The rain clouds moved in fast, and the bottom opened up. In a matter of minutes, you couldn’t see from one side of the Causeway to the other. The forecast had called for this, but there is always hope that the unpredictable weather along the coast will surprise you and offer a reprieve. Not this time.
Six ladies, each wearing chest waders or knee-high mud boats, were sent scampering this way and that, diving into cars to get out of the torrent. The gathering of the Fly Fish Chicks ended about as quickly as it started, and yet all of them left smiling and waving, throwing kisses and letting out laughs through their sopping wet hats and face masks. It takes more than rain to dampen these spirits.
Casting an Invitation
Back in 2009, Ginna Inge had no idea that a single invitation to go fishing would give birth to these lifelong friendships. She just knew there were amazing, successful, spiritual, giving women that she crossed paths with every day in our community — women she wanted to get to know better. So she issued the invitation. More than 20 women were emailed asking if they wanted to go fly fishing in Montana. Previous experience not required. And the first eight to respond in the affirmative would get an opening.
Anna Luce was one of the lucky ones who snagged a spot. “I had never fly fished before,” she remembers about accepting that initial invitation, “but that’s what’s so fun about it. It introduced me to a whole new world.”
If angling experience is not required for this group, then a willingness to step out of your comfort zone is. Bunking at out-of-the-way cabins, drifting down mountain streams in tiny boats, enduring wild weather and wrangling wiggling fish are just a few of the activities on the agenda for this gal-time. That first trip has since grown to more than six fishing excursions across the country, although most of them unfold the same way: devotionals as the sun rises over majestic mountain peaks, high-adventure days on the river or in the woods, and evenings spent with wine and laughter, sharing life experiences and troubles, and sometimes even a little dancing.
“We’ve had some deep conversations at night, sitting outside under those Montana stars,” explains Inge. “Hearing Anna Luce talk about having a child with Rett syndrome and crying with her … our bonding time is a powerful thing. But having it centered around an activity where we learn something new and come together as friends is so enjoyable.” She argues that men so often have hunting camps as a way to come together and bond, and she celebrates women also getting that chance in the great outdoors, doing healthy things, learning from one another and appreciating one another’s company. “We’ve had the chance to do things we might never have done if we had not experienced that growth together, that support and encouragement.”
And there is something else unique to fishing as a women-only team — no competitiveness. “We get so excited about every fish caught, and everybody wants to come check it out,” Inge laughs. “Men get competitive. They want to know what fly he used, where he caught it, how can I find one bigger. If one of us catches a fish, we all drop our rods and run over and get a picture. No man would ever pose with another man’s fish.”
And then comes the dancing. The ladies reminisce about evenings spent kicking up their heels in the tiny cabin-turned-honky-tonk on the Inges’ property in Dillon, Montana, where a number of these fishing trips have taken place. Or turning up the volume at hole-in-the-wall restaurants or lodges when the fishing poles have been put away for the day. With this crowd of fun-loving women, it’s easy to see how the days end like that.
Amy Thompson explains it with the perfect analogy. “This group runs like a river,” she says. “We run shallow and we run deep.” You need a little of both in life to keep the right balance, and these chicks aren’t thrown off course easily.
The One That Got Away
Despite being a close-knit group, the Fly Fish Chicks promise they never set out to be exclusive. “We have had people come in that have been a blessing to get to know,” Inge insists. “The group can grow and change, it still has that free-flowing nature.” But the core group of ladies remains constant, no matter who decides to dip their rods in the water now and then.
Texas native Christine Warren saw Inge’s email invite for that first trip in 2009 and jumped at the chance. The experienced fly fisher had recently begun dating a Mobilian, and, after being introduced to Inge while in town for a Mardi Gras function, was eager to meet new people in the area. She rolled off the plane in Montana with fly rod in hand as the voicemail messages appeared on her phone — delayed flights from Atlanta meant Warren would have to play host.
As she approached several women she had never met, disembarking their planes, she confidently led them to the Inges’ waiting Suburban where a key had been stashed on the front left tire in preparation for their arrival. As Warren charged down a Montana highway with a carload of strangers, hoping she had made a good first impression, it became clear they had commandeered the wrong vehicle. Apparently, leaving keys on tires is pretty common in Montana, and the group of ladies returned the stolen vehicle to airport parking after a few fits of uncontrolled laughter. Grand theft auto, it seems, is a great way to make new acquaintances.
