I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to throw a fly line. Fly fishing isn’t in my blood, but my father is. And as a young child I quickly learned that if I wanted to spend time with Dad, getting out with him on the water was the answer to my wish.
Growing up in a separated family wasn’t always the easiest. Dad left mom and our hometown of Destin when I was two to pursue his music career in Atlanta. I caught my first trout on the Chattahoochee River when I was three. Mom, my brother, and I had gone up to Georgia to visit Dad. I don’t remember that day, but the photo of me lying next to that rainbow trout is proof. And the stories he loves to tell about teaching me to cast a fly rod at two years old in the driveway back that up.
The years I do remember visiting Dad, he had moved to North Carolina. If we weren’t playing music with his bandmates and friends, we were doing something outdoors. Camping was a favorite, but then there was the fly fishing.
I didn’t really like fishing at first. It required so much patience! Instead, I would swim in the rivers and play in waterfalls. I fondly remember the giant rocks that we would slide down. It was so much fun! But still, I knew I would be able to spend more time with Dad if I joined him on his fishing trips—and so I went. It made him happy. And because we didn’t see each other all the time, I wanted to soak up every moment with Dad that I could.
The best part of my fly fishing adventures with Dad were all of the firsts I got to experience with him as I learned the sport. He would be so proud of me, and that kept me coming back for more. I wanted to be just like him. I guess you could say I was a Daddy’s girl.
I caught my first double on a trip to N.C. when I was seven. We were fishing one of the beautiful blue lines of the Pisgah National Forest near Asheville. Dad had parked the car and we were working sections of the stream—fishing our way up the watershed. We had come to this gorgeous little rock where you could hunker down and the fish couldn’t see you. Dad had rigged up a dry dropper for me and told me to creep down to hide behind the rock and let out the perfect little close cast. I followed his direction and felt the first fish take the nymph.
As I set the hook, I felt the second fish take the dry fly—and off they went. As the two little wild rainbow trout took my line, I remember the mixed emotions. I was scared that I wasn’t going to land them, but so excited at the same time. It takes many fly anglers years to land their first double, and, in Dad’s words, here I was “pro-ing it up at seven years old.” When he scooped them up in the landing net, I was thrilled. They still had the parr marks on them and were absolutely beautiful. We snapped some pictures and then I released them back into the wild.
Dad made sure to teach me the importance of catch and release, and being a good steward of the environment early in life. We fished barbless hooks for the most part, and always made sure we handled the fish we caught with care. “Keep them wet” was etched into my brain. I remember the first time Dad told me we were going to take the speckled trout home that had been gill hooked during one of his visits to Destin. I was horrified! But he taught me to only harvest the fish that I would eat that night. I would not be a “stack them and stock them in the freezer” fly angler! Dad taught me right, and it was a lesson I would continue to carry with me into my teen years.
But my time as a budding fly angler with my Dad was more than just on the water. He introduced me to fly tying at eight years old. I loved the artistic side of the sport. He had set up a tying station for us in his living room that summer and showed me how to tie a black woolly bugger. I wore that fly out that trip, catching trout and bass all summer long.
When I was nine, Dad started to get into kayak fly fishing. Mom had these yellow and green ocean kayaks that my grandparents had given her. Dad and I rigged them up to go fishing at night under the dock lights when he’d come visit. I caught my very first speckled trout off that kayak. Soon my uncle and brother started fishing with us on the kayaks when Dad came to visit. It became a family sport, and brought us all together—which, of course, I loved.
But I was still a little girl, and sometimes my time on the water wasn’t always the best (no matter how much I wanted to “stick it out” to make Dad happy). I remember the time he came to visit right after my birthday and invited me to go night fishing. It was an unusually cold spring and I didn’t want to go, but of course I agreed. It was quality time with Dad after all, which was the birthday present I had really wanted most.
It was midnight when we finally got out on the water. I remember kayaking for hours in that cold wind, absolutely miserable. We only caught one fish that night, a four-pound blue fish. When I pulled it into the kayak, it immediately threw up shrimp all over me. That’s when the tears started flowing and Dad knew it was time to go home.
Remember that patience I mentioned earlier? Well, I finally gained it when I turned 12. Later that summer, Dad invited me to join him at ICAST. It was there where I started to find my place in the fly fishing community.
Dad had just released his short film Stonefly: The Spiritual Journey of a Fly Fisherman, and was on the lookout for sponsors to get more involved in the industry. We had visited a number of newer companies and soon found ourselves at the Jackson Kayak booth. Dad started sharing pictures of us fishing, when the man with Jackson asked if I was interested in joining their Junior Pro-Staff. ME! I couldn’t believe it. This was supposed to be about Dad finding sponsors, but they had asked ME. I was beyond excited!
Dad, who now works full-time in the fly fishing industry, jokes about me being the first Powell on the Jackson Kayak pro-team and how I set the standard for him to follow in my footsteps. Had the student become the teacher? Definitely not. But I did know that I had the best teacher a girl could ask for, and his love, guidance, and support was paying off.
When we got back to North Carolina from ICAST, Dad and I got to working on my bio for the Jackson Kayak website. I also started to beef up my Instagram page. After all, Dad had taught me that social media was the way to engage more people in the sport and to gain recognition for future sponsorships. The more involved I got on Instagram, the more my fishing adventures would get reposted. I started to meet other young fly anglers. I was finding my own voice in the fly fishing community.
Now, at 14, I still treasure my time on the water with Dad. He has since left N.C. and moved to Atlanta where he works for The Orvis Company (I’m now the proud owner of my very own 8-wt, waders, and boots that actually fit, and Fishewear pack).
I always look forward to the opportunity to get out on the river with Dad and my step-mom, Becca, when I come to visit. Last Thanksgiving holiday I caught my first big brown trout on the Soque River. I thought I had gotten my line snagged on a log when the fish took the fly. Much to my surprise, it was a 22” beautiful brown. I named him Leroy.
This year I hooked some football-sized rainbows up at Dad and Becca’s favorite fishing spot in Helen, Ga., And fingers crossed, I’m looking forward to going tarpon fishing in Islamorada for spring break. It’ll be my first time fishing the flats. I can’t wait.
I still have a lot to learn about fly fishing. Dad always tells me that it is a lifelong journey, and I can’t wait to experience every part of it. What started off as a way to spend quality time with my father, turned into something I’m actually quite good at! And I am forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had along the way—even the tearful ones.
So, for the young girls out there looking to spend quality time with their Dad (or mom) on the water, I say GO FOR IT! It may be frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to enjoy it. And then it becomes really fun. It just takes time. And if your Dad frustrates you trying to teach you like mine does, keep at it. And one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to out fish him, too.