Reeling in Female Fly Fishing Guide Scholarships

Heather Ritchie fly fishing guide student at Twin Lakes
Professional fly fishing guide student heather ritchie
PC: Kaitlin Boyer

Reeling in Female Fly Fishing Guide Scholarships

Fly fishers in the Upper Arkansas River Valley may have noticed a new group of anglers in town. They’re all students enrolled in the Professional Fly Fishing Guide program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, a four-week intensive certification program dedicated to training the next generation of fly fishing guides.

Thanks to two scholarships and a generous gear donation from Orvis, Heather Richie is one of two women enrolled in this year’s fly fishing guide program. 

“I love fly fishing because it mimics nature,” says Heather, a 39-year-old originally from Atlanta, GA, “I believe that if you engage in the tradition of fly fishing and the culture of the sport today, you can see the natural world more clearly.”

Legacy Scholarships

The donors behind the Karen Williams Memorial Scholarship and the Mazie Morrison Foundation Scholarship made Heather’s enrollment at Colorado Mountain College possible.

Karen Williams was a long-time member of the Colorado Women Flyfishers and the first to lend a helping hand to ladies learning to fly fish. In 2020 Karen was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, which took her life quickly. To honor her memory and dedication to helping women join the sport, the Colorado Women Flyfishers created a $500 scholarship for females interested in the professional fly fishing guide program at Colorado Mountain College.

May “Amazing Mazie” Morrison was the mother of Maurrie and Becky, founders of Sisters on the Fly, an organization dedicated to offering empowerment and sisterhood through exceptional outdoor adventures. She was a role model for many women and after her death her daughters started the Mazie Morrison Foundation to carry on her legacy. 

“I was not brought up with the implication there was a restricted activity set for me as a girl,” says Heather, “I am working actively to focus on female clients. Playing with the boys is fun, but there is an inherently different vibe when women fish or sail together.”

professional fly fishing guide heather ritchie fishing at Twin Lakes
PC: Kaitlin Boyer

Getting the Gear

Heather is the recipient of the Orvis 50/50 On the Water Fly Fishing Gear Donation for Women. The gear package, valued at $2400, includes just about everything a fly fisherwoman would need including a Helios 3-rod outfit, women’s ultralight waders, women’s ultralight wading boots, a women’s PRO wading jacket and a 50/50 On the Water hat and t-shirt.

“Waders are the key item of gear for which it makes a difference to be cut with a female shape in mind,” says Heather, “It’s important to be comfortable and safe on the water, and there’s no reason to have to modify or put up with gear made for a man.”

The Orvis 50/50 On the Water initiative is creating gender parity in fly fishing. From women-specific gear development, education & adventure experiences, nonprofit partnerships and women-centric storytelling, 50/50 On the Water’s works to inspire and celebrate women in the fly fishing industry.

“Having female-identifying instructors and guides should not be novel,” says Heather, “We should be asking the male students what it is like to learn from a woman. I enjoy learning from men, but the reality of most yacht captains, backcountry guides, et. al. being men does become tiresome.” 

Representation on the River

In 2017, Kaitlin Boyer completed CMC’s guide program and earned a professional fly fishing guide certification. She was aware of the lack of female representation on the river and quickly discovered the need for more female guides. She became the personal cheerleader for women that showed an interest in fly fishing—including Robin Schmidt, a 2018 graduate of the program. 

Kaitlin and Robin were the only full-time females enrolled in the fly fishing guide program in 2017 and 2018. They worked together to increase the program’s female enrollment numbers through various fundraising efforts and scholarship opportunities. In 2019, there were a total of ten students enrolled in the programseven were women.

There are eight students in this year’s group of Professional Fly Fishing Guide studentstwo are women. Though the numbers have changed dramatically from the 2019 ratio of female students in the program, this year is the first time a female instructor has joined the program. 

It’s no coincidence that the first female Fly Fishing Guide instructor at Colorado Mountain College Leadville is also a recent graduate who has been a champion of the program. Kaitlin Boyer is teaching the Professional Fly Fishing Guide I and II courses alongside long-time Leadville Fly Fishing Guide instructor Mark Cole as well as Risk Management of Outdoor Professionals.