Just Keep Fishing
If you were to meet any of these women in the city, you might not realize their pluck. All are fashionably smart looking, to be sure. They have lived comfortable lives, by and large, and would say at the start that they have truly been blessed. But each one has shown a grit and determination time and time again through these trips that underscores their substance, and never more so than one fateful day in June on the legendary Big Hole River.
As each woman paired off with another and climbed into small drift boats to begin their day of casting, the weather started to deteriorate. “When we set out that morning, it was a blue bird day,” remembers Luce, who was wearing Capri pants in the 55-degree temperatures. The fishing guides quickly grabbed any extra waders, jackets or gloves they could find hiding underneath truck seats just in case, and the party pushed off the bank. Before they had landed even one fish, however, the sky began to sleet and the temperatures quickly shifted into the teens. The fishers were completely unprepared — and underdressed. They tried to keep moving to stay warm as much as possible inside the tiny boats.
“We ended up being a band of sisters. Some of us love fishing, and some don’t, but we just have so much fun.”Amy Thompson
Luce recalls watching her fishing partner begin to lean to the right as she just about went into shock. “I started calling to Ginna, asking ‘Are you alright?’ She was almost frozen — she was lethargic and couldn’t remember what was happening!” Everyone quickly realized it was time to throw in the towel.
Everyone that is, except one pair who had drifted a little further down the river and didn’t realize the others had made for camp and the large crackling fire that awaited. Thompson and Eugenia Foster, who had been boat buddies for the day, were determined to hang tough. By the end of their experience, Foster was wrapped in a tarp in the fetal position on the bottom of the boat. A shivering Thompson continued casting her line, to stay warm if nothing else, as Foster called out from the bottom of the boat, “Cast on, Sistah! Cast on.”
“There was so much relevance to life in those words,” Thompson remembers, and she soon had the saying emblazoned on hats and shirts for the group. In times of trouble or hardship, the goal for Inge and crew is to keep encouraging one another to cast on.
Best Catch of All
Six of the eight or so Fly Fish Chicks made the trek to the Causeway this winter to teach MB how to cast, show off their hand-tied flies and regale with tales of the big rivers. Mother Nature might not have cooperated that day, but they cherish the chance to gather together in any environment and are able to take a rainshower in stride. “I had a blast going to the Causeway to see everyone, but I wasn’t busting to throw a line,” Luce admits. Whether in Montana, Wyoming, North Carolina or the shallow shores of the Causeway, Luce argues it’s really all about time well spent, spent together.
Start Your Own Group
Christine Warren was the more experienced angler when the group took their first fishing trip together, even writing a popular blog on the topic, but she never wanted “guide” to be her role within the group. “I was just trying to make friends, and fly fishing was the backdrop.” Nevertheless, here she shares some tips for women looking to get out on the water.
Made for Women
Fly fishing is a great sport for women because you don’t need brute strength to get in the game. It’s an activity that blends art and science and taps into one’s patience, intuition and curiosity.
Grab a Friend
Since it is a male dominated sport it can be intimidating for women to get started. Grab a friend and learn together. Confidence in numbers!
Stop by a Shop
If you want to get your feet wet, spend some time at a local fly shop. Anyone who works at an outdoor store would love to talk fishing and help you get started. No expensive purchase required.
Lean on the Internet
There are countless videos, articles, and discussion groups with excellent information, and fly fishing clubs tend to be very inclusive to newcomers.
Don’t Count Fish
If you’re counting fish you’re missing the spirit of the sport. You either caught zero or one. After one, stop counting and just keep fishing.
Keep it Light
Women tend to bring less ego and more humor to fishing—which often leads to better days on the water.
Respect the Fish
It’s wonderful to snap that photo of your big catch, but learn to handle the fish with care and get it back to the water as quickly as possible.
Work on Your Cast
Don’t wait for your next vacation. Spend a day in a parking lot, park, or any open place. Then videotape your cast so you can see what you’re doing and try to make it better.
Any Water Will Work
Find the nearest water. You don’t need a big trip to make it happen.