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Gaining Confidence through Fly Fishing
An Interview with Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf
“At my age you start to look back over your life and think about what you wish you could change - I have few regrets; one is that I didn’t learn to fly fish earlier.”
-- Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf
Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf learned to fly fish at 40; since then she has grown more passionate about sportfishing.
“Pudge” is an inspiring, dynamic woman. I get the feeling that when she sets her hook into something, she is unstoppable in pursuit of her goal. She’s full of energy and ideas. A self-proclaimed “type A” personality, she has turned her passions into her occupation. Presently, as she lets her fly fishing career run, she is slowly reeling in her successful law practice. She didn’t divulge her age, but she did mention that in addition to practicing law and consulting, she had retired from her first career as a University of Alaska professor.
Kleinkauf was interested in fishing before she became a fly fishing enthusiast. In the past, she and her family would fish together: she with spinning gear, her son with a fly rod and reel.
“At some point,” she said, “I realized that we were both having fun, but he was catching more fish! So I decided to take a fly fishing class. I have been a fanatic ever since.”
Just after Kleinkauf began fly fishing, women friends began asking her to share her knowledge with them. She started organizing groups of women to get together on a river to practice their new skills. When she realized that more and more local women were interested in fly fishing, she decided to take her love of teaching and her enthusiasm for the sport to the next level.
For the last 18 years, in addition to her other careers, Kleinkauf has owned and operated Women’s Flyfishing®, a guide business that focuses on fly fishing opportunities for women. She started small, mostly taking Alaskan women out for trips and providing casting and fly tying lessons.
A few years after she started the business, her son gave her a website as a Christmas gift. The website proved to be an avenue for women all over the country to learn to fly fish with Kleinkauf, or to hone their skills while wading the fresh waters of Alaska in search of salmon, Dolly Varden or Arctic grayling. Kleinkauf found that women enjoyed the opportunity to be with other women in the outdoors, they loved the sport, and they left the river with more confidence than when they arrived. Kleinkauf was having a great time filling a niche in the outdoor recreation field.
A couple of years after its inception, she and her webmaster son decided that in addition to advertising fly fishing trips specifically for women, their website could provide a valuable clearinghouse of fly fishing information for women interested in the sport. One of the more comprehensive Internet sites for female fly fishing enthusiasts, www.womensflyfishing.net provides links to Alaska fishing reports, a list of women’s fly fishing clubs, the International Women Fly Fishers organization, news, tips, and other fly fishing sites.
Pudge teaches fly fishing to women because she believes that in general, women tend to feel more relaxed and less intimidated learning from another woman. Men and women communicate and learn differently.
“I can’t tell you how many women have told me that they’ve tried to learn to fly fish before, and either they didn’t get the sports-related metaphors on how to cast, or they just didn’t feel comfortable asking the questions they needed answered,” she said. “After a few classes I began to hear women say, ‘Oh, I can do this.’”
She’s continued teaching and guiding women because there is no shortage of women interested in the services she provides, and because she enjoys “opening women’s lives to the outdoors.”
“It isn’t just fly fishing- it’s the outdoors,” she said. “I didn’t grow up being socialized to the outdoors. So many more boys than girls are taught to participate in outdoor activities at a young age. I love knowing that I can help a woman experience the outdoors in a new way.”
“I love that I can be there when women experience a ‘first,’” she said. “When I’m standing next to a woman who reels in her first gorgeous Arctic char, or has her first success luring an Arctic grayling with a dry fly - I love being a part of that.”
She said she started guiding at a time when women were beginning to be taken more seriously as outdoor recreationists.
“When I started, women’s gear consisted of size ‘xs’ men’s waders, gloves and vests. Now you can buy gear made for women’s bodies. As a “professional guide” for several companies that design fly fishing gear, I feel fortunate to provide input for changes to be made in gear for women.”
The popularity of women’s outdoor angling gear is a testament to the increase in women’s interest in the sport.
Over the years Kleinkauf has gotten more involved with sportfishing organizations. She serves on the Board of Directors for the International Women Fly Fishers and is an active member of numerous sportfishing associations and fly fishing groups. She regularly attends sportfishing trade shows to teach tying flies, to talk about women fly fishing and to sit in the authors’ booth. Kleinkauf won a 2004 Benjamin Franklin award for sports and outdoor recreation writing with her book “Fly Fishing Women Explore Alaska.”
At the request of a cancer survivor who had attended one of her workshops, Kleinkauf began working with women associated with the YWCA to bring Casting for Recovery to Alaska. With support from various sponsors across the state, Casting for Recovery strives to provide one weekend free of cost each year to cancer survivors who want to gather and sportfish. Kleinkauf, a cancer survivor herself, is one of 15 volunteer teachers who spend the weekend teaching fly tying and casting and rod skills, as well as enjoying wonderful meals and the great outdoors. She said Casting for Recovery is a great time for women to gather in the outdoors, to let go of all the concerns of dealing with cancer, to just enjoy the time together and to remember to keep living.
After a conversation with Kleinkauf, I feel the urge to dig out my spinning rod from the basement or run out to the store to pick up a fly rod and reel. Her infectious spirit is inspiring. She’s taken her love of sport fishing and changed lives. In closing she laughs, “One woman calls me ‘The lady that saved her marriage.’ Learning to fly fish can be a great way to spend time alone on the river or a way to spend time with your partner. If you are fishing with your partner and you constantly need help with your gear, you aren’t independent. Women learn to be independent when they learn to fly fish.”
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