2015 Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited: Women’s Fly Fishing Seminar
August 29, 2015 dawned bright and sunny for the Women’s Fly Fishing Seminar, hosted by the Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited on behalf of the New York Trout Unlimited Women’s Initiative.
The ladies arrived at 8 a.m. for registration with Nancy and Heidi and a meet and greet with refreshments served by Bonnie. Twelve women eagerly participated in the event. Explanation of gear and equipment by Lindsay and Vicky was followed by an entomology (bugs) presentation by Lindsay. Then we took the ladies out on the lawn for a casting lesson. The program was headed by Vicky Lane and Lindsay Agness; both are NYS licensed fishing guides and have served on the TU’s NYS Women’s Initiative Committee.
We all enjoyed a spectacular lunch served by Bonnie and Linda, followed by drawings for some awesome door prizes, compliments of our generous supporters.
After lunch we were off to Nine Mile Creek with our stream guides for an afternoon of fly fishing. With the support of our chapter members, every woman was provided with their own guide (thank you everyone)! The women and their guides were spread out all along Nine Mile Creek and just about everyone caught a nice trout. We also saw a lot of bugs that helped relate to Lindsay’s entomology presentation.
We headed back to the Hatchery at about 4 p.m. for a very tasty cookout (thanks Chef Bob and crew!) and to share our experiences on the stream and of course, talk about the fish that were caught.
A fun time of sharing and learning a new sport was had by all!
Thank you to all who participated to make this a very successful and exciting event for women!
Carpenter’s Brook Fish Hatchery
Eric Stanczyk and his Crew
Donations for door prizes from our generous supporters:
Iroquois Chapter of TU: Fly rod and reel and flies for fly boxes
Malinda’s Fly Shop: fly boxes
Field and Stream: gift bags
Bob Alexander: fly rod and reel
Nathan Adam: guided day of wade fishing
Nancy Lobello: buff
Learning to Fly Fish
By Heidi Stephens
I grew up on Riverbend Road, a mile and a half away from a trout hatchery that sits next to the Little Lehigh River in Allentown, Pa. As a kid, I enjoyed visiting the hatchery and peering into the tanks teeming with trout. For a few cents, you could buy small waxed-paper bags of pellets to feed the fish. When you threw the pellets into the tanks, you set off a feeding frenzy. I fantasized about sneaking in at night and scooping up a netful of plump brown trout. On the banks of the creek nearby, fishermen cast their lines into the rushing water. Those anglers in the Lehigh Parkway were a regular, peaceful presence in the background of my youth. It should come as no surprise that one day I’d be drawn to try the sport of fly fishing myself.
On Sept. 14 and 15, I was among 12 women at Carpenter’s Brook Fish Hatchery in Elbridge who took part in the Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s first Annual Women’s Fly Fishing Seminar. The event included lectures and hands-on exercises, with plenty of one-on-one attention provided by a group of women and men volunteers. Instruction covered basic aspects of fly fishing, such as equipment, fly tying, entomology (bugs), fish habits, knots, casting, safety, and fish handling. I enjoyed every bit of it.
The first day began with a light breakfast (thanks to volunteers Bonnie Winchell and Karen Alexander) and presentations in the hatchery’s large supply garage. Event coordinator and lead instructor Vicky Lane opened by sharing reasons why so many people enjoy fly fishing: Fish live in beautiful places. You don’t have to be athletic to fly fish; the sport is more about finesse than strength. Fly fishing offers peace and tranquility and excuses to travel, along with fresh air, exercise, and tremendous fun.
Later in the morning, Lindsay Agness of Honeoye Falls taught us about different types of flies. Unlike spin fishing that uses bait to attract fish, fly fishing relies on artificial lures that look like insects or other critters fish eat. Lindsay passed around a colorful assortment of flies in various shapes and sizes for us to examine.
We learned the critical importance of choosing the right fly for the conditions. Anglers need to be aware of what insects are present for fish to eat in a particular environment at a particular time and to pick lures that match. I was interested to learn about the hatch charts that are available to show what insects emerge at different times of year. Some anglers get deeply involved in the biology of fishing, but not everyone has to, Lindsay explained. You can keep things simple by just stopping at a tackle shop, asking what type of flies to use for a particular body of water, and then picking up some of those. Easy, right?
