Rachel Leinweber is the general manager and guide for the prominent Colorado Springs fly shop the Angler’s Covey. Throughout her childhood, much of her time was spent in the fly shop. Early in her adult years, she discovered that she truly did love to fly fish, not because it was something she had to do, but because it was something that she loved to do. Today, this love can be seen in the way she runs the fly shop, and in her passion for being on the water. Check out the full Women on the Water Interview below.
Flylords: Who is Rachel Leinweber? What defines you as a person?
Rachel: I am a fun, loving person, who got really lucky to grow up in the outdoors and in the fly shop. That’s how I got connected with the Angler’s Covey, it’s a family business. Granted, I have another sibling, he decided to not stick with it. So I am just someone who is super passionate about fly fishing and the outdoors in general. I am also passionate about getting other people connected to fly fishing so that they can do what I love to do.
Flylords: How did you start fly fishing? Was there one person in particular who inspired you?
Rachel: I grew up fly fishing, but a lot of people think that that means that I automatically love to fish; not the case. I have known how to fly fish since I was really little, but I didn’t really like it because my friends could go to the movies and to the mall, and I had to go fishing and camping, which at the time didn’t sound fun. I would say that in late high school and then in college I really started to love fly fishing. My mom was probably the most helpful during this period because she needed help teaching some of our women’s classes. There wasn’t really a moment for me, it was more just in college and me doing it not just because I had to, but because I actually wanted to; that was kind of the spark.
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Flylords: Are there any fly fishing experiences or moments that have shaped you as an angler or as a person?
Rachel: I lived in Juno, Alaska a couple of times just over the summer in college, that would be one big one. We did some conventional fishing, and I am not sure really why, but that is what made it clear that fly fishing was that path for me, and that I really loved it. But most importantly for me, we have this spot called Beaver Creek here in Victor, Colorado. Catching the tiny little brook trout that live there is so much more satisfying to me than catching some huge fish. I would say that that has helped define me as an angler, teaching me to be a little bit sneaky, to think the way they think, and just being able to get out and fish without all of the people.
Flylords: How did you get into the fly fishing industry?
Rachel: My senior year of college I started Pikes Peak Outfitters, which is a paddling store. Initially, we built that building, when I was in high school, and there were two spots that we were leasing out to other businesses. We got really sick of people not paying rent, and being landlords. It was just awful. After looking at Colorado Springs and what was missing in the outdoors scene, there were no paddle shops at all, even for flat water. I got to start that as my “training wheels” business; I designed the logo, painted the store, and built all of the fixtures from Home Depot. I did that from the ground up to see if I liked business. I have a degree in business management, but I wanted to make sure that it was really what I wanted to do.
As much as I like paddling, fly fishing is really my passion. I would find myself wandering into the fly shop a lot more than hanging out in my own paddle shop, which was a big sign, like a really, really big sign, that maybe the paddle shop was not my future. We needed management over in the fly shop, so I jumped on it. I already knew everyone that worked there, they were all my best friends and all of the people I fished with. I also started guiding. Again, guiding isn’t something I really wanted to do, I was forced into it initially because we needed female guides. I knew how to do it, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself because I had never had a female guide role model, ever. That combination of guiding and needing more oversight in the fly shop led me to take a management position, and then it has just grown from there. I have been taking on more responsibilities, and consequently delegating more responsibilities. Making more friends in the industry has really helped. Just being willing to network and having confidence that I know what I am talking about was probably the biggest thing. Nowadays there are so many more women in the industry that are good role models than there were a while ago.
Flylords: Where do you see yourself in ten years? Do you think that you will still be guiding and working as a general manager?
Rachel: We are in a transition period right now; David, my dad, and my mom want to start fishing and camping and hanging out in our RV more. Within the next five to seven years we are hoping to transition from them being owners to me taking over. Even when I take over as the owner, I will never give up guiding because that is not something I do not for money necessarily, it is something I do to keep my life interesting and connected to customers and to the water. People say all the time “Oh you work in a fly shop? That must be the dream job!”, and it is like “Yeah, but I work in a shop in the same way that you work in an office.” You still have to stay connected to the water and to why you love doing what you do. I want to be a good example to all of my employees too, we have to practice what we preach.
Flylords: In what ways does being a woman affect your work on a day-to-day basis (ie. interactions with others)?
