I pity the woman who doesn’t have a sister. The lucky ones have ‘sisters-by-birth’ but if that’s not an option, you can still have ‘sisters-by-choice’, and organizations like Sisters on the Fly (SOTF) are a great place to start. As the largest women’s outdoor group in the United States, SOTF members are known for a love of fly fishing, vintage campers, and for having ‘More fun than anyone.’ Started in 1999 by two sisters, Maurrie Sussman (Sister #1) and Becky Clark (Sister #2) it quickly grew from inviting a few friends on their next fishing trip to a fast-growing membership of over 15,000 women. The rules are simple – No men, No kids and Be nice. But like all rules, these are subject to change with fun get-togethers such as Mister/Sister events - where you bring your spouse and Grandmas on the Loose - where you bring your grandkids.
Membership in SOTF gets you a Sister number of your own and, more importantly, full access to the website which helps you connect with local Sisters and register for the planned events which are held year-round and all across the country. An event may be hosted by any Sister and can be as simple as a few friends having lunch or as complex as trips that travel thousands of miles and include a couple hundred of your favorite Sisters.
In September of 2019, six Sisters from western South Dakota hosted a fly-fishing event called ‘Trout Trollops’ near Deadwood, SD. Less than 50 miles from the famous faces of Mt. Rushmore we camped at the Fish ‘N Fry Campground and enjoyed four days of fly-fishing adventures.
Often overlooked as a fly-fishing destination, the Black Hills are home to 38 reservoirs and almost 800 miles of crystal-clear streams; most of which are home to self-sustaining populations of wild brown, brook, rainbow, and lake trout. An occasional cutthroat trout and a variety of game species such as yellow perch, large and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, bluegill, green sunfish, and black crappie add to the fishing experience. Only 10% of the fish are stocked. These can include hybrids such as ‘splake’ (a cross between brook and lake trout) and my favorite, tiger trout (a cross between brown and brook trout). As local Sisters who have fished these waters, we knew we had the potential to host an event that would focus on fly fishing, and after 1-½ years of planning, Trout Trollops was ready to launch.
You won’t find a definition for ‘Trout Trollop’ in Webster’s Dictionary but if you did it might read like this:
Trout Trollop – trol-lop, [ˈträləp] NOUN dated humorous ORIGIN early 17th-century
trollops (plural noun)
Trolloping - action word for just what a trollop does. Traveling trollop.
Definitions: 1) a woman who has many casual fishing encounters or relationships with trout. 2) A woman who travels long distances for grand fishing expeditions. 3) A fly-fishing woman who lives to catch trout.
Trout Trollops drew women from all over the Midwest and as far away as Texas, Wisconsin, and Utah. The first two days brought cold weather with rain that occasionally turned to snow but the Fish ‘N Fry Campground offered wonderful hot meals and comfortable facilities to gather for classes, visits, and fly-fishing themed crafts. Bear Butte Creek, which runs through the campground, also tempted us with easy access to cast a few flies no matter the weather.
Festivities kicked off Wednesday evening with an appetizer potluck and trailer tour. If you’ve ever seen a newscast or article about SOTF you know we are famous for our trailers. From vintage ‘canned hams’ to brand new campers straight off the lot, every Sister adds her own brand of style to these tiny homes. At most events, Sisters are encouraged to open up their campers for a few hours and let others peek inside.
Throughout the event, three classes were offered.
Beginning Fly Fishing was taught by Laurie Root of the Game Fish & Parks, Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City, which supplied a selection of equipment for the class. Laurie has lived and fished in the Black Hills for years and loves to share her knowledge not only with SOTF but also through the SD Chapter of Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW), Casting for Recovery, and other groups and organizations. In her 4-hour classes, she covered the basics of choosing equipment, casting, tying knots, selecting flies, reading the water, catch and release, and anything else she could cover in the allotted time.
Diana Kincaid, Sister #6588 of Nebraska taught the Beginning Fly Tying classes which introduced many newcomers (and some of us more ‘seasoned’ anglers) to the art of tying flies. Diana has worked with Casting for Recovery as well as Sisters on the Fly for several years and arrived with enough vises and materials for each participant to tie at least three different types of flies – Wooly Buggers, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, and Mop Heads. She discussed the life cycles of the insects we were attempting to imitate, the materials we used, and recipes for the flies. Most importantly, she encouraged us to observe nature and experiment while tying flies.
Hans Stephenson, owner of the local fly shop Dakota Angler & Outfitters in Rapid City, SD, joined us to teach Beginning Tenkara. He brought a variety of equipment, explained the history and techniques of Tenkara, and shared his wealth of information for fly fishing in the Black Hills. Dakota Angler offers a huge selection of fly-fishing equipment, fly tying supplies, guide services, and ongoing classes that are offered through the shop and also through the Community Education program.
Besides classes, planned activities included a guided ATV tour of the 1876 mining/ghost town of Galena, kayaking by the light of the full moon on Roubaix Lake, a book discussion, hiking, wine tasting, karaoke, campfires, a Dutch oven cookoff with prizes and gifts for participants, and plenty of time to test out what you’d learned in the nearby streams and lakes. The historic city of Deadwood was close enough so we could enjoy museums, shopping, gambling, and the annual Deadwood Jam with free outdoor concerts featuring rock, reggae, and blues.
Unfortunately, one of our favorite Sisters, author Sue Clifton (aka Dr. Sue - Sister #3804) was unable to attend due to a family emergency but that didn’t stop her from surprising us with the donation of a vintage fishing creel filled with a set of her books, a casting DVD by Joan Wulff, and a box of flies to be used for a silent auction. Sue’s generosity spurred a flurry of additional donations and bids that netted over $900. All donations went to Casting for Recovery, which has touched many of our Sisters in one way or another.
Every SOTF event is unique. Locations, themes, and activities vary, but each is an opportunity to build friendships and enjoy the company of like-minded women. Some of the Sisters who attended have belonged to SOTF for years, while others were attending their very first event. All new Sisters and ‘Sisters on the Try’ (which is a chance to check out the organization before joining) were given tiaras so the ‘Big Sisters’ could keep a watchful eye on them and offer help if needed. It also reminded us to welcome them with a hug and to extend invitations for fishing, a spot to eat, or to jump in and see the local sights.
Thirty-two women attended Trout Trollops. They came from all walks of life and varied in age from mid-20s to over 70 years old. Some came looking for adventure and a chance to learn new skills. Many had never picked up a fly rod before but from the comments and huge smiles, it appears they all left with a continuing hunger to experience the joy of catching (and safely releasing) one of God’s most perfect creatures.
Several Sisters came looking for a chance to heal. Stories of illnesses, losses, and the strain of caring for loved ones were shared along with tears, hugs, and whispered encouragement. They came to recharge their souls, to sing at the top of their lungs, and to laugh harder than they have in a long time. And finally, they came to lose themselves - for just a moment - to step into an ice-cold stream, watching for the flash of a rainbow trout under a sunny autumn sky. Ask any fly angler and they’ll tell you, it’s the peace of casting into a pristine stream and the healing that comes from a day on the water that keeps drawing them back, fly rod in hand, to the outdoors.