I owe an apology to the women of Alaska.
Heading into my recent trip, I figured that in the most distant and different state, gender roles would be remarkably separated and antiquated. In fact, my experience turned out to be exactly the opposite of that – the women up there are not only every bit as capable as the men, but they have the same frontier spirit and can-do-it (must-do-it?) attitude.
They don’t take crap from anybody. They don’t have time to, because they’re busy gutting moose and unhooking fish.
A big part of that realization came about not only through observation, but also from talking to Bear Trail Lodge owner Nanci Morris Lyon. In addition to her decades of guiding, she also holds multiple fishing world records and is generally a badass. She’s not waiting for anyone to hold a door or call her ma’am – instead, she’s out there getting after it. Woe be to any hairy-legged dude who underestimates her.
She’s passed it on to her daughter Rylie, who one day guided me and Keith on a fly-in trip to a distant creek, along with fellow guide Alexia. Each of us outweighed each of them by probably a hundred pounds, yet they were the ones who toted the heavy packs full of lunches, fishing gear and other necessities. We carried just six-weight fly rods. They rigged our rods, netted our fish, and led us back across a bear trail to the float plane at day’s end.
It wasn’t just a family affair. One evening we sat at the dinner table with a female commercial fishing captain who led an all-female crew on her boat for six weeks. They didn’t leave. They barely slept. For all of you smartasses out there, they definitely did not watch “The Notebook.” It’s grueling physical work, dangerous at times, yet no one up there batted an eye at their operation.
Perhaps I’m headed toward an overgeneralization. Not all female guides are capable and strong and able to educate. Not all male guides are gruff steroidal jerks. Nevertheless, having that diversity is good. It allows for a range of styles and a range of personalities. We don’t have that in the bass fishing world – while there are some highly-qualified female guides and semi-professional anglers, I sense that the fly fishing arena is much better balanced, and likely more welcoming. I’ve fished with a number of women over the years, but never before a female guide, and the biggest realization at the end of the day was that it was just another day in paradise with a pair of exceptionally qualified professionals.
Perhaps most importantly, in the back of a crowded float plane, jammed in there like sardines, they definitely did not take up nearly as much room as 99 percent of the bass anglers I know.