For the day’s hands-on activities, participants split into two groups. One went outdoors to learn casting techniques on the lawn. The other stayed inside for fly tying demonstrations by members of Trout Unlimited and a chance to make some simple flies.
With guidance and an impressive array of tools provided by TU volunteer Dave Seifritz, I crafted my own version of a crane fly larvae. To do this, I attached a fishing hook onto a vice and wound strands of wool around the shank. We had cream-colored wool to shape the body, and a light brown wool for the head. (Know those insects we see with long wispy legs and narrow wings that some of think are big mosquitoes? Probably mature crane flies.) At another table, women made the widely used type of fly known as the woolly bugger, which resembles a flying insect with a long thin body.
Out on the lawn, volunteer Erin Oristian worked with me on my dry casting. “Move the rod as if it’s an extension of your arm,” she told me. “Keep your wrist straight. Bend your elbow, move your hand backward, make a hard stop at your ear, and then smoothly cast your line forward. … Don’t throw your body, let the rod do the work.” For several minutes, my arm refused to follow instructions. Erin had me put on her jacket, and then she tightened the Velcro fastener on the cuff to secure the rod to my wrist. She stood behind me, grabbed onto my arm, and made it move the way it should. This worked.
“My daughter has done Irish dancing, and one time I strapped her arms to her sides to keep them from moving,” Erin explained.
Other volunteers offered more tips. “Keep your thumb on top.” “Pull the rod back, stop at 1 o’clock, and then cast.” “Think of casting like doing a waltz: Move the rod back for a count of three, then forward for three, back for three, then forward for three and bow.” Eventually I got it.
The line on a fly rod is tapered and weighted with a plastic coating. Once you get the hang of casting, you can whip the line around with surprising ease.
After lunch, we practiced casting into the trout pond. This time, I was accompanied by Lisa Green of Rochester, who assisted me with choosing flies and tying knots, and provided further guidance on casting. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did hook some weeds and tree branches on my back cast. The women on both sides of me caught fish, however—little ones that quickly were returned to the pond.
We wrapped up the first day back in the garage, where the event organizers gave out door prizes ranging from books and wine to a brand-new fly rod. Every woman received at least one prize to take home, along with her own fly box and an assortment of beautiful hand-tied flies, compliments of the local members of Trout Unlimited. Several of us then headed off for dinner and lively conversation at Krabby Kirk’s BBQ in Camillus.
On the second day of the seminar, participants met at the hatchery in the morning to pick up gear and get matched up with a guide before heading over to Nine Mile Creek for several hours of fishing. Bob Alexander of TU supplied maps that plotted out fishing spots. Women who didn’t have their own gear could borrow equipment, and Bob handed out waders and rods. I brought my own waders but borrowed a rod.
Vicky was assigned to guide me and my fellow learner Martha. Fall isn’t the best time of year for trout fishing in this region, and we didn’t catch anything at the creek. But I didn’t really mind. I was focused on learning how to fish, figuring that eventually, at some other place and some other time, the trout would come. This day, I was happy just to be able to cast my line and make the fly land where I wanted it to. I enjoyed being able to change flies and tie knots, to walk out into the middle of a stream in the sunshine and feel cool water rush around my waders, and to share the whole experience with women who like doing the same things I do.
TU is engaged in a national push to involve more women in their organization and the sport of fly fishing. TU promotes conservation of cold-water fisheries and catch-and-release fishing. Syracuse is home to the second-oldest chapter of TU. Local members meet the first Wednesday of every month at Barbagallo’s Restaurant in East Syracuse. All the women who took part in the seminar have received a free year of membership.
In total, instructors Vicky, Lindsay, and their colleague Jan Opal from the Plattsburgh area taught three two-day-long seminars to 46 women this summer alone. Through their expertise, leadership, and enthusiasm, they are nurturing a growing network of “fly gals” (or “fishing sisters,” if you will) here in New York State.
For me, fly fishing can now be another outdoor activity to enjoy with men in my life, but it can also be a fun way to spend time with “the girls.” And perhaps next spring I will do something I have wanted to do since my youth in Pennsylvania: wake up early on the first day of Trout Season and step out into the crisp morning air to go fishing.