Sometimes careers start in the most innocent of ways.
Upon returning to Jackson after a six-month adventure backpacking and fly-fishing in South America, Patti Reilly was asked to fill in as a guide on the Snake River. Little did she know that those few days in 1979 would end up being the start of a lifetime career in fly-fishing.
Four decades later Reilly is an accomplished professional angler and guide, an international outfitter and one of the women featured in the recently released book, “Fifty Women Who Fish,” by Steve Kantner of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The book is the first of its kind to exclusively focus on accomplished female sport fishers and to lay the outdated “man’s sport” myth to rest.
In addition to Reilly, fellow Jackson fisherwomen Jean Bruun and LoriAnn Murphy are also featured.
Kantner, a former fishing guide himself, said the idea for the book was hatched while on a call with a friend who was inquiring about women who have set world fishing records. What started out as a goal to reach out to eight or nine women quickly turned into 50 anglers, each of whom would eventually have their own chapter in the book.
Kantner spent two years interviewing women of all ages from across the country.
“The central thing about writing this book was the more I got into it, the more impressed I became with the incredible contributions that females have made to the art and science of angling,” Kantner said.
Reilly, owner of Guided Connections — an outfit that arranges fly- fishing trips beyond the Rocky Mountains to places like Argentina and Chile — said her chapter in Kantner’s book is complimentary, but is “only a summary of my fishing career.”
In addition to guiding all over the world, Reilly has also been featured in magazines such as Field and Stream. She said she is grateful to the many people who have helped her along the way.
“All my Jackson Hole guiding peers were super supportive of my guiding, and likewise my fellow Argentine guides,” Reilly said. “We all shared the same desire to learn more and to hone our skills as guides and teachers.
“Fly-fishing has its own culture,” Reilly said, “and I was extremely lucky to have learned from so many gifted and talented anglers and outdoor individuals.”
Jean Bruun has been a longtime guide with Jackson-based Wyoming Angling Company and also hosts trips with Nomadic Waters, a fishing expedition company in the Brazilian Amazon.
“I am honored and overwhelmed to be included in the book,” Bruun said. “It’s a real privilege to be a part of that angling community, and they happen to be women.”
The industry itself has made huge leaps in accepting women in the sport. From Orvis’ 50/50 on the water and Trout Unlimited’s Diversity/Women’s Initiatives to the internationally recognized groups of United Women on the Fly and Artemis Sportswomen, to our local groups — the nonprofit Stripping for a Cure and Lady Anglers of WyDaho, a women’s fly fishing group — the impact of women in the sport of fishing is being felt.
The days of turning fishing clothes and gear to pink are fading, and women’s soft and hard goods are now found on the shelves of most outdoor sports stores. In fact, women are the fastest growing demographic in fishing.
“My wish for readers of the book is that they take the idea that [fishing] should have always been a unisex sport to heart and pass this legacy to other ladies and men,” Kantner said.
Bruun feels that it’s not important whether anglers are male or female.
“I feel we’re still sort of in that process of making it a non-issue to not see men or women in the industry and to just see people,” Bruun said. “If highlighting women in the industry makes it more accessible for other women to feel comfortable and that this available to them, then that would be the great circle.”
Kantner’s book not only reveals portraits of women who are accomplished on the water but also that they are becoming increasingly active in efforts to protect and restore the aquatic ecosystem and populations of fish.
Reilly and Bruun feel that fly-fishing has taught them to appreciate the outdoors and conservation.
“When you’re immersing in God’s creation, you are becoming intimately involved with an art form and skill that will demand that you go home and really become an environmental steward,” Bruun said.
Bruun’s guidance for women who fish draws from her father’s influential words.
“He told me, ‘you want to have integrity, you want to have compassion and live an honorable life, but remember that the choices you make impact not only you but everyone who bears your name.’
“I try and teach others to strive for excellence, but remain very gracious with that,” she said.
“Fifty Women Who Fish” is available for purchase by going to WildRiverPress.com.