That’s what I said to Rachel Finn, a notorious Adirondack fly fishing guide, fine artist, and my friend, as we stood in the middle of the Ausable River throwing dry flies in pocket water, or maybe passing nymphs along boulders, outside of Lake Placid, New York in 1998. I was a city girl living temporarily in the North Country for work when I decided to take up fly fishing. Rachel was a guide at the Hungry Trout Fly Shop who spent something like half her time with her husband guiding in Alaska and the rest of the year in the Adirondacks. I’d look for her Toyota along the river whenever I could. If I spotted her truck, I’d walk through the woods and take a peek; if she didn’t have a client with her, I was always welcome to join her. I kept my waders and gear in the back of my SUV all the time, and would park on the roadside and change in the woods to grab a few minutes of angling whenever I could after work. Of course, there was that time I was half in my waders and lost my balance and fell over on my butt in the leaves when I heard the voices of some hikers near me as I changed … but you don’t need to hear about that.
I had no way of knowing how that offhand referral in the middle of a river would fit into the next 20 years of my life.
I returned to Brooklyn in the winter of 1999 and used that brand spanking new internet thing to look for Rachel’s friends, and there they were: Juliana’s Anglers. I sent an email enquiry to them, and Sara Low, the effusive club President, responded. Sara was working in advertising for Broadway back then and has since left the bright lights to make her living as a fly fishing guide, instructor, conservationist, and author. She warmly welcomed me and invited me to a meeting where I was delighted to find a wildly diverse group of women with one thing in common; fly fishing.
The club was formed almost 25 years ago in 1995 by Nancy Zakon and a few friends in midtown Manhattan, who wanted to create a club that allowed them the opportunity to fish with other women and share their knowledge of the sport in a comfortable environment. They named the club after Dame Juliana Berners, an English Prioress who was born in 1388, and wrote the first known book about fly fishing The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, which was originally published in 1496 and is still in print to this day.
In those days, the club held our Annual Fly Fishing School at the Connetquot River State Park Preserve on Long Island, a beautiful old estate on several hundred acres with an old lodge and a fish hatchery along a shallow, easy wading river. The course staff and instructors were, and still are, club members and guests who find joy in simply sharing their knowledge, talent, and love of fly fishing with new anglers. (That’s code for we don’t pay them, which helps us to keep the costs down.)
I vividly recall standing waist deep in the river with one of our mentors, whom we call the Fish Magnet, as I proudly displayed the flies in my new fly box. She’s a patient woman who taught special education; she looked at my flies, took a small breath, and kindly suggested I put my collection away for another time, before quietly tying one of her own flies on my line. I lost track of the number of trout I caught that day, but, let me tell you, that Prince Nymph is still the most effective pattern on that river! We fondly return to the Connetquot from time to time, and I always pause a moment to sit on the bench we placed there many years ago.
My first trip with the Juliana’s after the school was to Roscoe NY, aka Fishtown USA, in the Catskills, where we stayed in a 1950’s era motel, and fished the Beaverkill and Willowemoc rivers. We had breakfast at the Roscoe Diner, and I remember getting lost in memories after noticing a painting of the Stepping Stones Lighthouse hanging on the wall. That little lighthouse was built in 1877, and sits on a pile of rocks in the Long Island Sound between Queens and the Bronx. I learned to fish as a little girl with a homemade drop line and sand worms (Oh, the pinchers on those things!) with my grandfather when he rowed out to the lighthouse from the Bronx in a fishing dory; but again, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Although the Juliana’s regularly fish those Catskill waters, I remember a specific trip a few years later when I was delighted to watch the legendary Joan Wulff make the first cast of the season. I can’t claim that I know Joan myself, but I can honestly say that a few of our members do know her and are the better anglers for it. Not to drop names, but I was a participant (and truly least talented) in a club fly tying clinic with Catskill royalty: Mary Dette. The Dette Flies fly shop was started by Mary’s parents in 1928, and is the oldest family-owned and run fly shop in the country. The shop is located in the parlor of the Dette family home in Roscoe and Mary used to tie all the flies herself. Although time has taken its toll, and her eyes are not what they used to be, their flies are still locally tied. Mary is now mostly retired, and her grandson Joe has taken the reins. I’m proud to say Mary’s daughter and granddaughter have fished with the Juliana’s.
It’s now 19 years later and much, and nothing, has changed. I recently retired and live a bit north of the city, but the Juliana’s are still a big part of my life. I’m proud to be a Board Member and Vice President of Juliana’s Anglers Sporting Club. The Club is still based in New York City, but we’ve spread out. We have members throughout the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) and as far away as Canada and Montana. The Sporting Club appellation represents our recent interest in upland hunting, as well as sporting clays and archery. Our home turf still spans the local waters of the Croton Watershed, the classic waters of the Catskills, and the Housatonic and Farmington rivers in Connecticut. Now we tend to wander. Last year we ventured as far south as the Ken Lockwood Gorge in New Jersey; as far north as the Ausable River outside of Lake Placid in the Adirondacks; and out east to the Hamptons to fish for Striped Bass in the Great South Bay.
Our membership is reflective of our location. We are young and old, and we have financiers, writers, programmers, law enforcement, nurses, scientists, bankers, professors, homemakers, artists, and teachers among our ranks. Our membership is made up of women who have never lived or worked anywhere else, as well as out-of-towners. Some in our roster grew up enjoying outdoor adventures and some ventured out for the first time in their 50’s. Our current club President, Kat Rollin, joined the club shortly after it was formed. Kat was born and raised in Colorado, but moved to the city many years ago. She is an internationally recognized Salmon fly tier, a fishing guide, a wing shooter, and a tireless advocate for women in outdoor sports. I’m the only current board member who grew up near the city, and the rest are originally from places like Maryland, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Connecticut.
Our most recent club event was what we like to call “A Blast.” That is, a round of sporting clays followed by lunch at Orvis Sandanona in Millbrook, NY. When I joined the Juliana’s all those years ago, we primarily fished for trout. Although trout are still our number one, we also fish for bass in the hot weather and stripers in the salt. The past two years we’ve expanded our activities to include sporting clays, upland wing shooting, and archery (in Brooklyn no less). We’ve even put together a few Cast n’ Blasts where we split the day between fly fishing and shooting. We have paired up with our local chapter of G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Really Into Shooting) for a few events. We’re not static and we’re willing to try it all. Upcoming activities include a First Aid course, fly tying classes, sporting clay blasts, and trips north, south, east and west.
Our Spring School morphed into a Spring School and Warm Up Weekend, which was held in May at a private club about an hour and a half north of the city with gourmet food, 3 ½ miles of reserved river, and a casting pond in Dutchess County, NY. I’ve proudly become one of those anglers who uses the school as an opportunity to share my knowledge and love of the sport with new anglers.
Being a member of the Juliana’s has given me some of my closest friends and warmest memories. The future of our club, and others like it, is assured if we remember that we can always find a way to laugh and cry together, and find common ground to discuss virtually everything while we fish, shoot, hunt, eat, drink, and just sit around the fire at night eating s’mores in the company of (mostly) like-minded women.