The American Museum of Fly Fishing and its “Exhibition Profiles” are the profiles of important women fly anglers, fly tyers, conservationists and guides of yesterday, today and tomorrow
“Exhibition Profiles” are from the book “A Graceful Rise” written by Catherine Comar, executive director of the museum. Promotional narrative for National Endowment for the Arts is provided by Fly Life Magazine.com. Copyright the American Museum of Fly Fishing (AMFF) – 2014.
Meet Karen A. Graham
Few knew in the 1970s and 1980s that one of the most well-known faces in modeling would eventually belong to an accomplished fly fisher. Karen Graham was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, and moved to New York City after completing college. While shopping one afternoon, she met famed model agency owner Eileen Ford, who encouraged Graham to become a model.
Graham was a very successful model. Between 1970 and 1975, she appeared on more than twenty covers of Vogue magazine, and from 1970 until 1981, she was the primary model featured in cosmetic company Estée Lauder’s campaigns. It was early in her modeling career that Graham began to fly fish. Although she spin fished for bass and bluegill as a child in Mississippi, she began to fly fish when her older brother gave her a fly rod. After she moved to New York, Graham began to fly fish for trout, and she became passionate about the environment. By 1975 she was ready to show the world her fly-fishing side and was featured in an Estée Lauder advertisement donning hip waders and holding a fly rod.
After leaving the modeling world in 1985, Graham pursued her angling career. She moved to the Catskill Mountain region of New York, joined the local Trout Unlimited Chapter, and met accomplished angler Bert Darrow. They joined together and formed the school Fly Fishing with Bert & Karen. In 1999, Estée Lauder again called Graham and asked her to appear in a commercial for a skin-care product; Graham was fifty-four at the time and agreed to the job as long as the company allowed her to be herself and not present her as someone younger. The ad campaign was shot at various locations, including New York’s Esopus Creek; Graham was photographed wearing fly-fishing gear and holding her own rod. For the second time in her modeling career, Graham brought women anglers to the world’s attention.
Graham eventually left New York, and from 2001 to 2004 she co-hosted ESPN2’s series In Search of Fly Water. She lived in Wyoming for ten years and served as the president of the North Platte River Trout Unlimited Chapter. Graham currently lives in North Carolina, ties flies, and continues to practice her belief in catch and release.
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