River Women, Part 2 (Concluded)
by Mark Jeffrey Volk
From THE HICKORY WIND published by
Winding Ridge Press, March 1999
Way up north, in Anchorage, Alaska to be exact, lives a reader
of mine who seems to defy the labels. Cecilia "Pudge" Kleinkauf
is a testimony to what hard work and a lot of determination can
do to some of the walls that have historically kept many women
from living the lives they want. Retired from the University of
Alaska, where she was head of the Department of Social Work,
she holds an M.S.W. as well as a law degree from the U of Puget
Sound in Washington State. Involved is a good adjective for Pudge.
Active in the Alaska Fly- Fishers, Trout Unlimited and the FFF,
as well as the Northwest Women Fly Fishers, and the Anchorage
Convention and Visitors Bureau, she is also on the Pro Staffs
of Ross Reels, Mustad Hooks, and Patagonia. Of high interest
to many women, she's also the owner/operator of WOMEN'S FLYFISHING,
a guide service based in Anchorage for women fly fishers. Her
outfit specializes in trips to the Brooks River, the Talachulitna
River, the Tangle Lakes/River region, Kodiak Island, and Bristol
Bay. Hers is an impressive resume.
Available at Just Good Books(800-207-0799)
Wilderness Adventures(800-925-3339), or from Winding
Ridge's 24 hour toll-free order line at 877-527-6234
(have a credit card ready.)
When your first fly-caught fish is a sockeye salmon, you get
hooked pretty fast. On that first day sixteen years ago,
a friend put a fly rod in Pudge's hand and showed her how
to cast a weighted rig with it. After landing fish after fish
all day long, she was a goner. Despite radical surgery later
on to save her from cancer, and two extensive surgeries on her
elbow, she's stayed with it, learning how to cast all over again
with her new restrictions. Pudge refused to let something like
a couple of major surgeries rob her of living the rich life of
sport she loves.
Her letters and emails are filled with the love and awe of
the Alaskan wilderness, and she is devoted to bringing as
many women as she can to see and enjoy it. She calls it her
life's work. Her advice to clients is to forget what's going
on back home and just enjoy the experience, words that ring
true regardless of the setting.
I was surprised to learn that many outings in south central
Alaska depend on hatching insects. The grayling, big rainbows,
and char all feed on bugs, and Pudge's guests cast a lot of
dry flies from float tubes. Bugs and belly boats fit more into
our images of angling south of the Canadian border, but that
only goes to show the tunnel vision that can come from a very
sheltered life in the lower forty-eight.
I asked her about some experiences she's had, and she was quick
to reply that the best Alaskan stories always seem to be about
a bear or the float-plane trip into base camp. It must come with
the territory, no pun intended, and would amount to way more
excitement than this happy resident of the Alleghenies would
be comfortable with. The strongest rush I feel I need during
a day on the water is the threat of a few mosquitoes, or the
remote chance of seeing one of our timid rattlesnakes. But,
opinions varying as they do, her world of Mother Nature in
all her raw energy would be a fascinating place to make a
living. And how many women can tell their grandchildren they
fought blackflies, bush planes, and brown bears, just so their
lady clients could catch a few fish, and accomplished this far
into their retirement years.
Pudge told me she's convinced that fly fishing is one of the
sports that is perfect for women, enabling them to indulge
their appreciation for Nature's loveliness, to utilize their
special penchant for grace and delicacy, and to appreciate
the beauty of a fish without feeling the need to kill it.
A day on her home water would be a gift that shouldn't
be taken for granted, but treasured long afterward. Pudge
is one of those folks you'd like to get to know better,
if for no other reason than you'd be sure to be inspired.
"Sorry I was so long in getting back to you, Mark, I was
on my honeymoon."
It was Jennifer Lyons, leaving a message on my answering
machine. I've known her for fifteen years and watched her
grow up in the midst of a northwestern Pennsylvania household
that was always involved in local conservation work. Jennifer
has been involved with Trout Unlimited all that time. She
claims to have started fishing about the time she learned to
walk, although her dad tells me he waited until she was six
before he started her fly casting. Since then, she's read
every book and watched every video she could get her hands
on, and it shows in her ability astream.
