Meet Ashley, a Michigan-based angler, artist, podcaster, friend, teacher, and the first woman guide to obtain State and USFS guide tags on the Pere Marquette River in over 40 years. After leaving her corporate job to pursue her passion for fly fishing two years ago, Ashley has already paved the way for women in the industry to step into their power and embrace the journey with a contagiously positive attitude and refreshingly fun perspective on what it means to be an angler and guide.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Ashley? How do you spend your days?
I’m a swamp monster that took a detour through corporate America because I listened to people about chasing a good living instead of my dreams. After burning out and moving back to Michigan, I realized that the only thing in life you can do to truly be happy in life is to chase your passion. I spend my days living the bog life. Days consist of gaining knowledge of the watersheds of northern Michigan, fishing, talking with other anglers, and backcountry exploration.
Each day has a different schedule depending on the season. During cold or inclement weather days I work on creative endeavors such as painting or my podcast Loop to Loop. Spring and fall seasons are typically consumed with chasing migratory species runs. During summer months I can be found spending most of my mornings or evenings chasing hatches or mousing for browns. Once our lower peninsula waters become too warm for fishing local trout, I migrate to my family’s lodge in the Upper Peninsula to operate back-country trout adventures outside of Ishpeming.
I’m lucky this lifestyle allows me to chase trout throughout the state while spending considerable family time and still find a way to make a living. It’s safe to say this life isn’t about chasing a get-rich scheme, it’s about becoming rich in wild experiences.
How did you get started in fly fishing? What does fishing mean to you?
There hasn’t been a moment in my life where I didn’t think about spending time on or near the water. Even during my toughest times of feeling lost, hurt, or depressed in life, I could turn to the water. It’s always had a way of reminding me of who I am and guiding me home. The water frees my mind of all the clutter that I impose on myself about who everyone else expects me to be as a person or angler. The time I spend alone on the water is an investment into healing my soul and rebuilding myself as the kindhearted, wildly curious child I once was. The pressure from the water around my legs reminds me of how we can stand strong in our convictions, while my time on the boat teaches me to appreciate the ability to flow with life.
My first experience with a fly rod was at our family’s lodge outside of Evartt, MI – my
grandpa was looking for a way to distract me from following him around and asking
too many questions. He stuck a little rusty and dusty fly on the end of a cane rod, cast
it a couple of times, said “You got it“, then walked away. I had no clue what I was doing but I had lots of fun pretending I was a ribbon dancer on the end of the dock occasionally catching bluegill that day.
It wasn’t until later in life while I was in college that I picked up a fly rod again. That’s when it went from curiosity to wildly obsessed. I’d spend what little money I had from giving haircuts at a chain salon to come up north with a case of crappy beer and hot dogs to chase trout. I’d sleep in the car and use the river as a bathtub, since getting a hotel room was out of my measly college kid budget. After being turned around by others afraid to chase their own dreams, I spent several years unhappily living the corporate life. Never listen to someone who tells you it’s not worth your time to chase your passions, you’ll end up spiritually and emotionally broke. Once I came to this conclusion I donated the last of my corporate wear and went full-send chasing what I love: trout, fly fishing, and teaching others.
What has been your biggest inspiration to grow as an angler and a guide?
I am inspired to keep learning because it’s something that only I can do, it’s all on my own ability to grasp and understand a new technique. There’s this saying “Don’t make rules, make art” and I apply this to angling as well. Once I really have a cast, presentation, or fly application down… I can make it my own variation.
Growing as a guide is a never-ending lesson. Each person I work with has a
unique language and my goal is to blend our fishy realities. Using analogies that my client can understand helps them bridge a gap. Once we can speak a common language on the boat, then we can start to complete our shared mission of reaching the angler’s goal for the day.
It’s always been very inspiring for me to have meaningful connections with people,
small groups bring my heart great happiness. Large events typically leave me
needing to find solitude with my rod and reel. Maybe that is why I love guiding so
What has been your experience as a woman in this industry? Is there any advice you would give to other women wanting to get into fly fishing and/or guiding?
Most people are extremely kind and welcoming! There are jerks everywhere but those are the people you pay no mind to. The good people are the ones you stick with- the ones that see you and hold space for you. These are the people that will cheer for you and give you good advice. They may not have their entire life together but, dang it, when it comes to fishing they are laser-focused and to the launch 30 minutes early… those are the good eggs.
If you want to build relationships around your local waters, kindness and empathy
go a long way. Depending on your location and fishing regulations, talk to all sorts
of anglers, not just those fly-fishing. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about runs, holes, and the general fishery just from spending a few minutes making a
For new lady anglers, be smart about solo adventuring. SOS emergency beacons,
GPS, and bear spray are 3 items I have on me at all times. Carry survival supplies and a backup freeze-dried dinner just in case you end up fishing a little too late. I’ve spent many nights in the woods fairly comfortable with a backcountry set-up and using bushcraft techniques for shelter.
As for guiding, there’s no right or wrong way to do it… it’s up to you to develop a style
that works for both you and your clients. If you’re ready to give it a try, do it. You won’t regret it. Not only are you helping others but you are helping yourself to see your true power and potential. Read up on local regulations, requirements, and how you can fit into a niche that other guides are not catering to. Maybe you’re great at bluegill on the fly rod or
chasing pike… whatever it is that brings your heart joy…. do that.
If you ever need help or a word of encouragement please reach out, I may not have all the answers but I would sure love to celebrate you and your journey!
You’re the first woman in 44 years to get a river guide tag on the Pere Marquette, can you talk to us more about that? What do you think this means for women in fishing?
There are two permits required to operate on the Pere Marquette commercially and float the entire thing: US Forest Service and a Michigan DNR commercial permit. I was told by our USFS recreational planner that she didn’t see any women on the list of permitted guides. But, according to some of the old timers, we did have a lady out here running a
state tag during the 90s. She has long since left the area, and I wish there was a way
to contact her… if you’re read this, reach out to me – I’d love to hear your stories!
So, I guess as it stands, I’m the first lady that’s obtained both a state and USFS tag to
operate, which wasn’t the easiest feat. I feel that making a presence in my home waters will give other women the chance to feel they can also make an impact on their local fisheries. I am honored to provide other women with a chance to go fishing with another lady and not feel pressured or nervous about taking the leap to get onto a boat. As women together on a boat, we get to celebrate each other, see each other, and just be in the
presence of what ends up being some of the most badass, hardworking, and intelligent women I’ve ever met. There’s something to be said of the general aura and feel of these floats, it’s a salve for the soul that many women seek to find through ladies’ retreats or a girls’ weekend… there’s nothing quite like it.
What are you most looking forward to this guide season?
I am looking forward to river magic. Call it what you will, but for me, river magic could
be a big brown launching itself over an emerger or someone passing along a stellar fly to an angler that may not have it in their box. River magic to me is those moments of either natural beauty or human kindness that leave me feeling like a harp is gently playing inside my soul.
What’s one item you won’t get on the boat without?
What doesn’t put a smile on someone else’s face more than passing along some sort
of sweet treat on the river? I’ve been keeping a bag of snack-sized candy bars on the boat for anyone who’s willing to engage in some friendly banter. Building relationships with other anglers is extremely important to me, we’re all on the same team. If you see me, say hi because I’ll pass along something to satisfy your sweet tooth!