Most folks would quit a puzzle with no solution. Then again, Kristina Dougherty isn’t your average puzzlemaster.
“I’ve always looked at the river like a giant puzzle,” said Dougherty, a guide with Anglers Covey in Colorado Springs and member of Gore Range Anglers, the Summit County chapter of nonprofit Trout Unlimited. “When you can crack that code — when you find the right combination of flys and small adjustments to get a fish — it’s the best. I love the fact you can never learn it all.”
On Oct. 20 (as in tomorrow), Dougherty and another female guide, Summit resident Sarah Barclay of Blue Quill Angler in Evergreen, bring their love of fly-fishing, rivers and all the associated puzzles to the monthly meeting of Gore Range Anglers. The topic for the month: how female guides across the state and nation are breaking into a sport that’s traditionally been dominated by dudes. Officials with Gore Range Anglers asked Dougherty and Barclay to talk about their wildly different experiences with fly-fishing, but it’s still no surprise that the two share a passion for the small and sometimes frustrating aspects of the sport.
“It’s the consummate riddle that’s never solved, when you’re on the river and fishing,” said Barclay, a real estate agent with Slifer, Smith and Frampton who’s been moonlighting as a guide with Blue Quill Angler for more than a decade. “And it takes you to beautiful places. Just don’t wait for it to show up on your bucket list — get out there now.”
That’s exactly what Barclay did 12 years ago, when her boyfriend bought her waders and boots for Christmas. It became the best Christmas gift she ever received, she said, and she soon fell head over heels for everything angling: the flys, the technique, the water, the serenity.
Along with her angling career — she’s been a guide for more than a decade and regularly works with at-risk youth — Barclay also plans to talk about one of her favorite locations: the Bighorn River in Montana, a tributary of the Yellowstone River. She discovered it not long after discovering the sport, and today she considers it her home river.
“A guide friend told me: ‘Have a river that you fish and know intimately, all times of the year and in all conditions,’” said Barclay, who travels north to the Bighorn at least four times per year. “So I followed what he said, and now I fish it in winter and summer, all year long, from low flows to high flows.”
Dougherty’s introduction to the angling puzzle came about 15 years ago, when she was fresh out of high school and learned to fish with her dad.
“A lot of people learn from their dads, but we went through the process together,” Dougherty said. “We had a lot of laughs that way. I’ve always been kind of a daddy’s girl, so if he was going to do it I wanted to be there too. He didn’t realize he created a monster. The addiction took root right away.”
In March, Dougherty turned her addiction into a full-time guiding gig with Anglers Covey, which boasts six female guides. She regularly fishes the South Platte and Arkansas rivers and joins trips across the region with a female-friendly group, Pikes Peak Women Anglers, with nearly 30 members in Colorado Springs. She also leads mother-daughter trips, like an excursion last week when one of the novice mothers caught three fish in 30 minutes. She must have heeded Dougherty’s advice: “Don’t overthink it.”
“By experience, women pick up the sport faster than men,” Dougherty said. “They use more finesse, they pick up on casting quicker, and all of that is important when you’re starting. Just try to learn as much as possible in your own time.”
Barclay’s advice for ladies? Follow her example and give it a go.
“There are so many people who would love to teach you and help you,” Barclay said. “We are blessed in our county to have over six fly-fishing shops, these star-studded rivers, and it’s a really fun demographic to be a part of. Everyone is fired up to help everyone else.”