Jenn is in her second term as president of the Oil Creek
Chapter of Trout Unlimited, after retiring as editor of
their newsletter, which she helped publish for years before
that. Nowdays, she's hooked on teaching the sport, and helps
with the casting and tying classes run by her home chapter
in Franklin, Pennsylvania. She tells me she's determined
to focus on building new memberships in the group, but
wants to get back to more hands-on projects after her stint
with the atypical, though essential, organizational paperwork.
For the last two summers, she's been involved with the Becoming
an Outdoors Woman Program, assisting Joe Humphreys with the
fly-fishing classes. Add to all that a full-time job as a
clinical dietitian and her recent marriage to a novice fly
fisherman who will need lots of help with his casting,
and you can see that she's a busy 25 year-old. Interesting,
isn't it, how the hyper-industrious men and women among us
seem to be the ones who get the most done?
Lory Warfield's emails are also those of a busy career woman,
punched out on her hurried way through to the next project.
A river guide and entrepreneur from Baldwin, Michigan, one
of her current projects is building a mail order business
specializing in, what else, women's fishing clothes and gear.
She and I got acquainted when she wrote to me about Erin's
story and, for some reason, we've continued to correspond.
Through our email, I've watched the fireball that is Lory
slowly reveal itself.
Water, frozen or flowing, seems to have defined Lory's life.
Her ice fishing trips as a kid with her dad were the genesis
of her passion for fishing. Much later, a steelhead fisherman
from Ohio who came and fished her local Pere Marquette became
a close friend and, eventually, her husband. She builds rods
for herself and ties flies for clients and sport shops in town,
and even gets a chance, occasionally, to tie some up for her
own fishing. Her favorite rod is a two weight, seven and
a half foot Cedar she built herself, and her favorite pattern
continues to be the standard BWO. She advises beginners to
approach every day on the water with a completely open mind,
and not be locked into one method or technique.
Lory attended Joan Wulff's fly-fishing school in New York,
as well as several others in her home state. She's a State
of Michigan licensed pro guide, and has taught Fly Girls
and Orvis fly-fishing classes for women. Her goal is earning
her certification as a FFF fly casting instructor, a challenge
she intends to tackle as soon as her hectic schedule permits.
She claims to be the only licensed woman guide among almost
fifty licensed male guides in her district. Lory's would be
a life many would envy, making a living everyday out on the
river. Being a professional guide would require more patience,
diplomacy, tact, and tolerance than abides in most of us, and
the people who do it for a living have all the respect I can muster.
Lori's can-do attitude and willingness to face the challenges
required to become more proficient at her craft come through
to her clients. I spoke to a man and his wife who hired
her for a float trip that ended up in a bad thunder storm
four miles from the take out. As the howling tempest
surrounded her and her clients, Lori stayed calm and
professional, while the hysterical husband nearly capsized
the boat. When I mentioned it, Lori shrugged it off as just
another day at the office. She told me she expected to have
to endure many more encounters with the famous lightning
of the upper mid-west before she hung up her canoe. You
can't write to or talk with someone like her without
sensing a little of their class.
When my friends, Marion Lively, and her husband, noted fly-tying
columnist Chauncy, retired, they moved to the banks of the North
Branch of the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan. There they
would spend their golden years doing exactly as they wanted; fishing,
writing, and getting even more involved in TU and FFF work than ever.
It was a good plan. It's always been a mystery to me that some devoted
trout fishers retire to Florida, a troutless, and, thus, boring state.
Marion and Chauncy started their joint fly-fishing careers in the
1940's, and were inseparable on the water and off until her death
in 1995. The Livelys fished with many of the luminaries of their
day; Charlie Fox, Hoagy Carmichael, Ross Trimmer, Vince Marinaro,
and Paul and Martha Marie Young. The angling she and Chauncy did
on Falling Spring Run, the LeTort, Penns, and finally, the Au Sable,
demanded articulate casting and exact patterns. Marion held her
own among those others and on their rivers. Hoagy Carmichael,
the noted cane rod builder, who once remarked to Chauncy that
following behind Marion as they fished their way downriver was
"like fishing behind a mink."
