We had the pleasure of interviewing the one and only Navajo Angler, Ruth Sims. Born to Red House Clan, Ruth is more than what meets the eye on social media. Not only does she fish, but in her spare time, she’s responsible for Electrical Engineering projects. This well-rounded angler has only been fly fishing for 5 years and has already seen/caught more fish than the average fisherman. Continue reading to see how Ruth has grown with the sport over the years.
Flylords: Who is Ruth Sims?
Ruth: I was born and raised in Seattle. I went to Seattle Pacific University where I got a Bachelors with a double major in Math and Electrical Engineering and a minor in Physics. After which I went to the University of Washington for a Masters in Electrical Engineering specializing in Control and Robotics. By trade, I am an electrical engineer working 40 hours a week on solar cell efficiency for aerospace applications. As for the other 128 hours/week minus sleep (this amount varies depending on how good the fishing is) I am a fly fishing angler. I was raised gear fishing and I have been fly fishing for 5 years now. Looking back on it I’ve realized it is the physics and mathematics of fly fishing that drew me in. It continues to intrigue me each day as I realize that there is always something new to learn.
Flylords: Why do they call you the Navajo fly fisher?
Ruth: Yá’át’ééh shik’éí dóó shidine’é. Ruth yinishyé. Kinłichíi’nii nishłį́. Naałani bashishchiin. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́. Hello, my family and my friends. I am called Ruth. Born to Red House Clan. Born for Many Enemies Clan. In this way, I am a Navajo woman. My mother is born and raised on the Navajo Nation in the four corners region of the SW United States. In 1965 when she was 7 she was forced to attend boarding schools where she was beaten if she spoke Navajo even though she knew no other language, so by 8 she was speaking English which was useful because when she was 24 she met my dad at the McDonalds of Lloyd Center in Portland Oregon. My father is Oglala Sioux; however, as an original inhabitant of the United States the government only allows you to be registered with 1 federally recognized tribe even if you are comprised of 1, 2, or 3, etc. different indigenous bloodlines. Sometimes even if you are full-blooded of a single tribe (like my friends of the Winnemum Wintu Tribe of Northern California) the government will “un-federally recognize” you so that they can have full access to your lands and waters.
This is the case for this tribe when they were forcibly removed from their homes on the McCloud River during the construction of the Shasta Dam in 1938 flooding their ancestral lands and blocking 100% of their salmon return. To this day they are still un-federally recognized and their salmon do not return to their original spawning grounds. They are currently working with biologists of Fish and Game New Zealand to prove that the winter-run Chinooks of New Zealand carry the same genetics as the original Chinook salmon of the McCloud River (They started being transported over there in the late 1800s). The “fly fisher part” is because I like to fly fish.
Flylords: Favorite fly to tie?
Ruth: Made up leech/intruder patterns that PNW salmon/steelhead smash on the swing.
Flylords: Did you grow up with a fly rod in hand?
Ruth: No. my father, grandfather, and uncles all gear fish and as soon as I could walk my father put a rod in my hands and would take my sisters and me to fish the Puget Sound and a variety of local freshwater fisheries. In the summer of 2014while in grad school, I met a trio of native students through the small native community on my school’s campus. They were from Montana. They were the kind of natives who listened to country music, frequented rodeos, hunted and fished. Having grown up in the heart of Seattle this lifestyle was all too fascinating to me.
Once, while a group of us were hanging out I noticed a row of threads on a shelf next to a variety of tiny tools. I thought to myself, ‘hmmm… he must sew, how interesting.’ Being an avid quilter and dressmaker, mainly as a pastime hobby, I was allured by this set up of his. I asked, “Hey, do you sew or something?” He told me, “No, I tie flies.” Intrigued, I asked, “What do you mean flies?” With eyes a little more alert he began to bring out boxes and boxes of flies, explaining their every purpose and ideal environment. I asked if I could try making one and he proceeded to explain how difficult they were to tie. With one eyebrow slightly raised and a ‘try me’ look on my face he was reluctant but allowed me to use his tools and materials to tie my first fly. When I was done he took it from me, glanced at it from all angles and said “wow, I can’t believe that’s your first fly. That’s incredible.”
I’m the kind of person that looks at something and knows whether or not I am up for the challenge. Through my years of sewing and level of comfort using thread, I knew I could do it and that I would enjoy it. Before ever casting a rod or really even understanding what fly fishing was I had already tied a half box worth of flies-some from existing patterns but many of my own creation from things I had found around the house. That August I went to Montana and ended up fly fishing for the first time with my friend and his dad on a small river near the Flathead Indian Reservation. I ended up catching my first fish on the fly using the first fly I had tied. At that moment the fishing gene that was passed down from my grandfather to my father to me had been summoned and I was instantly and absolutely in love with fly fishing.
