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‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Wanda Taylor [2019] with a world record spearfish catch. Genus Tetrapterus, family Istiophoridae (order Perciformes). Spearfishes are characterized by a relatively short snout in comparison with other billfish. Photo by Jake Jordan.

When asked why she connects so quickly with beginners she said,  ‘I remember clearly everything about my learning to fly cast.’

— Wanda Taylor

By Skip Clement

In the 1990s, an estimation of women as participants in fly fishing were low, less than 5% if my memory serves me well, and now, in 2023, more than 25%, without the spike caused by COVID 19 and variants accounted for, nor retention number. The trend is the significance of bringing it up.

Over the 14 years of our existence [] it has been a pleasure for us to focus on women’s contributions to the fly fishing industry. Women now contribute to fly fishing governance, fly rod design, fly rod building, fly casting, and tying—our never-ending associations have always been eye-opening.

Only a few print publications and barely any online entities through the 20th century captured the magnitude of women’s contribution to fly fishing other than occasional articles of ‘catching’ something – dominated by assisted by so and so.

Women can get after it

The drift towards recognition within the fly fishing community to capture the significance of participation and contributions made by women began to gather steam as the 21st century gained steam. Ads in fly fishing magazines showed women, real women like April Vokey, spey casting with her client on the big water of the Fraser, Skeena, and Dean rivers. In 2004, Diana Rudolph won one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world, becoming the first woman to win the annual Don Hawley Invitational Tarpon Tournament in the Florida Keys. Pouting, some not-so-manly ‘Good ol’ Boys’ tried to disgrace her because she had legally harvested a tarpon on another occasion. They failed and are reportedly barred from all Florida Keys bars.

In the same time frame Cathi Comar, AMFF, penned a small book, A Graceful Rise: Women in Fly Fishing Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow in 2011. Her profiles still need to be completed, as any amateur historian accounts would be. Still, the overriding importance of Comar’s book is women’s contribution to fly fishing, not catch statistics, although that did qualify some, and rightfully so.

Two books and some people

Regarding the latter, Steve Kantner, a regional South Florida guide, author, casting instructor, and innovative fly tier, wrote Fifty Women Who Fish, published in 2019. The book is catch achievement driven at its core and not soley about those who contributed to sport fishing, juxtaposing to Comar’s tome. However, Kantner does acknowledge women who contribute but are not in the record books, like Cathy Beck, who has taught more kids how to fly fish than organizations have with a staff; Gail Morchower, guardian of E. K. Harry Library of Fishes at the IGFA, a massive archive of all things sport fishing; Cindy Russell, superior angler, teacher, advocate and source of inspiration, and several other exceptional women.

Since this belated awareness of women in our sport, the contribution of women self acknowledging has been in publications like Jen Ripples DUN, women as spokespersons of TU’s throughout the globe, several clothing manufacturers that address the fact that women are shaped differently than men, and sisterhood organizations like Sisters on the Fly.


A woman with a long time in the fly fishing world and an unmatched contributor is Joan Wulff, fly casting instructor, manufacturer of fly lines (Royal Wulff Fly Lines), and book author who earned her early recognition soundly beating men at fly casting tournaments.

Remarkably, early in her casting career, she earned a spot in a prestigious fly-casting tournament. She won soundly, but before the presentation and after a suspicious delay, a board fuddy-duddy announced Joan could not win the championship because she was not a man.

One of the women’s most telling contributions to fly fishing has been fly tying. A student of the history of tying would find that women dominated fly tying in the US’s earliest days of fly fishing being recorded. This practice of women being the commercial fly tyers had to be true if the collected black-and-white museum photos are to be trusted.

Salmons and Trouts

Nearer the trout and salmon sources, the action of great salmon rivers in Scotland, Ireland, the US, and Canada, and trout rivers throughout the globe, magnetized the rich and famous who could afford the sport of fly angling chose women to supply the fly patterns.

