game.
At age 89, Wulff is still heavily involved in the art she mastered many years ago, mainly through teaching and inspiring both male and female anglers alike.
In the wake of her success, increasing numbers of women have found avenues into the historically male-dominated sport.
Today, fly fishing is experiencing a golden age of female participants. Here are a few of the many female anglers making waves right here in the Blue Ridge and around the country.
Born and raised in the shadow of the Northern Rockies in Chilliwack, British Columbia, April Vokey has been fishing in one capacity or another for most of her life.
“I think it was the sheer excitement of being outdoors that drew me to fishing in general,” April says. “I’ve always loved water— creeks, rivers, lakes, the ocean, rain—all of it, but I loved the trees and mossy forest bottom just as much.”
It was an excitement that would eventually lead her to discover fly fishing, particularly the variety that involves spey casting to giant Steelhead in the waters of British Columbia, at the early age of 18.
“I was a menace out there,” Vokey said of her earliest fly fishing expeditions. “But I spent my nights watching instructional VHS tapes about how to cast, and eventually my flailing started to look alright.”
By the age of 23, she would own her own guiding service specializing in Steelhead trips on B.C.’s famed Skeena River, and in 2011 April joined the Patagonia ambassador team, where she now assists in the design and direction of an upcoming women’s line of fishing apparel.
“It has always been a shame to me that fly fishing is perceived as a man’s sport. There is truly nothing overly masculine about it,” she said in a 2012 Q & A with Fly Life Magazine.
“Fly fishing requires finesse, timing, passion, excitement, intrigue and dedication—descriptives that are not sole features of either gender. I urge women who have not given this sport a try to skip their next yoga class or hike. Tranquility or excitement, whatever it is that you’re looking for, why not follow Mother Nature to the river to find it?”
Today April hosts a popular fly fishing podcast called Anchored with April Vokey where she interviews some of the most influential people in the fly fishing game. In a recent episode of her podcast, April sat down with fly fishing legend and pioneer Joan Wulff to bring the female fly fishing revolution full circle.
Featured Image Jen Ripple of DUN Magazine – read more about Jen Ripple.