From Curiosity to Passion: Women on the Fly

An Interview with Abbie Schuster

A few months ago, I centered on the personal challenge of teaching myself how to fly-fish (with the help and patience of my friends and family). Through this experience, I've already had the opportunity to meet a number of inspiring individuals from the fishing community. Their passion for the sport is infectious and has motivated me to continue learning and practicing. Below is an interview with Abbie Schuster, who leads all Women's Programs at Emerald Water Anglers in Seattle. In her responses, Abbie shares a bit about why she loves the sport, her thoughts on opening up the industry to more women, and tips on how to approach the sport as a beginner.

Share a bit about yourself: where are you from, what do you do now, and why? How did you first start fly-fishing?
I have always had a strong desire for adventure and a deep love for nature. Fly-fishing is the ideal way for me to fulfill my love for outdoor adventure. My dad taught me the art of fly-fishing when I was very young - he was determined to have a life-long fishing partner. We would wake up before sunrise, load up the kayaks and head out to catch stripers and blues in Long Island Sound. Watching sunrises with my father, and stripers in hand, I realized that my dad was giving me a life-long gift. My passion led me to many different rivers and streams throughout the East Coast. I became even more obsessed with fly-fishing while attending the University of Montana, where I guided on a variety of different rivers and creeks. I've also been lucky enough to spend time on the serene flats of the Bahamas and Mexico catching bonefish.

While getting more involved in the fly-fishing industry I was baffled that I was not working with more women. Historically, fly-fishing has been a male dominated sport, but I want to help change that. I am currently the Women's Program Director at Emerald Water Anglers in Seattle, Washington. I run casting clinics, schools, guided trips and, of course, a wine night here and there to talk fishing and to get women anglers together. It's been an amazing experience to watch women who were curious about fly-fishing come together and have it become their passion.

What do you think are the biggest roadblocks preventing women from entering into the sport? Would you argue that mental inhibitors are at work, or are there more tangible, industry-related challenges?
I think many of the roadblocks preventing women from entering into fly-fishing are false perceptions of the sport. Yes, in the past it has been known as a man's sport, which was supported by the industry catering and marketing to men. Today, that barrier, although more penetrable, still exists - making it intimidating for women to jump into a new sport. When I moved to Montana I had already been fishing for years, but there were moments when I felt intimidated because every shop I went into had a macho feel. Also, every guide I worked with and met was male. Granted, many of them became my very dear friends, but this experience made me want to focus my energy and time getting more women involved and breaking the barrier.

Although the industry has a ways to go, recently there has been great improvement.  The major fly-fishing companies are finally making women-specific equipment.

What are the first things a beginner should do to take up fly fishing?
The first thing a beginner should realize is that fly-fishing is a lifelong sport and it takes time and patience, but that is what makes it so rewarding and fun.

Every time I go out on the water I learn something new. Of course, a beginner should practice the cast - but it's equally important to learn how to read the water.  Once you learn to read the water you can begin to appreciate the beautiful life that the river sustains. While getting to know the water you are also truly connecting with nature, which is what fly-fishing is really about. Nothing is more exciting than watching someone look at the water, cast into a rich run and have a fish respond. It is a truly rewarding experience.  Go with confidence and patience and fish will come.

What do you think are the most daunting aspects of taking on the sport? How can some of these challenges be resolved?
Starting anything new is a daunting task, no matter what it is. Also, as whole, fly-fishing can be overwhelming with all the gear, knots, learning the water...etc. - but what I always tell people is that this is a life-long sport, so don't stress and concentrate on one aspect at a time and it will all come together. The fish are just a small part of the beauty of fly-fishing. Being outside in nature, listening to the river and casting is so soothing in itself that a fish is just icing on the cake.

I have found that many women anglers feel intimidated because not only is it something new, but women are usually coming in as the minority. That is why I feel it is so important to get women together to learn or practice.  I have seen that during my women-focused lessons or trips, the walls are let down and the women can truly concentrate on connecting with the water, nature, themselves and the sport.

What do you love most about fly fishing?
Oh my! There are so many things I love about fly fishing. I love that it reminds me of growing up and being on the water with my family, I love that I can truly find solitude and nothing is on my mind except my cast, the bugs, the river. Fly-fishing can bring you to some amazing places all over the world and you can connect with so many different types of people and places just by casting a line.  I love that now I get to share this passion with other women anglers and see them have similar experiences.

Follow along on Instagram and Tumblr as I teach myself how to fly-fish.