Soon after I returned from Montana, that friend, the only person I knew who fly fished graduated and moved back to Montana. Without knowing how to really fly fish or even a single person who fly fishes, I bought my first fly rod and I was determined to learn how to catch fish on the fly-not just accidentally but with skill and precision. I spent every single weekend out on local rivers. The Skykomish, the Yakima, and the pristine rivers of the Olympic Peninsula would become my weekend home away from home. I would go alone and spend hours on the river watching YouTube videos of casting and trying to imitate what I saw. In 8 months I caught about 3 fish averaging a whopping 6-8”. I would spend my days after work reading all that I could, going to fly shops, and pestering the heck out of the employees for tips and recommendations. I quickly realized the challenge that it presented.
As an engineer, I see the world in numbers. I saw fly fishing as a physics problem with endless parameters and variables and most importantly an infinite amount of solutions, solutions that I became addicted to solving. I knew how things should look, be managed and presented but part of the problem was that I straight up wasn’t that good of a fly fisher. I acknowledged that. I spent plenty of time seeing other people catch fish so at least I knew where the fish were. That’s when I decided that since I knew the waters but I was not good at catching fish, I had better figure out what I was doing wrong. And that’s what I did. In about the 10th month of my journey, one of the fly shop guys agreed to take me with him on his next outing. It was the first time I had ever received feedback on my fly presentation. After I got my dead drift down it was game on and it has been game on ever since. I really don’t envision a life without fly-fishing.
Flylords: Who was the biggest inspiration in the sport to you?
Ruth: My biggest inspiration in the sport was seeing other people on Instagram of all ages and backgrounds either tying, attaining records, learning to cast, winning casting competitions, catching tiny fish, and catching huge fish. It didn’t matter who was doing what, it mattered that some of them I could relate to and in that, I was able to find encouragement and motivation in the sport.
Flylords: Where is the place that molded you into the fisher-woman you are today?
Ruth: The Olympic Peninsula going after fish from day 1 that was WAY out of my league. Although now those fish and I are friends, we use to be mortal enemies. That place molded me because 90% of the time you go and catch nothing, and being skunked can teach you more than you ever imagined. You take the place in for all that it is, goals become good casts or a nice swing instead of catching fish, or a beautiful shot of the morning fog and when you do finally catch it calls for Cristal. (Not really because I’m allergic to champagne and would never spend that much on alcohol, but hypothetically!)
Flylords: What are the top three things you get out of fly fishing?
Ruth: Pure and utter joy, feelings of accomplishment, and memories that I can look back on and tell stories of for generations. All in all, however, fishing is a time for me to reflect on where I am in life and what my next step should be. It’s a time for me to practice patience, appreciate, and be attentive to all around me. Fly fishing has become my escape from life, from worries and problems and given me praise and confidence which inevitably are healing necessities. It gives me something to look forward to, something that can completely take me away in thought when I need life to let me breathe and reground again.
Flylords: Tell us a little about the trip you did with us a few months ago.
Ruth: We visited Belize to fish for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. In 3 days we saw a few tarpon rolls, didn’t catch any. We saw bonefish one time “in the wild” besides next to this dock where there were literally hundreds of them waiting for the lobster fishermen to return to throw scraps in the water. When this happened they went crazy like carp being fed pellets at the local state fair. I mean like thrashing and fighting on the surface crazy, it was kind of cool to watch. They were very easy to catch when they were eating on the surface like this. We saw some permit and with 3 of us fishing, I’d say because of taking turns we each probably had about 2-3 shots at permit over the course of the 3 days but none of us got one… I think perhaps we visited Thatch Caye (Blue Horizon Flyfishing) resort at not the most optimal time of the year – this was the 3rd week of August. The resort itself is a very beautiful piece of property perfect for honeymooners and travelers wanting to visit a “Tropical Paradise.” The most positive part of that trip was fishing with our guide. We had the pleasure of fishing with Lincoln Westby for 3 days who has caught over 3000 permit on fly. Literally the Permit Master, I could listen to that man’s stories for days and not just fish stories, but stories on life, guidance and simply how to live your best life. Mr. Westby is 87 years old and poling us around on the flats for Pete’s sake. Mic drop.
Flylords: What’s the best fishing product you own?
Ruth: I have a couple. First off glasses are everything especially if you are sight casting. My Smith Optics glasses with Chroma Pop technology make all the difference. The “Longfin” frames are clutch because they are integrated with megol side shields that provide full glare protection, but are not all giant so they are still comfortable and don’t look crazy.
Also, as far as keeping dry living up in the PNW I have tried a multitude of raincoats…the only one that has never failed me is the Columbia PFG women’s Outdry Hybrid Jacket. Plus it’s mad thin/light so I can just stuff it down into my backpack for that just in case rain. Speaking of packs.. often times if I’m doing a sun up-sun down trip and I don’t want to carry too much on my back like if we are hiking up a river long ways I like to keep it simple and carry everything on my waist. The OPST rainforest waterproof waist pack is my lifesaver during the steelhead season. Its 10L so it carries even a water bottle and food. It’s a roll-top waist pack so I don’t have to mess with a stuck zipper. It’s lightweight and comfortable so I can wear it all day keeping my shoulders relaxed. In another world, saltwater my Einarsson reel (Made in Iceland) has never failed me on the largest, the fastest, or the strongest fish…the drag is unparalleled.
