JACKSON, WY — What do fishing and acting have in common?
More than you’d think, says Jean Williams Bruun. She should know. She built a career doing both.
“I feel the art of acting and sharing great literature, characters, and moments will prompt and empower people to better themselves, to educate themselves, and to challenge themselves,” Bruun says. “That’s not unlike what happens with fly fishing.”
Bruun is one of three local anglers featured in a new book “Fifty Women Who Fish.” Author Steve Kanter released the book last month after two years of seeking and interviewing female anglers across the country. Bruun is featured alongside local guides Patty Reilly and Lori-Ann Murphy. Each woman has a unique relationship with fishing.
Here’s another thing fishing and acting have in common: they’re both incredibly intimate. Whether you’re telling someone else’s story on stage or sharing the art of casting with a client, you’re “utilizing and honing a skill to present something,” Bruun said — and you’re sharing it with other people. “It’s a different language, but you’re still bearing your soul.”
Bruun is a born and bred Westerner. She grew up fishing with her brother and her parents. Patty Reilly, on the other hand, found fishing by accident. She was in Jackson in her 20s and had built a hugely successful restaurant where The Bird is now. But she hated it. “It was like being married to this thing that wouldn’t go away,” she said.
During few days off she could manage, she went on the river. She learned to row. She went to Argentina and fell in love — not with a person, but with the place. She gave up her restaurant and started bartending at Dornan’s, and the fishing shop next door asked her to guide. Between winters in Argentina and summers in the U.S., she’s been a full-time fishing guide ever since. She now runs a specialized travel service called Guided Connections out of Argentina.
“I had no intention of ever doing that, it just happened,” Reilly said.
Is it important to shine a spotlight on female anglers specifically? Yes and no, Reilly and Bruun agree.
“I happen to feel very honored to be in a book with great anglers, and they just happen to be women,” Bruun says. Bruun happens to be the first woman fishing sales rep in the industry, but she doesn’t consider that any sort of special honor. If anything, she feels more responsible to “represent the ladies as well.”
“I want to make sure women moving forward feel empowered by that and feel inspired,” she says. But shouldn’t everybody want that? “I think we’d be a more generous and gracious culture if we thought about our actions and the impact they have on our own reputation, and for others.”
Reilly admits she was one of a small few female guides when her career started. She had to work hard — maybe extra hard — to prove herself. But she’d also be remiss not to credit the men in the industry who supported her throughout her career. Men like Bob Dornan, who constantly insisted “let her go fish!” and AJ DeRosa, who traveled with Reilly to Argentina where they established the first-ever float fishing operation.
Still, despite the fact that more than one in every four American anglers is a woman, fishing is still largely considered a man’s sport. It’s not easy to get into, Bruun admits. Like any sport, and particularly any outdoor activity, it’s expensive. It can feel exclusive or inaccessible. “In some cases, conditions and cultural idioms are still more permissive to men, and more available to men.” But that dosen’t have to be the case, Bruun says.
“We’re in a time period where we should be celebrating accessibility. Fishing takes mental discipline and skill, and requires placing yourself into something you can do for your life and share with others,” Bruun says. As long as you can do that, she says, nothing should stop you from going out and fishing.
Reilly puts it succinctly: “Women are capable of anything.”
What’s really important to both Reilly and Bruun is protecting the environment in which they fish. “It’s such a privilege to have people in my boat and let them see God’s creation,” Bruun says. “Fishing takes you to beautiful places … you can’t fish and not want to take care of it.”
Indeed, Reilly says fishing forces you to become a bit of an environmentalist. “You have to be a very astute observer of your surroundings and the outdoors,” she says. “You have to study a little bit of what’s happening to understand what the fish are doing. Consequently, you become a good observer of the natural world.”
Reilly adds that conservation is “truly the onus of how fly fishing has evolved.” It’s a revolving door, she says. Fishing is becoming more popular by the day. On the one hand, that creates more work for conservationists and wildlife managers. On the other, it means that every day there are more people who care about protecting the land and the rivers that shelter their beloved fish. Fishing is creating a growing army of conservationists.
Lori-Ann Murphy, for her part, lives in nearby Spirit Lake, Idaho. Buckrail wasn’t able to connect with her, but according to a press release, she attended a guides’ rendezvous in Montana with 16 men in 1989 when the Orvis Company’s chairman Leigh Perkins asked her to guide him on Nelson’s Spring Creek in Livingston. Her live as an RN took a dramatic shift. She helped start the Orvis School for Women in 1992 and launched Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures in 1994. She still teaches at the Jackson Hole Orvis store every summer and leads trips in Belize in the winter.
When asked what they hope readers will take away from their story, Bruun and Reilly are unanimous. As Reilly puts it: “if you have an interest, you should pursue it.”
And pursue it, Bruun adds, “with excellence, with graciousness, and with people who can make you better.”
Fifty Women Who Fish is on on the shelves now for $59.95. For a preview and to order your copy, visit WhyWomenFish.com or telephone Wild River Press at 425-486-3638.
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