BY JULIE JEFFERY MANWARREN
A may fly danced in sunlight over the Lackawanna River. Wild trout hid in its depths, patiently waiting in cooler waters for flies to fall or nymphs to rise.
Above the water, a line ribboned in the air keeping time before it met the surface. Rosangela Charlesworth dropped a fly along the bank of the stream where she knew the fish were. The current carried it until her rod rose, and the casting dance began again.
Charlesworth is a director of Northeast Pennsylvania Fly Girls, a women’s angler group dedicated to fly fishing. She is also the regional chairperson of Pennsylvania’s Women and Diversity Initiative. The initiative is a result of partnerships with the state Fish and Boat Commission, the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and local organizations. It connects women to fly fishing and waterway conservation efforts.
Charlesworth is married to Pennsylvania’s at-large Boating Commissioner, Charles Charlesworth, who is the former president of Trout Unlimited’s Lackawanna Valley Chapter.
“My husband is a fly fisherman. He had his own TV show on national television and traveled the world fly fishing. When we met, he asked if I liked to fish. And I said ‘No, I hate it.’ I didn’t know what he did for a living,” Charlesworth said laughing. “He explained to me what fly fishing was. I went for one day to a fly-fishing event and I fell in love with it.”
Women are the fastest growing segment of fly fishing in the United States, but Commissioner Charlesworth shared that northeast Pennsylvania lags behind national numbers.
NEPA Fly Girls was formed as part of Pennsylvania’s Women and Diversity Initiative that began eight years ago. It includes female anglers from the Stanley Cooper Chapter in Luzerne County, Lackawanna Valley Chapter and the Pike/Wayne County Chapter.
Its first event was a Women’s Introduction to Fly Tying class. The class was held on Sept. 7 at the headquarters of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Area (LHVA) in Scranton. Professional instructors from Lackawanna Valley Trout Unlimited, Jake Bliss, current chapter president, and Mike Kashuba, board member, taught the free step-by-step fly-tying class which provided lunch and supplies.
“Women are great at tying flies. They tend to be better at it and put more finesse into their flies,” Commissioner Charlesworth said. He shared that the first fly ever made was tied by a woman. In the 15th century a nun named Julianna Berners was living in an English convent. She fished and noticed that the trout were rising to get the insects on the surface. She tied yarn to a hook and it worked. She also created the first weighted fly when she took lead and wrapped it onto a hook.
Flies cost money, and anglers who tie their own not only save cost, but find they enjoy the process and the pride that comes with making something themselves. Bliss said having an expensive rod and fishing gear isn’t necessary to start.
“Gear does not make the fisherman,” he said. “Fishing makes the fisherman.”
The first fly that Charlesworth crafted years ago, she now has fastened to the brim of her hat.
“I have a photo of that tie in a fish’s mouth,” she said. “I fell in love with it. Tying is an art.”
Using special thread and materials, women who attended the fly-tying class, used tools and materials provided to make a San Juan worm, caddis fly and bead head pheasant tail.
Clarks Summit resident Maureen Kresge, a beginner, said “It makes sense to make them yourself. And the fish don’t care – they don’t care what they look like. They just want a bug to eat,” she said laughing. “The class was cool, I would do it again. I’ve never fly fished. I want to try it.”
Kresge is the wife of Jamie Kresge, who is an avid fisherman and member of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited.
“He goes fishing all the time, and I don’t want to be a fishing widow anymore,” she said. “So that’s what got me interested. I’m willing to try it. It’s like anything else, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.”
The group welcomes beginners and has programs in place to help anyone who is interested get started.
Although some who attended the fly-tying class were experienced anglers who travel for fishing trips, they stressed that you don’t have to leave northeastern Pennsylvania to find opportunities for great fishing. The beauty of the region, the abundance of fish in streams and rivers makes Pennsylvania a prime spot for quality fly fishing.
“When you are out there fly fishing, and you see the beauty of nature, it makes you want to make sure it stays that way,” Charlesworth said. “We have to protect our environment.”
Trout Unlimited does its part in conserving streams and rivers, cultivating the fish and creating a healthy environment for them to live in.
“We all are busy, but we need a way to relax. Casting is an art form. I think fly fishing is very therapeutic, almost like yoga,” Charlesworth said.
She shared that a women’s retreat on the Delaware River is being planned in the near future.
“It’s nice to have time alone with just us ladies. It’s relaxing when we feel free to do our own thing. We socialize while we fish. It’s so much fun.”
If you love the outdoors and need moments away from the busyness of every-day life, try fly fishing, Charlesworth urges. Stand in NEPA’s streams and rivers and see hidden places of natural beauty.
The Pennsylvania Women and Diversity Initiative has more events planned, including a women’s retreat and a Women’s Fly Fishing Film Tour. For more information, visit NEPA Fly Girls on Facebook.
Visit Trout Unlimited’s Lackawanna Valley Chapter at lackawannavalleytu.com for information on programs for youth and veterans, fishing excursions, classes and conservation efforts.