By Allison Taylor
Anyone who has watched someone fly fishing has likely been mesmerized by the delicate and methodical dance of the line. Western North Carolina is a mecca for anglers with its diverse options for pristine waters.
As love of the sport continues to grow, so does the influence of female anglers in what had historically been a male-dominated activity. Over the last decade, more women are flocking to the rivers across the region, country and world.
There is a special peacefulness and beauty that can be found in nature, and the lessons of patience, resilience and slowing down are benefits that can be carried back into the challenges of everyday life.
Ryan Waldrep, assistant and guide with DB bar D Outfitters in Mills River, has enjoyed introducing his girlfriend Harlee Johnson to the sport, and they fish together regularly. “Fly fishing has given me a new way to connect with the outdoors, and I’m excited for more women to get into the activity,” says Waldrep.
Johnson shares that excitement. “Hopefully, with increased representation, more women will be encouraged to get into fly fishing,” she says. “I love every part of it—going to the fly shop, waking up early, the drive to the river and the fishing!” DB bar D Outfitters is excited to employ two female guides: Shyienna Revell and Kelsey Grapperhaus.
In 2014, Jessica Whitmire, the director of operations at Headwaters Outfitters, saw the need for a women-specific fly fishing group. She started Pisgah Area Women’s Fly Fishing to fulfill the need for meetups and educational opportunities. It was a rocky start, but in 2018 the group took off and was having regular monthly meetups pre-COVID.
Now, they are still hosting a handful of meetings but hope to ramp back up again and will be announcing fall events soon. “Pisgah Area Women’s Fly Fishing is a place where everyone is welcome, and we are dedicated to helping all women through their journey of life and fly fishing,” says Whitmire. “We support and cheer each other on, and,” she adds, “will be hosting Fly Tying nights again soon.”
Whitmire brags on the other local women of the water who have influenced the sport, and new companies are continuing to pop up that are both women-owned and are designing women-specific gear and apparel. Any female that has tried to find properly fitted gear in any male-dominated sport can relate to not only the struggles of improper fit and function but also the relief when new options become available that are specific to our builds and body types.
Whitmire is excited to see more female guides in the area as well. “Simons Welter of Brookings Anglers in Cashiers and Starr Nolan with Brookside Guides are both female guides in our southeast region who have been great role models for younger females, including myself,” she says. She is also encouraged to see other prominent females take up the sport.
“Debbie Gillespie is a well-known figure who guides out of Davidson River Outfitters, and was recently featured as Blue Ridge Outdoors’ Guide of the Year,” says Whitmire. “Hannah Myers grew up in Transylvania County and is now in her fifth year guiding at Headwaters Outfitters. Other influential women in the local fly fishing world include Katie Cahn, metalsmith and angler; Shannon Whitworth, musician, artist and angler; Reba Brinkman, industry pro and guide; Kelly Bruce, angler and nature therapy guide; Abbi Bagwell, angler; Alyssa Adcock, guide with Boone’s Fly Shop; and Cassie Spurling, guide with Mac Brown Fly Fish.” Whitmire and Myers will be hosting a women’s trip out west in fall of 2022 through Headwaters Outfitters shop.
For any new anglers interested in learning, Whitmire recommends reaching out to your local fly shop or any of the local female guides. Pisgah Area Women’s Fly Fishing has a Facebook group for additional resources. Pisgah Trout Unlimited has several female members, and they meet once a month to learn more about cold water conservation and to provide a network with other local anglers. United Women on the Fly is a website with great resources, and Casting Carolinas and
Casting for Recovery are two local nonprofits that support women with cancer and cancer survivors. Miss Mayfly, FisheWear and Flyvines are women-owned businesses providing gear, and some local artists, like Jenny Cartee, create fly-fishing-inspired goods.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education is another excellent local resource, offering women-only fly fishing classes almost every month. “This is a great way to boost confidence and set a new angler up to go out on their own,” says Center director Melinda Patterson. “Fishing, in general, has been a male-dominated sport, but I’ve noticed that women have the finesse required and often pick it up more easily than men.” The programs at the Pisgah Center are all free to the public, except for the fee for the state-required fishing license. The group updates the schedule on their website regularly with any upcoming opportunities.
For more information on DB bar D Outfitters, visit DBbarD.com. To learn more about Headwaters Outfitters and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, visit HeadwatersOutfitters.com and NCWildlife.org/learning/education-centers/Pisgah.