The source of the Arkansas River can be found near Leadville, CO at about 10,000′ elevation. These crystal clear snowmelt streams are ideal habitats for freshwater fish and similarly, ideal conditions for fly fishing. On a summer drive down highway 24, the scenic highway that follows the Arkansas River from Leadville to Buena Vista, you’ll see just how popular fly fishing has become in this area. This increase of anglers isn’t limited to Colorado. The fly fishing industry is on the rise all over the country.
Colorado Mountain College recognized the growing popularity of fly fishing and launched a professional fly fishing guide program at the Leadville campus. The unique, 6-week intensive program combines classroom knowledge with hands-on skills and practice on local waterways. Graduates of the program receive a professional fly fishing guide certificate and many land jobs with local outfitters before completion.
Robin Schmidt, a 56-year-old woman from Littleton, CO, recently completed the fly fishing guide program in Leadville, CO. Robin was surprised to learn that she was the only woman enrolled in the 2018 session, and hopes to use her experience to motivate and inspire other women to join the industry.
“Women bring new and very different possibilities to the sport and the industry,” says Robin, who is originally from Alaska and learned to fly fish at a young age, “I am interested in working with women who are new to the sport and help them become self-sufficient on the water. I want to bring adventure into the lives of women who are seeking to challenge themselves and learn new things.”
Robin is not alone in this endeavor. The 50/50 on the water movement, is a campaign sponsored by Orvis and other outdoor brands, to create gender parity in fly fishing. According to a December 2017 New York Times article, “women make up about 31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly-fish.”. The #5050onthewater campaign hopes to see this number increase to 50% by 2020.
More female fly fishing guides
One way we can achieve this goal? More female fly fishing guides. Women bring a different energy to the sport of fly fishing. Learning a new sport or hobby can be intimidating on its own, and women can help break down those barriers for other women; less competition, more community.
Since completing the fly fishing program in 2017, Kaitlin Boyer has worked as a fly fishing guide, experiencing the gender imbalance on the river first hand.
“In male dominated industry, perhaps we lose some of ourselves because we are constantly trying to compete and succeed on a masculine level in this sport,” writes Kaitlin in a recent braidedflyfish.com article, “As women, we have an advantage because by nature we encompass more empathy, honesty, and the capacity to be vulnerable to one another.”
Colorado Mountain College stands with the 50/50 on the water movement and is committed to providing opportunities for women to enter the outdoor industry as fly fishing professionals. Orvis has generously provided in-kind fly fishing products to help two women scholarship recipients, who are enrolled in the professional fly fishing guide program summer 2019 session, the opportunity to get them geared up on the water. Financial scholarships are being created so more details to come later in this fall.
“One of the most rewarding things I experience as a woman in the outdoor industry is when I meet women who are totally awesome at what they do,” says Robin, “These ladies inspire me. Just being around them causes me to believe in myself — and that’s profound.”
More information on the professional fly fishing guide program can be found at coloradomtn.edu.