Women not only dotted the landscape coordinates of the great rivers, but many were excellent fly fishers and thus understood what triggered a bite from an Atlantic salmon, various Pacific salmons, steelhead, and trouts of all kinds and when and why they fed on what. So, along with having mastered assembling the classic fly patterns, the lady suppliers invited their clients to try their inventions, and the word recipe notched a place in the fly-tying world.

Outside of rich men telling each other at their clubs and lodges of real and imagined salmon and trout angling exploits, that would be the lingo of ads in outdoor magazines selling, principally, trout and salmon flies and an occasional regional newspaper spotlighting the rarity of a woman’s achievement in that vocation.

Here’s a short take of extraordinary women who impacted fly fishing even when it was a time in which it was only men could afford to fish for fun and plate, who could elect a president or town sheriff, who did all the writing about fly fishing, and who smoked all the cigars. Now, women are a substantial and rising force in promoting fly fishing and impacting the environments in which game fish habituate. Thank you, ladies.

At the former Waynesboro Fly Fishing Festival celebs like Lefty Kreh and Wanda Taylor drew crowds. Here, on a break from their fly casting demonstrations, Wanda coaxes her friend and fellow TFO rep, Lefty Kreh into the forbidden fruit of apple pie and ice cream.

Wanda Taylor:

Wanda says her two grandmothers took the time to teach her to fish and instilled in her the desire to pass on what she knew to anyone who wanted to learn, but especially children and women.

Today, Wanda says: ‘I am living that dream by instructional guiding, private casting lessons, and volunteering: Youth Outdoor Clubs, Casting Carolinas, Casting for Confidence, Casting For Recovery, Project Healing Waters, lecturing at fly shows and festivals across America, and speaking to fly clubs nationwide.’

‘At age four; my two grandmothers took the time to teach me to fish and instilled in me the desire to pass on what I knew to anyone who wanted to learn, but especially children and other women.’Wanda Hair Taylor

Wanda married a professional fly guide and then became a guide, fly casting instructor, and Fly Fish TV hostess. She got featured in fly fishing videos, podcasts, Walkers Cay with Flip Pallot, and a published outdoor writer for Fly Fish America and DUN magazines. 


Wanda has been a featured speaker at fly clubs, expos, conclaves, and private fly fishing events across the United States and around the world. Her topics range from freshwater to saltwater inshore, nearshore, and offshore in bluewater. 

Image courtesy of Wanda Hair Taylor.

Wanda is a person of firsts for Women

• She’s known as the South’s 1st Lady of Fly Fishing.

• Along with Jake Jordan, and Lefty Kreh when he was alive, Wanda became the highest-profile TFO National Advisory Staff Member, of which she has been a member for 20 years.

• Ambassador for Women Veterans – Project Healing Waters events.

• Board Member and Retreat Leader for Casting Carolina’s.

• First Woman Orvis Endorsed Guide in the Southeastern United States. [1990].

• First Woman to be classified as Certified Master Casting Instructor by the Federation of Fly Fishers – now called Fly Fishers International [1996].

• Co-Founder Casting For Confidence [2002].

• Southeastern International Federation of Fly Fishers Woman of the Year [2005].

• International Federation of Fly Fishers [now called FFI – see above] South Eastern Council Award of Excellence for her work with ‘Casting For Recovery’ and ‘Casting For Confidence’ [2008].

• First Woman to be inducted into the Southern Appalachian’s Fly Fishing Museum Hall of Fame [2016].

• International Game Fish Association World Record Spearfish on the fly, Kona, Hawaii.

‘Anytime time I’m on the water, casting a fly, I am being renewed and getting refreshed.’  — Wanda Hair Taylor

The launch of the school was a big hit straight away, and the draw was Joan. Moms, single working women, and girls came from near and far – Joan had single-handedly busted the men-only psychological barrier. Lee Wulff, Joan’s husband was also a famous fly fisher and icon.

