When I was 5 my dad put a spinner rod in my hands because he just couldn’t wait any longer for his future (yet nonexistent at the time) son to be born. Little did he know he was planting a fishing seed that would grow and grow with an insatiable thirst. Being born and raised in Seattle as a kid my favorite fishing use to be the endless species inhabiting Elliot Bay caught using night crawlers that we dug up at Golden Gardens. When I cast my first fly rod that all changed.
Story by Ruth Sims
Photography by Megan Taylor
About two and a half years ago while in grad school I met a trio of native students through the small native community on my school’s campus. They were from Montana. They were the kind of natives who listened to country music, frequented rodeos, hunted and fished. Having grown up in the heart of Seattle with sirens singing, traffic in a constant waltz and twinkling city lights this lifestyle was all too fascinating to me.
Once, while a group of us were hanging out I noticed a row of threads on a shelf next to a variety of tiny tools. I thought to myself, ‘hmmm… he must sew, how interesting.’ Being an avid quilter and dressmaker, mainly as a pastime hobby, I was allured by this set up of his. I asked, “Hey Cody, do you sew or something?” He told me, “No, I tie flies.” Intrigued, I asked “What do you mean flies?” With eyes a little more alert he began to bring out boxes and boxes of flies, explaining their every purpose and ideal environment. I asked if I could try making one and he proceeded to explain how difficult they were to tie. With one eyebrow slightly raised and a ‘try me’ look on my face he was reluctant but allowed me to use his tools and materials to tie my first fly. When I was done he took it from me, glanced at it from all angles and said “wow, I can’t believe that’s your first fly. That’s incredible.”
You see, I’m the kind of person that looks at something and knows whether or not I am up for the challenge. Through my years of sewing and level of comfort using thread I knew I could do it and that I would enjoy it. Before ever casting a rod or really even understanding what fly fishing was I had already tied a half box worth of flies- some from existing patterns but many of my own creation from things I had found around the house. That August I went to Montana and ended up fly fishing for the first time with Cody and his dad on the Jocko River of the Flathead Indian Reservation. I ended up catching my first fish on the fly using the first fly I had tied. At that moment the fishing gene that was passed down from my grandfather to my father to me had been summoned and I was instantly and absolutely in love with fly fishing.
Soon after I returned from Montana, Cody, the only person I knew who fly fished graduated and moved back to Montana. Without knowing how to really fly fish or even a single person who fly fished, I bought my first fly rod and I was determined to learn how to catch fish on the fly- not just accidentally but with skill and precision. I spent every single weekend out on local rivers. The Skykomish, the Yakima and the pristine rivers of the Olympic Peninsula would become my weekend home away from home. I would go alone and spend hours on the river watching YouTube videos and trying to imitate what I saw. In 8 months I caught about 3 fish averaging a whopping 6-8”. I would spend my days after work reading all that I could, going to fly shops and pestering the heck out of fly guys for tips and recommendations. I quickly realized the challenge that it presented.
As an engineer I see the world in numbers. I saw fly fishing as a physics problem with endless parameters and variables and most importantly an infinite amount of solutions, solutions that I became addicted to solving. I knew how things should look, be managed and presented but part of the problem was that I straight up wasn’t that good of a fly fisher. I acknowledged that. I spent plenty of time seeing other people catch fish so at least I knew where the fish were. That’s when I decided that since I knew the waters but I was not good at catching fish, I had better figure out what I was doing wrong. And that’s what I did. In about the 10th month of my journey one of the fly shop guys agreed to take me with him on his next outing. It was the first time I had ever received feedback on my casting, mending and fly presentation. After I got my dead drift down it was game on and it has been game on ever since.
As time went on I spent even more and more days on the water. From about May 2016 until just before this winter I was averaging about 2-3 days/week fishing. It worked! I started catching fish. By the end of summer my dead drift was as seamless as a leaf floating down the river and I could catch fish after fish on the swing given the right conditions. I felt unstoppable. The feeling of walking up to a piece of water, reading it, making an educated guess on where the fish might be and what they might be eating and then actually being correct is an invigorating experience. It allows confidence to bloom.
It is extremely rare that I don’t have a weekend where I’m not out on the water. My Instagram account @navajoflyfisher has helped me to network with people from all over the world and because of this many of the places I fish are completely different kinds of water. Through traveling and fishing various waters I’m aware of the vast variety of gear needed to effectively fish and attain results with a given set of conditions. As a woman I get tons of questions from other women looking to get into the sport, through social media, local events and teaching casting classes I’ve been able to get a lot of women to take their interest in fly fishing to the water. Along my journey, with fly fishing being a male dominated sport, I rarely came across what I would consider a female mentor but in the position I am in now I get to see women go out test their gear and newly acquired skills and feel confident about their decision to take on fly fishing.
I have also become good friends with some of the most amazing fly fisherwomen I’ve ever met. It’s empowering to get together with a like-minded female angler, study satellite images, plan a trip and go out exploring new lands and waters. Not to mention have an absolute ball doing so. When someone is just as excited for you landing a fish as you are for them, you know you have found a good fishing friend. And these are the kinds of friendships that will last a lifetime.
People often wonder what it is that draws me into fly fishing. For me it’s the time I spend with our land. As mentioned before I was born and raised in Seattle and have always loved and called the PNW home. At the same time my roots and heart lie in the breathtaking landscape of Monument Valley, UT where my mother is from. I am Navajo from my mother’s side and Oglala Sioux from my father’s. I have always felt the most comfortable being outside and discovering new lands, people and cultures. As a profession, I chose to be an electrical engineer specializing in renewable energy systems because I see and understand the need for clean energy. My love for our land and water goes beyond fly fishing, I consider it my calling in life to help take care of our earth…its just that fly fishing happens to be a beautiful bonus.
Fishing is also a time for me to reflect on where I am in life and what my next step should be. It’s a time for me to practice patience, appreciate and be attentive to all around me. A time for me to pray. Fly fishing has become my escape from life, from worries and problems and given me praise and confidence which inevitably are healing necessities. It gives me something to look forward to, something that can completely take me away in thought when I need life to let me breathe and reground again. This is why I love fly fishing so much, because it keeps me on my toes, challenges me but at the same time calms me. It comforts me.