Rachel: I would say that when I work the floor and work with customers, it can go one of two ways. I have definitely had experiences where a group of guys comes up and it is me and a bunch of other dudes up at the counter, and they will look past me to talk to one of the guys. The awesome thing is that my guys are always great, they are like, “She can answer your question.” They notice it more than I do which is awesome. It can be hard that way, but I would say that I have been really lucky with the people that I work with that it is almost not even a factor.
I think that part of it is that I have been around the shop and everyone who works there for so long that I have earned their respect. I will say, it feels harder to earn respect or to prove to people that you know what you are talking about and that you are educated. It is just automatically assumed respect and credibility for many of the men who I work with. As I have gotten older, I almost have started not caring as much what others think about me. I will give them what I have to offer, and if they don’t want to take it, then they can deal with it.
One awesome experience that I have had is being on the board of AFFTA. There are only a couple of us women, and I get a lot of questions when I am on there like, “Is it just an old boys club?” and it really is not. It has been really cool to not just be in my little bubble where everyone already knows me but to be with other industry leaders. The guys on AFFTA are so empowering and so welcoming, and they don’t pander to the women.
I haven’t experienced a ton of sexism in my realm, but I have when I have walked into other fly shops. When I walk in with my boyfriend who doesn’t even know how to fish and they start talking to him, not to me, I’m like “Well um hi! See you later.”
Flylords: In what ways do you see sexism within the fly fishing industry as a whole?
Rachel: A few different ways. I will say that with regards to fly shops, there is often the assumption that you know less, especially if you look like you don’t fly fish. It feels like when you walk into a fly shop wearing cute, everyday clothes, they want to educate you “for your good, sweetheart”. I have even had a guide, in a different town, show me where to go on a map, and rub my back. I was like, “No thank you!” and I promptly left. This is part of why I am so intense about training my guys that if a person walks in, they have just as much knowledge as you; male, female, old, young, doesn’t matter.
Industry-wide, I would say that there are companies that use super skinny, model-looking women who are super graceful and who have their hair and makeup perfectly done if they use women at all. Either that, or it will be clear that they are trying to push a female agenda, and everything is women all the time, or it’s all girly and pretty and pink. I will say that Simms is a good example of a company that is trying to get away from that. They are using more women in their marketing who just look like normal chicks, and their clothing is less pink and sparkly. Orvis is another brand that in recent years has begun to do a better job of including women of different sizes, skin colors, ages, things like that. More than anything, I am concerned with what genuine…is it from a place of actually wanting more people to join the sport, or is it just marketing? And likewise, does it reflect the women in the industry who I know?
Flylords: As an industry and as individuals, how can we work to become more inclusive (race, gender, size, etc.)?
Rachel: I think that there are a lot of things that we can do. In marketing, we need to include people who look like all people, not just the people who are currently buying your products. For some brands, their main consumers may be white, upper-middle class males, but instead of just marketing to them, market to everyone. A lot of what we have been doing has been creating events that lower the barrier to entry. In the last few years, we have been doing quite a few free 1-on-1 classes in places that you would not usually see. For example, this year we will be doing a big 1-on-1 event that is at a park in a lower-income neighborhood, and it’s free, you can just come and hang out.
I really do think that marketing is the biggest component to inclusion because if people see other people who look like them fishing, it is so much easier to feel already included. I think that fly shops have a lot to do with that too..if someone walks in who is not your typical bro-bro wearing all camo Simms, it is important to just talk to them like they are human and with the same respect that you would give anyone else. There are definitely shops that I have seen who don’t do that, they just assume that you don’t know anything or that you are just looking for bait or Powerbait or something like that. A lot of the steps that we need to be taking are really small, and within our communities. You can hold national events and things, but if local fly shops are not holding events within their communities that enable you to have face to face interactions, and that encourage people to participate in the sport, it is not going to work.
Flylords: What advice would you give a woman or younger female who is just starting to fly fish?
Rachel: I think that asking questions is the biggest thing. It can be scary and intimidating when you feel like you don’t know enough. Just have confidence that you know all that you need to get started. There are some people that I know who I was intimidated by, and by some people I mean the old crusty guys who worked at the fly shop growing up, they were scary, retired army dudes. But when I started asking questions, they taught me so many amazing things that I might not have ever learned otherwise. Also, don’t be afraid to look stupid. Just by trying to look cool or like you have it all together, well you really don’t, no one ever does.
Next time you are in the Colorado Springs area be sure to stop in at the Anglers Covey to say hi to Rachel and her team. Follow along with Rachel’s adventures at @rmleinweber and be sure to check out @anglers_covey on Instagram.