Joan Wulff: The lady who could cast a mile and taught thousands how. Except for 1947, Wulff spent the years between 1943 and 1951 competing and winning national casting championships. During these years, she won twenty-one championships. She concluded her amateur career by becoming the first woman to win the National Fisherman’s Distance Fly Championship with a long cast of 136 feet against an all-male field of competitors. Salvato then turned professional in 1952. She continued tournament casting until 1960 and won several more championships. She completed her casting tournament career with an unofficial women’s world casting record of 161 feet—there was no women’s division at the competition.

Read More here . . . 

Annette, served as Vice President of Operations and Design.

Annette McLean: McLean also traveled as a Winston ambassador to conduct casting clinics for women and children and served as a board member with the International Women Fly Fishers and the local Lewis and Clark Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

In 2006, along with her responsibilities for graphite rod production, McLean also became responsible for Winston’s bamboo rod program. In 2008, she stepped out of graphite rod production and began working with the owner of the Company on the design of graphite rods

Read more here . . .

Helen Shaw

Helen Shaw: [1910-2007] Helen Shaw learned fly fishing from her father when she was a child in Wisconsin. During her senior year of high school, she supported herself as a fly tyer and, by age 20, opened a fly tying business in Sheboygan. Requests to mass-produce flies were turned down because Helen was never willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. Her flies satisfied the needs of some of the most discriminating fly fishers, including President Herbert Hoover, and she came to be known as a most meticulous fly tyer. In 1953 she closed her Wisconsin store and moved to New York to marry Field and Stream art director Herman Kessler. In 1963 they collaborated on Helen’s first book, Fly Tying, and set a new standard in fly tying self-study. Helen did the writing, and Herman, the photography. As a result of this single title, Helen taught thousands to tie flies. Two more books followed, Flies for Fish and Fishermen, and Fly Tying: Materials, Tools, and Techniques. A true pioneer in fly fishing, Helen perfected her craft. She first tied flies for the fish and then for the fisherman.

Read more about Shaw here . . .

Cindy Russell was born with a fly rod in her hand. After meeting her, and fishing with here husband Capt. Dave Hunt, he told me she was probably the best fly angler he’s ever had on his boat.

Cindy Russell: Cindy’s introduction to fishing came after she graduated from Penn State in 1982. She had learned to despise the cold winters, days-old gray snow and black ice. That’s why she jumped at the invitation to come to Florida and stay with her aunt and uncle in Miami. They introduced Cindy to fly fishing the Florida Keys, Everglades National Park (The Park), Biscayne Bay, canals, Lake Okeechobee and more. She became addicted to both warm weather and fly fishing.  Cindy immersed herself in anything to do with fly fishing, eventually meeting up with a like minded Capt. Dave Hunt who became her husband. NOTE: Dave is a Florida native and grew up fishing the canals, lakes, Biscayne Bay, Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys. There isn’t much water he hasn’t fished over and he seems to know when and where the fish are or will be and when. Cindy’s had her source to feed her addiction for fly fishing. Some years ago, she began a still fervent passion for big tarpon and she is well known for her skill at catching big tarpon.

There are some pretty special tarpon anglers in South Florida and Cindy is in the “Bigs” with the best of them. Cindy says, ‘I especially love fishing The Park so that’s what I generally focus on.’

About Women in Fly Fishing:

  • New fishers 47% (2022)
  • Overall fishing participants 37% (2020)
  • Fly Fishing participants were 25% (pre-Covid 2018), up from 2% in early 1990. The latter, at the time, was an estimate. More current reports suggest that participation by women in fly fishing in 1990 was underestimated.
  • Covid spiked ‘all’ fishing, hunting, and outdoor pursuits. Some results posted by sources reviewed do not state a Covid spiked or impacted conclusions.
  • However, those that recognized the spike generally agreed that scross-the-board outdoor avocations increases due to Covid was  8%.
  • No statistics have been reported on post-Covid participation in any outdoor sport in terms of retention.


Outdoor Industry Association, Statista, Outdoor Life, American Sports Fishing Association, Ladies Let’s GoFishing, NOAA, Fifty Women That Fish


Author Skip

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