By Bill Cooper
Introduced to fly fishing at ten years of age, Joan Wulff is the “First Lay of Fly Fishing.” She grew up knowing about shotguns and fly fishing, a rarity in any sportsman’s circles in the last 100 years. Her father, Jimmy Salvato, owned the Paterson Rod and Gun Store in New Jersey and introduced Joan to fly fishing at an early age.
Joan took to fly casting like a fish to water and soon became quite proficient. She turned a lot of heads in the fishing world, when she won the club and regional casting competitions in 1938, 1939, and 1940. She caught her first trout on a fly in 1939 and never looked back.
At 16, Joan won her first national casting competition in the women’s dry-fly accuracy championship at the National Association of Angling and Casting Clubs competition in Chicago. She won every women’s fly casting event held through the 1940s.
Wulff then spent the years between 1943 and 1951, except 1947, competing in and winning national casting championships. During that time she won 21 championships, which established her as an icon of women’s fly fishing. She wrapped up her amateur career by becoming the first woman to win the National Fisherman’s Distance Fly Championship with a cast of 136 feet against an all-male field of fly casters. She completed her casting career with an unofficial women’s world casting record of 161 feet.
In the wake of Joan Wulff’s fly fishing success, thousands of women have navigated the rough course of breaking into the male dominated pastime of fly fishing. Her dedication and perseverance paved a path which many women have chosen to follow.
Today, the fly fishing world abounds with capable female fly fishers. Man. Have become capable guides, offering a keen sense of capability to the realm of fly fishing.
Katie Cahn, from the Blue Ridge Mountains, grew up fishing the foothills near the border of North and South Carolina on land settled by her family in the 1800s.
Katie drowned worms in the creeks and used nibbles of corn to catch shiners on a spinning rod. She didn’t discover fly fishing until she attended college at Western Carolina University.
“For three years, I lived 50 yards from the Tuckasegee River. I spent study breaks fly fishing at the river. During those years I got to know the Tuckasegee, Nantahla, and a few others pretty well.”
Katie became a die-hard fly fisherman and encouraged women to break the barriers and give the sport a try. “Fly fishing takes patience, and the more you do it, the better you get.”
Fly fishing has long been touted as an elitist sport among men. Volumes have been written about the art and spirituality of fly fishing and the manifest qualities if endows on participants…values to physical, mental and spiritual health. Substantial evidence supports these premises and anyone who has delved into fly fishing would concede.
On the other hand, the elitists atmosphere surrounding fly fishing has had its walls somewhat dismantled by a huge insurgence of new fly fishers in the last 20 years. Most joined the ranks looking for a challenging and rewarding experience.
Local well known athlete and outdoors lady Bri Butery Hodge took an interest in trout fishing while in Junior High. “I tagged along with my friend Amy Luna, who often trout fished with her dad, Roy King, at Maramec Spring Park.”
On several occasions Bri noticed anglers at Maramec Spring with long poles and brightly colored lines. “I asked Amy what they were doing. She explained that they were fly fishing. They made it look so easy and graceful. I vowed to learn to fly fish one day.”
Years passed as Bri got busy with life, but her desire to fly fish flared up every time she saw someone doing so. “After I moved back to Missouri, I saw Damon Spurgeon across Maramec Spring branch from me. He yelled and asked me when I was going to give up the spinning rod and learn how to really fish. I responded by asking him when he was going to teach me.”
“Damon agreed to give me lessons and I took him up on it. Damon, myself, my husband, James, and Bill Cooper all traveled to Montauk. Damon took an hour to teach us about different knots used in fly fishing and gave us casting lessons. I was taken by the whole process.”
“Next, Damon geared us up and we headed to the spring branch for some practical application. I’m competitive by nature and looked forward to this new challenge with the guys. I loved the challenge of casting the fly with a perfect cast and seeing it land where I wanted. I caught on quickly and actually caught the first fish that day. I was hooked!”
Bri quickly became a fly fishing enthusiast and recognizes the benefits. “When I fly fish, I melt into a different world. All my stress and worries fade away. I’m in my happy place, relaxed and at peace. Fly fishing gives me the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful waters where trout live and all the other creatures found there. There is something magical about hearing the zip of a cast I’ve made and being a part of the constant graceful movement of the line. “
Bri has become something to be reckoned with when she has her fly rod in hand. However, she gets the intent of fly fishing. “When I catch a fish, no matter how big or small, I am ecstatic. But, even on the days when I don’t catch much, I feel completely rejuvenated when I pack up for the day. Fly fishing is my escape from the hustle and bustle of life, a way to slow down and enjoy the simpler things of life.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.