Marion held a degree in Natural Science from Waynesburg College,
and spent many winters coaching fly casting and tying with the
Penns Woods West chapter of TU. In those days it was one of the
largest chapters in the country, with close to five hundred members.
The core group was an eclectic collection of businessmen, educators,
lawyers, and blue-collar types, who took care of matters regarding
the environment in an area sadly void of much really good natural
angling. A constant figure in the old guard of that chapter, Marion
pitched right in with the men. Together, they educated kids in the
art of fishing, spent weekends doing work on the resource, and
cast a wide web of influence and camaraderie among fly-fishers
in that part of the country. I was a teenaged member of that
group and it was a rich environment for a kid to come up in.
I'd like to think some of us have done them a little proud
with our own eventual efforts when we picked up and carried
the torch a little further.
I remember trips with the chapter to local free-stone streams
in the mid and late 1960's. It was a huge event for me to tag
along with Chauncy and Marion. They'd take turns dueling it
out with a riser, trying this or that pattern, one changing
flies while the other cast to the place where it was coming up.
I usually sat and watched, but it was a sure sign I was coming
of age the day they invited me to join in and try my own hand
in the rotation. I walked a couple inches off the ground on
There was a chapter bus trip to Spring Creek right after I
moved back to the city in 1981. I was struggling to get a
small business going and I needed the diversion of a fishing
trip with some old friends. The Livelys saved me a seat beside
them, and the three hours in that crowded bus flew by. Marion
spent the day roaming the banks of Spring Creek, helping
beginners choose flies and work out their casting problems.
After lunch, the three of us slipped off up stream, where we
found some fish working on terrestrials. It was like coming
home to spend the day there with them, casting in turn to
those crafty wild fish.
It may be politically incorrect to admit this, but, I remember
thinking that if you hadn't known it was a lady fishing there
with us, you'd have been hard pressed to tell from her competence.
Few of those fish were able to resist our pooled abilities and
I admit to the fact that Marion fished circles around me.
I took lots of pictures that day, and I'm glad, as it was
the last time I saw them before they moved to Michigan. Bear
in mind, that was 1981. Lady fly-anglers were rare.
You can't tell about Marion without talking about the writing
she did. Under the pen name of Effie Merella, she contributed
informative and entertaining articles to many of the newsletters
and magazines put out by the conservation organizations where
she hung her hat. A recurrent theme of hers was trying to fit
into a man's sport before it was groovy to be doing so.
A favorite story of mine is a humorous account of her frustration
with men's tendency to make things more complicated than they
needed to be. The last straw came for her when the industry
changed the way it labeled tippet sizes, changing to a system
that used measurements in mills rather than "X." This frustrated
Marion (Effie) and her subsequent attempts to convert the old
standard designation to decimals were carried out with her usual
determination, and tongue-in-cheek. She finally settled on stringing
her leader spools in descending order on a hank of yarn, and
summarily forgot the decimal designations, once again proving
that necessity is always the Mother of Invention. It's entertaining
writing, and succeeds in deflating those friends and spouses
who were insisting their way was best.
In a lot of ways, Marion's ability was like real, old-time
money, plain as dirt, quiet, and confident, having proved
all it needed to. That Marion fished alongside some of the
best fly fishers of her generation, and often out-did them,
is a tribute to her refusal to let a little thing like gender
get in the way. According to the reports of others who were
there, there was little difference between her ability and
that of the men who fished with her, and you gotta love that.
In 1995, Marion passed away after bravely fighting a long
illness through many of the years that should have been
more golden. She left a husband, two daughters, a granddaughter,
and a legion of friends and admirers from the conservation
community she supported. In an inexplicable, but perhaps fitting,
aside, her friend Martha Marie Young passed away in April of
that same year in Traverse City, Michigan. Friends of their
beloved Au Sable, they were two of America's fly-fishing
treasures, and I wonder if their river knows they're gone
as much as we do.
One of the delightful consequences of the hook and bullet
press's preoccupation with big name rivers is the quiet
solitude left to those of us on local waters, streams that
are often better that those in the magazines. While lots
of ink has been spread about the mighty Susquehanna's
smallmouth fishing, little is written about the vastly
superior river bass fishing not many miles from it, in
another river, this one with a name known all over the globe.
