For this Mother’s Day, we wanted to highlight Mia Sheppard. Mia owns and operates an outfitter with her husband Marty, is the mother to a 14-year-old, and is a passionate advocate for her local rivers. We were able to get out on the water with Mia and her 14-year-old daughter Tegan for a memorable day on the Deschutes River. Check out the interview below to learn more about Mia including her experience owning and operating an outfitter, getting her daughter on the water, and some of the advocacy work she does.
Flylords: Who is Mia Sheppard?
Mia: I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and have 3 sisters, my parents were real outdoorsy and so I grew up playing outside all time. We would go hiking, camping, and fishing every weekend. My mom passed away of pancreatic cancer 18 years ago and my father passed away when I was 14. I started fly-fishing in 1996 when I was looking for a transition from snowboarding in the winter months to an activity in the summer months around Mt. Hood. Marty Sheppard invited me to go fish for trout on the Deschutes and that’s where it all started.
We stayed in touch over the years and started dating in 2001, then purchased Little Creek Outfitters in 2003. LCO is a year-round guide service. We specialize in taking people on wilderness fly-fishing, hunting, and rafting camp trips on the John Day, Deschutes, Grande Ronde, and Owyhee Rivers. We live in Maupin, Oregon with our daughter Tegan who is 14. We have 1 pointing dog and a couple of chickens. I love being outdoors, whether it’s fishing, hunting, gardening, or taking care of my first beehive.
Flylords: How did you get into guiding and owning an outfitter? What has been your motivation?
Mia: Marty and I were presented the opportunity to purchase Little Creek Outfitters in 2003, so we borrowed $20,000 for a down payment and financed the rest. With no business background, we started running Little Creek and this kick-started my guiding career as well as being a booking agent, bookkeeper, marketer, meal planner, advocate, and toilet cleaner. I was not aspiring to be a guide but I love being on the water so my motivation was having the opportunity to spend more time on rivers and sharing this with others and of course being my own boss.
Flylords: How have you balanced running an outfitter, guiding, and being a mother?
Mia: Finding a balance is tough. I don’t have much time for myself. It’s become easier the older Tegan has become. Since she was one year old, she has joined us on many summer bass trips. She would ride in the gear boat and on trips with other kids she would ride in the boat with clients. When she was 6 she started helping wash dishes, by the time she was 8 she could break down cots and help set up tents.
Now she is 14 and she is going to help the gear boater this summer. The gear boater is the one who goes ahead of the group and gets camp and sets it up. She’s a great helper! In the winter, Marty and I take turns being on trips so one of us is home with Tegan. When both of us are on trips we are fortunate to have a network of friends and family who will watch Tegan or take her for weeks on end.
Flylords: How has this influenced your daughter’s upbringing?
Mia: What I see is; a young lady who loves the outdoors and wildlife, she’s empathetic, respectful, aware of her surroundings, independent, creative, and confident, and works hard.
Flylords: Any tips for getting kids on the water. Even if they don’t like fly fishing?
Mia: Introduce kids to the water at an early age. When Tegan was 1 1/2 I started taking her to a swimming pool and teaching her to float on her back and doggie paddle. Always wear a life jacket. If you want to fish all day, then take a trip with the girls or boys. My experience is, that most kids under the age of eight burn out being on the water all day, there is an exception. Let them bring a friend, this makes all the difference in the world, especially the older they get. The biggest tip is, Keep it fun!
Flylords: You mentioned “It’s more than just catching fish,” can you elaborate on this?
Mia: Teaching your kids about fishing is teaching them about the birds and the bees and flowers and the trees. It’s the connection to everything else that surrounds us from the bugs in the water, too the wildlife in the hills, the camaraderie in camp with friends. Introduce them to all the wonders of the outdoors not just putting emphasis on catching fish or casting.
Flylords: How has being a woman in a male-dominated industry impacted you running an outfitter and guiding?
Mia: Yes, I’ve experienced challenges but I’ve also had a lot of support. One annoying thing would be when people act surprised that I guide or fish and say “oh, you guide?”
One of the cool things is seeing the increase in women wanting to go fishing. When I first started guiding, maybe 2% of our guests were women, now there is close to 30%. I receive requests from women and men with girlfriends and wives who want to fish with me because I am a woman.
Flylords: What is some of the advocacy work that you have done in Oregon and how has it had a positive impact on your business?
Mia: As a business owner, it is vital to be involved with public processes that can impact the environment or our recreational opportunities.
The most recent work I have conducted is writing public comments to the Prineville District BLM (Bureau of Land Management) regarding a few different NEPA processes; one regarding the John Day River 30-mile land acquisition, another regarding the removal of toilets on the lower Deschutes also I’ve written and commented many times regarding a very unfair, limited entry, boater pass system that we are trying to get them to change. I’ve also written comments letter to ODFW and Governor Brown regarding water quality on the lower Deschutes and steelhead closures.
One big accomplishment was inviting Senator Bill Hansell to Maupin to talk to him about the impacts of steelhead closures and how the water quality on the Lower Deschutes is impacting business. This meeting led him to fight on behalf of guides and outfitters for disaster relief which ended up in 10 million being appropriated to guides and outfitters in a one-time program. I am also a commissioner Travel Oregon and board member for the Oregon State Marine Board.
Flylords: One item you never leave for a day on the boat?
Mia: My rods and watercolors.
Flylords: Current wader model and wading boot that you are rocking?
Flylords: What do you look forward to most this next guide season? What’s next for Mia?
Mia: With the uncertainty of a steelhead season, I’m looking forward to exploring new water and creating new programs; including, guiding chukar hunts and outfitting sheep and deer hunts.