Fly fishing gear

“I Identify as an Angler”: Meet Erica Nelson, an Indigenous Fly Fishing Guide

I lived in Wyoming, so everyone I met online would be three hours away. Some men, many of whom were fishing guides, were willing to answer questions (and I had plenty). After building up some confidence, I would visit for a fishing weekend where I learned basic casting, bug hatching patterns, rigging techniques, and gear maintenance. This first fish is so many things: it’s excitement, accomplishment, reinforcement. They say the tug is the drug. It’s like gambling; you just want more.

Your podcast is called “Awkward Angler”. How clumsy are you?

When I first started fishing, I had these picturesque visions of big, long, dramatic casts like Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It.” What I experienced instead was doing a back cast and snagging my fly in overhanging tree branches behind me. I fell on slippery rocks. It turned into a lot of patience, frustration and unraveling. I caught more trees than fish. I knew nothing about how to handle a fish or how to properly remove a hook. It’s probably good that I didn’t understand anything at first.

On top of that, I walked into a fly shop and didn’t meet anyone like me. I created the Awkward Angler Instagram account to continue asking for advice, but also to connect with others internationally and across the United States. Who else fishes and looks and thinks like me? Is there anyone who isn’t a cisgender white male? I ended up meeting women of color, non-binary anglers, transgender anglers, neuro-divergent anglers or anglers with different physical abilities.

Is there more diversity in sport today than when you started?

When I started fishing in 2016, there might have been brown people fly fishing, but I didn’t know of any and never saw them. In the entire state of Colorado, there were no colored female guides. Now there’s a woman from outside Colorado Springs and me.

Following the murder of George Floyd, people realized that racism exists in this country and it affects fly fishing. Since the start of the pandemic, many new people have tried fly fishing for the first time, and we have started to see a demographic shift. I’ve had people with marginalized identities such as LGBTQ+ and people without labels, women, women of color reach out to connect and express their appreciation that I’m not afraid to speak up for us and our voices. And they book as customers, so I take them out and introduce them to fly fishing.

What is the Fishing for All commitment?

The Angling for All commitment involves a diversity, equity and inclusion training program and a commitment to address racism and inequality in fishing and its industry.