Mrs. Ethel Dallas owns a motorcycle repair shop four ridges
to the east of me, but heads down to fish her river for
smallmouths every evening as soon as the shop doors close.
She drives a souped-up, primer gray Bronco, I think about
an '84, with glass packs you can hear coming ten minutes
before she does as she descends the two lane down off the
mountain. The back of that truck is piled high with boots
and gear, and there's a nice Old Town canoe strapped to
the top. She's "full-time in the bassin' business," she says.
Ethel isn't interested in trout. They don't fight enough,
she claims. She likes a man's fish, and that, sir, is the
wild river smallmouth. A graduate of the Lefty Kreh school
of double haul casting, Mrs. Dallas can hurl the big deerhair
floaters she buys from Bob Clouser's fly shop three quarters
of the way across the river. Her favorite tactic is to wade
wet up the middle of a broad riffle and make long casts to
the edges of the broken water while bent over in a half
crouch. Teasing and twitching the fly back toward her in
no apparent pattern, she's ready when a fish hits. Her
five foot, eleven inch frame straightens when the strike
comes and her nine foot graphite wears even the fourteen-inchers
down quickly. It's impressive for a woman in her early sixties.
Ethel is retired from a career in the military, where she
was an MP. Never married, hard drinking, cussing, she runs
the cycle repair business as much as a hobby as an income.
"I don't really need the money. I got a good pension from
the military. I just like the guys and their Harleys. I
started gettin' tattoos when I was thirty, before it was
common with women," she told me. "I got a big one with a
bass ridin' a chopper on my back, wanna see it?"
"Maybe some other time, Ethel," I told her. "What color
do you find is best on those deerhair poppers?"
"Yella' and black, anyone knows that, Mark," she replied.
"You trout guys need to get over here and try our smallmouths.
You'll never go back to them sissy trout again."
Ethel's biggest local bass to date is a twenty-two inch,
six pounder she caught downriver from the pulp mill.
Fortunately she releases all her fish. That pulp plant
has been dumping something into the river for years that
is gray in color and smells like old sweat and ammonia.
No one fishes down there, preferring to stay in the cleaner
water upriver. But Ethel has found some real lunkers below
the factory outlets and if she wants a real looker to
impress an outsider, she takes them to fish the gray
Someday, I'm going to get a picture of Mrs. Ethel Dallas,
fishing below the source of the factory discharge on some
hot, rainy summer evening, casting far out into the stained
flow. With her long, gray curls pulled back and tied in a
bandanna, her big chrome earrings, her Harley tattoos, and
a smoldering White Owl Tip jutting from the corner of her
mouth, she's the very image of an independent spirit, making
do with what she knows and loves, and doing it on the river
where she's determined to do it.
The final lady angler is one whose name I never learned
and with whom I never spoke, but whose story has stayed
in my mind. I was spending an afternoon alone on the river
this past early August, and had walked into a nice run where
I thought there might be some hoppers finding their way into
the water. The water was off to the right of the trail I was
on, and I stopped to watch below the big rapids.
There was a fisherman across the river, seated on a rock
and talking into a cellular phone. I winced at the thought
of someone bringing their work out to the river with them,
then sheepishly recalled doing the same thing not too many
years ago. There was a youngster standing next to him, waiting,
it seemed, until he hung up. I looked again, and realized
it was a girl, and she was holding a fly rod with the leader
in her hand. Hidden in alders, I watched, curious to see how
long this guy was going to talk while his daughter stood and
waited. The roar of the water masked the conversation, so I
let my mind create one. Daughter was needing a fly to try,
Dad was putting the finishing touches on some deal.
At least I wasn't ever guilty of that. I never took my cell
phone when my daughter and I fished. A self-righteous conceit
swelled in me as I watched them from my place in the brush.
Finally, he snapped the phone shut and turned toward his kid
who still stood there waiting patiently.
I'd like to think it made him feel a little bad to not be able
to leave work at the office when out on the river with his kid,
although there was no way of knowing if it did. He took her
leader, knotted something onto it and both were talking when,
suddenly, I saw him put his hand up like he was motioning her
to wait a minute, then reached into his vest and pulled that
phone out again.
I thought cell phones couldn't reach back into these deep valleys,
I said to myself. But it had been a while since I had one. Maybe
the technology has gotten better, I thought.
