Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down and speak with long time fly fishing guide Anna Mattingly, who is currently living and working in Vail, Colorado. Her experiences and time in the industry came to light throughout our conversation, and her words of wisdom for women and young girls will resonate with many.
Flylords: Who is Anna Mattingly? What defines you as a person?
Anna: Anna Mattingly is someone who really enjoys being on the water and being around nature. Fly fishing is definitely my passion and where I love to spend all my time. I also have a business side of me too, where fly fishing is my part-time job, and I have another job in resort group sales and marketing. I am really creative and passionate about that as well.
Flylords: Are there any fishing experiences that have helped shape you as a person?
Anna: Yeah, I would say that every time I am on the water I feel like I am learning and growing as a person. I am someone who is always really aware of my surroundings, and I love to learn more about nature. Specifically, I guess I would say that every time you catch a fish, especially the bigger ones, you learn something. I think the reason why I love fly fishing so much is that even when you feel like maybe you’re mastering it, you are still always going to be learning; you are still going to lose fish, you are still going to, you know, get upset at yourself for making a mistake. Or maybe it wasn’t even a mistake, it was just a learning experience as far as it was that fish, that day, that did not take the fly the same way that it always does. I guess just every time I am out there I am constantly learning and growing, I love that about the sport.
Flylords: Has fly fishing been a motivation for travel?
Anna: I do travel a lot, for my other job specifically, and then I did just buy my first saltwater rod this year, before COVID, so I haven’t been able to travel and use it. As soon as COVID is over, some places on my bucket list are Florida to catch a tarpon, and I really want to get to the Caribbean and catch a permit. Those are kind of my two bucket list fish right now.
Flylords: What inspired you to start fly fishing in the first place? What about guiding?
Anna: Well I grew up in Oregon, so I grew up doing a lot of spin fishing on the streams there, and then I did a lot of deep-sea fishing off of the coast. So when I moved to the mountains, gosh, I guess that was probably ten years ago, I started fly fishing in Lake Tahoe. I basically started because whenever I would go to the river everyone was fly fishing and so I was really curious about the sport. I kind of felt like I was being judged a little bit showing up with my spin rod, so that encouraged me to learn this new sport that I really hadn’t thought about before. So I literally just went to Cabela’s and just bought the start-up set that is like two hundred dollars; I really taught myself. Then I moved out to Colorado and I felt really landlocked out here because I grew up by the ocean, so I noticed that everyone is on the river, and I really wanted to get a boat. I took my oar certification course, and the guy, Paul, who certified me on that, really pushed me to be a guide because he knew how passionate I was about it. We had been fly fishing together a lot, so he was confident in me. I appreciate that and I am always thankful for him because I was really intimidated to get into guiding because it is such a male dominated sport; I mean there are only two other women fly fishing guides in the Vail Valley.
Flylords: How has being a woman impacted your experience in the guiding industry?
Anna: You know at first as I said, I was really intimidated to get into being a guide. But what I noticed quickly is that there is definitely a need for women guides out there. Even when I was insecure and I would show up and be like, “Oh my gosh, no one is going to want to go fishing with, like, the girl fly guide”, I found it to be actually quite the opposite. A lot of men bring their spouses, their wife, or their daughters on the river, and so having a woman guide can really encourage other women to get into the sport. When they see, oh, this girl does this, and when they have a woman explain to them how to do it, it feels less intimidating for the clients. I really have enjoyed that part of it.
I also think that from what I have noticed in my years of being a fly fishing guide, is that men really listen to women on the river. Some of my other friends who are male guides, speak kind of harshly and can be strict with letting people know what they are doing wrong or whatnot; whereas women can be more nurturing, and we can figure out different ways to communicate with people because everyone learns a little bit differently. We can better stay in tune with the people on our boat and what is important to them and really focus on that.
Sometimes with clients, it is not all about fishing. I get a lot of people for the first time. For example, we will do big corporate guide trips, and so these people have never been on the Colorado River before, they have never been on a raft before, and they have never fly fished before, so it is a lot to take in. A lot of times they just really want to enjoy the experience while being out there. My focus is then “let’s catch a fish of two so that you can see what that’s like, and then if you don’t want to fish for the rest of the day, you just want to sit and enjoy the scenery, and look for bald eagles, well that’s okay too.” I think that as women, we can pick up on what someone is looking for in their experience for the day.
Flylords: In what ways do you see sexism within the fishing industry as a whole?
Anna: I have been really fortunate because I feel like everyone has been really supportive and respectful of me being out there as a woman and me being a guide, but I definitely feel like in the beginning, I had to prove myself. I felt like there was more pressure to be out there and to be one of the best. I don’t know if that was just me putting that pressure on myself, but I did not feel like I was taken seriously at first, and it has really taken years of experience for guides to warm up to me and get to know me and know my boat. They’ll come up to me, like the other day, and be like “Wow, you guys really crushed it out there, good job.” So I guess I felt like sexism, in my experience, made me feel like you just can’t go out there and be average, if you are going to be a woman guide, you better be one of the best there is.
Flylords: Do you believe that social media plays a positive or negative role in fishing culture? Why?
Anna: I guess social media is kind of a double-edged sword. I think that social media plays a big, exciting role in fly fishing because it helps people get excited about it, and show them what they can do and what they can catch out there. But then I guess sometimes it might come off a little unrealistic because people always post these humongous fish, and in reality, you know, we are catching 13-inch trout on the Colorado on any given day unless you are a really skilled fly fisherman, and then we can fish it differently. It gets people excited about the sport, but sometimes people’s expectations aren’t reality. It is important for the guide to have that conversation at the beginning of the day, something like, “Hey, here’s what we are going to shoot for today, we are each going aim to get one or two fish on the line, and if we get more then that’s fabulous. And maybe we will, maybe it’s going to be a great day, but even on the worst day we can get a fish or two on the line.”
Flylords: What advice would you give a woman or young girl who is just starting to fly fish?
Anna: I would say don’t get discouraged, it is a really frustrating sport, and it’s that way for everyone who is learning. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how old you are, everyone can do it, and it’s always going to be frustrating at first. There is a lot to learn, and as soon as you think that you have mastered tying your knots or mastered what kind of fly to put on, you suddenly have to figure out where exactly these fish live. There is constantly just something to be learned. I would say just don’t give up, don’t get frustrated, just go out there every day, and enjoy being on the water. If you don’t catch fish every day that’s okay, it’s still a great day.