Addie Dees, manager of the Ugly Bug in downtown Casper, says that there have been times when she didn’t feel comfortable in fly shops. A highly sought after guide who can row, teach casting techniques, tie flies and steer anglers to huge brown trout, she tells a few painful stories about feeling snubbed. “I’ve literally had people in the shop say, ‘No, I want to talk to him’. And I had just spent five days on the water,” she says. She laughs. But it’s not so funny, and there are many stories like this. I’ve heard women say that they don’t try fly fishing because it’s too intimidating. They don’t know where to begin. It’s traditionally been a male dominated sport; it has a bit of elitism and privilege built in as well. Truth be told, women and minorities are scarce in the sport of fly fishing: you see this in the literature, the fly shops and on the water. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Photo Provided by The Ugly Bug Fly Shop
This summer, Addie Dees and CiCi Oliver decided to do something about it. Their concept—Ugly Bugs and Crazy Ladies—will break down the barriers that have kept women underrepresented in the sport of fly fishing. This spring, they shaped their idea and approached Blake Jackson, the co-owner of the Ugly Bug. They proposed a women’s only fly fishing seminar that would take part in three phases. First, they would teach the students how to cast. Next, they would offer a fly tying class paired with a wine tasting to demystify the art of fly tying. The class would culminate with a full day on the water with one of the guides from the shop. Jackson was all for it.
“It was a Saturday when I asked Addie if I could go ahead and post it on Instagram—she was out guiding that day,” says CiCi. “In just four hours the class filled. It was crazy.”
Addie says that often people will sign up for a class like this and bring a buddy. The classes were so popular that they had to open other sections. Pretty soon they had four sections, going all the way into August. They knew there was a need for something like Ugly Bugs and Crazy Ladies, but they couldn’t anticipate how quickly the community responded.
“They are not just going on a guided fishing trip—they’re getting the whole shebang. We will get them into casting techniques. We will get them into tying different patterns that will work on this river. They can exercise some fun and creative tying and just learn how fun and easy it is. Then we’ll get them out on the water with a professional guide on their third day,” says Addie. At only three hundred dollars, this is one of the best deals going right now.
CiCi and Addie say that they also want to make women feel more comfortable in the fly shop. They will walk women around the shop to show them where things are. They will talk about choosing waders, and how to select the right fly rod.
“We’ll even take one of the mounts off the wall and show them how to hold a trout correctly,” says Addie.
Photo Provided by The Ugly Bug Fly Shop
To say that women have not influenced the sport of fly fishing would be false. If you look more closely, and go back into the years, you’ll see that women anglers have always been there. Dame Juliana Berners is credited with the first how-to book on fly fishing. Her Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle (1496) is considered the first book on sport angling. Carrie G. Stevens was a world famous fly tyer in the 1920s. Kay Brodney fished all over the world, and once landed a 137 pound tarpon on 12-pound tippet. Joan Wulff is considered, “The First Lady of Fly Fishing.” Wulff introduced thousands of people to fly fishing through her seminars, and wrote extensively for over twenty years in Fly Rod and Reel. Today there are female casting instructors, guides, shop owners, celebrities and writers. There’s a much celebrated women’s fishing club at University of Wyoming called “Fish-n-chicks.” There is The Dun Magazine, a fly fishing publication that promotes women in the sport. Recently, Orvis launched it’s 50/50 On the Water program to help bring more women into the sport. But there is, by no means, parity. Addie and CiCi are changing that.
For CiCi, a native of Nebraska, there was not much in the way of fly fishing where she grew up. But on a few trips to the Rocky Mountain West, she found herself intrigued by the sport. She enrolled in Utah State where she studies fisheries, and goes on weekly fly fishing adventures. She doesn’t see her career rowing a drift boat, but she brings energy, social media savvy and creativity to the fly shop culture that has been missing.
Addie’s story is more familiar. Her dad needed a fly fishing buddy and she rose to the occasion. Growing up in Casper, Addie had the North Platte at her doorstep, and she was able to explore the fabulous fishing all over the state. But an encounter with a female guide really shifted her paradigm.
Addie met Sarah Hurzeler, a trout guide at Crazy Rainbow, and was immediately impressed by how Sarah handled herself. Sarah showed Addie how, by learning and dedicating herself to the sport, she could become a topnotch guide.
“Essentially, Sarah not only taught me to row, but she taught me how to hold my own in a male dominated, competitive, and physical job,” said Addie.
The Ugly Bug has always had a woman on its staff. CiCi and Addie point this out with pride. They also give their male counterparts credit for helping them learn more about fly fishing. Without an open-minded boss like Blake Jackson, none of this would have happened. But at the end of the day, it all came down to one thing. Addie points out that everyone who walks into the shop has something in common.
“We all just want to go fishing,” she says.