I saw her look down at her feet. He talked for maybe five minutes,
and then the scene repeated itself, he hanging up, the two of
them talking, I could see them smile and laugh, then that
upraised hand, and the blamed phone reappeared. She stood
there, looking down again. Sometimes you can read exactly
what's going on by watching faces and gestures, even though
you can't hear any conversation.
"Shut the thing off," I whispered.
This time, he seemed to talk for longer yet, and, after five
or six minutes, she moved off downriver to fish alone, leaving
her dad perched there on his rock, talking business. I resumed
my way downstream to the water I wanted to fish, and noticed
that she had stopped directly across from where I planned to stop.
She knows holding water. At least he showed her that much,
I thought to myself.
There's a nice stretch of braided water that runs between
and through some boulders there and she stepped out into
water and started casting. Not wanting to look like I was
spying, I resumed my way down the path while she stayed
above me. I found a promising eddy and began working out
line. I tossed on a deerhair hopper into the fast current
at the head of it and mended line with slack roll casts to
keep the nice drift from being swallowed by drag in the
fast current. Glancing back up river, I could see that
the girl was casting with surprisingly good long casts.
Her line seemed to just dance through the air, unrolling
the leader and dropping the fly on the smooth current as
gently as a settling snowflake.
Wonder where she learned to cast like that? I mused.
Could it be her workaholic dad shut his cell phone
off long enough to teach her, or better, maybe he
sent her to a casting class?
There was no way of knowing. The river was wide and deep
here, so I wasn't going to go across and ask her. Besides,
she might have been all of fifteen, and a good way to find
oneself in deep hot water in these hills is to go out of
your way to talk to a guy's teenage daughter. My wonderings
were interrupted by a splash where my fly had been and I
struck and missed, sidetracked as I was with the little
story unfolding across the river.
As the afternoon wore on, I caught maybe a half dozen on
hoppers and beetles, while my little neighbor across the
water worked away at a pod of risers on her side. And she
did O.K. too, landing maybe seven or eight, and keeping some.
Too bad Dad hasn't taught her about releasing her catch, I
thought to myself.
Dad would walk down and talk to his daughter for a few
minutes, and even fish a little, but mostly he sat on
his rock, talking on his phone, burning precious daylight
that would never come again.
About four-thirty, I walked back to the Jeep and drove
toward the village for a bite at a little cafe that overlooks
the water. I took my usual seat in the corner in front of
the big window, ordered a sandwich, and was watching the
flat in front of the building, hoping to see a rise. I
heard the door open and they walked in, my father and
daughter pair from across the river. They were in the
middle of an animated conversation and took a seat across
the room. He was a little older than me, and I recognized
him as a banker from the town in the next valley, an occasional
participant at local TU functions, and, according to a mutual
acquaintance, a fair rod on the river when he got out, which
wasn't often. I didn't actually know him, so I didn't speak.
My original guess as to her age of around fifteen was confirmed
now that I saw them closer. The waitress came and took my order,
and I settled in to wait for my food, looking out the window.
But the conversation coming from their table drew my attention
and I listened the way you might when you're waiting around with
nothing else to do.
He was all got up in what you'd call 'Safari Club chic',
wearing probably three hundred dollars worth of first line
outdoor clothes. She was wearing the obligatory teenage
jeans and a tee shirt. She must have already forgiven him
his ignoring her out on the water and, as they talked, her
bright eyes danced the way a teenage girl's will for only
her dad. Funny how our kids see us that way when they're
young, in spite of ourselves, like our bird dogs.
The topic of conversation, it seemed, was a certain pair
of school shoes she'd decided were at the top of her list.
He was unhappy about the price, fifty-five bucks. She really
wanted them, he thought they were too expensive. This is nothing
new in the world, a teenager arguing with her dad about clothes
money. But everything she was wearing at the moment wouldn't
have bought the shirt he had on, and the irony of that must
have been as plain to her as it was to me. Dad was missing it.
