I started fly fishing 12 years ago because of my work at a youth center in Montreal: more exactly in Verdun, which is an underprivileged area of the city. We do all kinds of activities to help the children become more responsible, active and to help them develop a more critical mind. All activities are designed to make them think, and to give us, (the counselors) a chance to talk with them and to bolster their self-esteem.
One of the activities consists of fly fishing, which my colleague Mario Viboux started 27 years ago. We teach teenagers from 12 to 18 years old how to tie flies, how to cast and how to raise funds for their fishing trips. To raise funds, they have to work and tour with us to fishing shows and present and sell their “fisherman’s coffee” and different items. They first have to work with us and follow our instructions, but they soon become role models and start helping teach others. I could write a full article about what we do with them and how amazing and good these kids are. (I love my job, you see!)
So I started fly fishing, thankfully, because of my job, but I soon became crazy about it. I started to improve my techniques and to become a better teacher. I passed my CCI (Certified Casting Instructor) with the IFFF in 2013. In 2016, I went to the prestigious Wulff School of Fly Fishing for an Instructor Class with Joan Wulff. Can you imagine how surreal it was to help Joan Wulff in her own kitchen, where she hosted students for a cocktail? It was like a dream come true!
For a long time, I cherished another dream, which was to help increase the number of ladies around rivers who would practice fly fishing. Although I gave lectures about the ladies in the world of fly fishing and facilitated some “ladies only” workshops in a Spey Clave, I felt like it was not enough. In 2015, I was invited to be an instructor in a special weekend event for ladies called Fauniquement Femme, which can be translated to “Wildlifely Woman.” The event gathered 30 ladies in the woods to teach them how to shoot a bow, shoot a gun, fly fish and manage a motorboat. All workshops were designed to last 45 minutes. After every single small group workshop, I could see the women’s faces saying, “I don’t want to leave and I want to learn more. Only 45 minutes! It’s too short!”
That was it! It was that small push I needed to decide to create a full weekend of fly fishing for ladies only.
I came back home and asked my friend Sabrina if she wanted to work on the project with me. Of course, she did! She is as passionate as I am. At 21 years old, she is already a fishing ambassador. She was only 17 when she became a CCI. We started putting together a schedule of workshops for a fly fishing weekend and our project was ready to launch.
We talked about our project to a good friend, Karl Larrivée, from the ZEC Lavigne. ZEC is an area of controlled exploitation, basically a hunting and fishing territory of the province of Quebec, located on public land. This type of organization was founded in 1978, when the government decided to open the old private fishing and hunting clubs to the people. Karl, who already hosted weekends to introduce kids to pheasant hunting and fishing activities, was thrilled with the idea of the project.
The program filled quickly with a group of ladies who came from regions all around Quebec. The ladies learned everything they could about fly fishing in a weekend. They felt free to ask questions, without the fear of being judged or laughed at. Our goal was to help them become autonomous and empower them to fly fishing.
Our first day of workshops include information about basic equipment, knots, leaders and a casting class. Then we head to the lake for some brook trout fishing. We finish the first day around a campfire, telling fishing stories and talking about … men!
Early the next morning, we go fishing with the “real ones,” those who woke up really early. Our journey ends with “the must of the must,” the fly tying class. The ladies are so proud of their flies that it’s fascinating.
These ladies come from every part of Quebec, every sphere of society. They are single, married, mothers… and each woman was amazing. One lady told me that she has been an angler all of her life and when she had the opportunity to come to one of my weekends, she accepted without a doubt. She said she went straight to her garage to find her fishing box and realized that her last fishing license was from 2000. Time goes fast, life got crazy.
It makes me happy to create moments and more opportunities for women to get outside, learn a new sport and take time for themselves.
As I am writing this, two feet of snow are falling on the ground and a lady called me to be part of a weekend trip with us next summer. She said, “I am a teacher and I am having a tough year with my class. To be part of a ladies fishing trip will be my light after the darkness!” This makes me feel like I have achieved my goal. I am happy and proud to be this spark.
Last year, we had three weekends fishing for brook trout. This year, we will fish twice for brook trout, one week at the famous Bonaventure River for the mystic Atlantic salmon and one weekend at St-Jean Lake for the landlocked salmon.
Only time will tell where our project will take us. Soon, I will facilitate a fly tying workshop for the Canadian Wilderness Women Weekend in Ontario. Hopefully, I will be able to make them as crazy about it as I am, even if English is not my first language.
I wish you a good fishing season everyone! Don’t forget that “newbies” are very important. They can be your girlfriend, your kids, your friend’s kids, your colleague. Please, take at least one beginner with you this summer.