Flylords: What’s the most important tool on a fly rod? The rod itself, line, reel?
Ruth: It kind of depends on what you are catching. I feel like if you are catching any fish that can bring you to your backing in seconds then the reel and its drag have to be on point. In general, however, if we’re just talking casting or the majority of fly fishing that I do (freshwater) then its the line all day. You can have a cheap rod but if your line is weighted perfectly and it glides effortlessly then you don’t have to have a pricey rod to make beautiful casts.
Flylords: How would you describe the youth of fly fishing?
Ruth: The youth of fly fishing is eager to try new tactics, patterns, test their hypothesis of what might work. They are constantly innovating and thinking of the new big thing, whether it be species, location, product development, etc. At the same time, the history and fundamentals of fly-fishing remain respected and held high. That’s probably one of the things that I enjoy most about being part of this community is that while innovation and creativity can flourish, respecting the people, inventions, methodologies, and history of fly fishing is also present in this new generation of fly fishers. And what is it that is documenting this new wave if fishers? Social media in many forms is tracking every step of the way whether it be through Instagram, YouTube, online journals, or online forums. The beauty of it all is that when a new flyfisher is born they will have an abundance of resources with which to learn from that at the same time is exponentially growing. It’s a positive wonderful thing. As far as more females joining I would describe that as incredible. When you look at the majority of flyfishing accounts that have high followings, with the exception of Flylords, Fly Fishing Nation, and maybe 2-3 male accounts its all-female anglers. I think one of my friends put it comically frank when we had just the two of us hiking way up one of the coastal rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, had maybe seen 2 other anglers all day and were swinging for steelhead. She said, “look at us!? Dudes are complaining that women have undeserved attention but look where we are, it’s like seeing a f**king Maserati at Walmart.” Although I about died laughing the thing to take away from this is that the reason why its incredible is because we are stepping into a male-dominated world that is traditionally designed to not accommodate or welcome us (Ex. This is the world in which we live: I stayed at a fly lodge in Idaho this past summer that has a “men’s only portion” of it, but you best believe my friend and her mom trifled through that place in wonder – with respect of course). Through my travels and fishing experiences, I’ve come to meet quite a lot of female anglers and interestingly enough a lot of them have very similar traits. They don’t put up with disrespect, VERY outspoken, they are driven to learn more and more, they not afraid to challenge the norm, and they are some of the baddest anglers and casters I’ve ever met. For me personally, Even though I’ve only been fly fishing for 5 years since undergrad as an engineering student it was the same situation, male-dominated so really it wasn’t that much of a change being surrounded by men in the fly world. However I will say that it takes a certain kind of female to withstand both the positive and negative attention that you get from male anglers (and unfortunately some female anglers), and I think that the most important first step is the way in which you present yourself. I see myself as truly having a passion for fly fishing and as someone who is eager to learn more and more and I think the image portrayed by social media correctly delivers that. All in all, I’m just a fly fisherwoman who is eager to learn but is also confident enough to handle the attention both positive and negative. On a scale from 1 to 10 on how fun it is to be a woman in the fly world, I’d give it an 11, because if you have ever fished with me you would know that I absolutely find so so much joy in it. And a bonus 1 is for the praise and support I get not only from family and friends but even those I don’t know for getting after what I love. A bonus 1 for helping to encourage other women to get in on this. The positivity overrides and uncomfortable or negative situations I may encounter by 110%, and I’d rather give and focus my energy on that.
Flylords: What’s next for ya?
Ruth: In early 2020 I have a trip planned with my boyfriend (who happens to also be my favorite fishing partner) to fish for Golden Dorado in South America. This is a species that I have never caught so this will be more tools learned in the fly fishing toolbox. So far I’ve caught 72 different species on the fly and I feel that with each new species there is something new to learn whether it be with fly tying, casting, presentation/retrieval, water ecology, or my favorite culture/language/food of the indigenous people of that specific region. I feel like the benefit of targeting a new species further completes the amount of confidence you have to walk up to ANY piece of water based on what you have learned from previous species and make educated guesses on how to entice a fish to bite. Prior to this trip and right after until late April my time will mainly be spent swinging for steelhead in the PNW. I bought my first spey rod in March of 2017 and for the first two years, I was able to hook and land different Pacific Salmon species, bull trout, and coastal cutthroat, but never the infamous chromer. I tried relentlessly weekend after weekend but it wasn’t until I went to the Skeena Fall of 2019 on a 10-day 2nddate with my new boyfriend (who also happens to be one of the best spey fishermen I’ve ever met – a straight steelhead magnet) that I hooked into my first 4 steelhead…but lost them all!! As tragic fate would have it, it would not be until March of 2018 that I would land my first one. Checkmate. In a weird way, its sort of like I unlocked a new set of knowledge because since that day I’ve hooked countless more and landed 3 others. 3 of those fish I caught on flies that I tied-which really is all the feels.
This interview was conducted by team member Collin Terchanik.