"C'mon, daddy, they are so cool, and they'll go with everything,
I won't ask for another thing if you'll let me get them, I promise,"
But Dad was holding out. He'd already spent over three hundred
dollars on her clothes for school, he reminded her, and that
was enough. As far as I knew, this was his only kid, and his
wife was a tenured professor at the college. I doubted he was
going to have to toss his Orvis catalogue when it arrived if
he sprung for the shoes. You get my drift.
My food came and I ate, still eavesdropping like an old biddy
at a church social, and remembering being here with my own
daughter on fishing trips, on days that seemed so recent,
yet so long ago.
Then an idea started to come together in my mind. It was a
plan, actually, based on what I remembered about certain
buttons that usually function well with a banker, if they're
pushed just right. But it would take a couple things coming
together all at once to make it work. Maybe I should have
minded my own business, but I couldn't help myself. A fellow
fly fisher needed a little help, and maybe, just maybe, a
random act of kindness would be all the river needed to give
me a good evening.
As I finished and my waitress brought the bill, I waited for
my chance, hoping that the other characteristic I remembered
about teenagers was still true. As she finished her third glass
of soda, I watched her push her chair back and head for the
Here's my chance, I thought.
I almost jumped up and started for the check out counter.
Pausing at their table, I did my best dumb tourist impression
and asked, "Here for the fishing?"
Her dad looked up, "Yes," he said, and quickly looked back
down at his plate and shoveled in another load like he was
afraid something might get away before he could put it into
"That your daughter?" I pressed.
"I used to bring my daughter up here to fish. Seems like
a hundred years ago now. She's married and off on her own.
Sure wish I could have her come back up her with me to fish
for a day. I really miss being out on the river with her.
Make sure you make these days special for you and her, buddy,
they'll be over before you know it."
And to make sure my point was made, I added,
"Oh, and something else, I think you should spring for
the fifty-five. Nothing looks tackier than a dad in good
Upland clothes telling his kid the discount store shoes
she's asking for are too expensive, and doing it loud
enough that everyone in the restaurant can hear it. Bad
reflection on a community bank, don'cha think?"
He sat there, speechless, staring at me with his mouth,
full of mashed potatoes, hanging open. I hurried to the
counter, paid my bill, and left the building before he
could think of anything to say. You can appreciate how
quickly that was, if you are familiar with a banker's
penchant for quick answers.
As I sat there in the Jeep watching their table through
the restaurant window, I saw her come back to the table.
Her dad started talking with her, then she smiled, leaned
over and kissed him on the cheek. Then he motioned out the
window toward where I was sitting in my truck. She turned
and smiled at me and I think, winked. I winked back, started
the engine, and drove off downriver.
That's one for you, Brookie Lea, I whispered to myself.
From those first tentative casts with no feel for approach,
presentation, and pattern theory; to the polished knowing
work of an old hand who's paid her dues and made good, the
lady anglers you and I know bring something a little different
to our sport. One of the threads I see through all of their
stories is the need, like men's need, to escape from a hectic
world, and spend time along flowing water. Whether she's a
teenaged daughter in those last days of needing your encouragement
and thinking you're some kind of royalty, or a wife and mother
who's gotten past the point where she needs adulation for having
done it right, they show us a stubborn willingness to risk
entering what had been a man's world to pursue their passion
to cast over rising fish.
I appreciate how so many of these newcomers to our sport
are aware of the art and grace of it, and seem willing to
learn that as much as the craft. Perhaps it's a sign of the
generation coming up, one that hasn't known a depression or
a war, and how they can harden a heart and mind. Time will
tell if the shortcuts being taken in the process of learning
to fly-fish, the videos, seminars, and classes, will produce
a generation of lady anglers who are as gifted as the ones
who've gone before.
No matter their age or stage in the game, the river women
have found something they can get their teeth into. As
they continue to appear more and more each season, it
becomes clear they've discovered something us old men
have known for generations; that rivers bring a richer
meaning to life. It's a realization that holds for women,
as much as for men, revealing moments that layer with each
other as tiny dramas unfold in and over the bright water.
Together, we all come to love it a little more each season;
this beauty that reveals itself to anyone, regardless of
their gender, who will stop long enough to see. I'm happy
to have those women out there, and hope that, soon, they'll
find that river water's gotten mingled with the blood flowing
through their veins, just like it did with men, generations ago.
~ Mark Jeffrey Volk