Montana native Kara Tripp is inspiring and empowering women to take up fly fishing and develop into self-sufficient anglers. She guides in Montana, runs camps and clinics, and owns Damsel Fly Fishing. Kara is one of a growing group of hardcore female anglers making big waves in the fly fishing community.
The Clymb: At what age were you introduced to fly fishing? How did you get hooked?
Kara Tripp: I recall a conversation with a couple of boys in my second grade class about going fly fishing with their dads. I asked them what made fly fishing different. They explained that the line was thicker. At the time, all I had was a spinning rod, a couple panther martins, and a love for digging up worms. I remember thinking the thicker line would be easier to untangle. That conversation never left my mind, and in the summer going into eighth grade, those same boys invited me on a fly fishing trip on the North Fork of the Flathead River. I fished for 11 hours that day before I finally hooked my first fish on the fly! I’ve been hooked ever since…
The Clymb: Was fishing and the outdoors a big part of your life growing up?
Kara Tripp: I didn’t grow up in a fly fishing household. My family was big on farm life, camping, whitewater rafting, and hunting. I haven’t done much in the way of hunting since picking up a fly rod. I would like to pick up archery, but it conflicts with steelhead season.
The Clymb: Did you always want to pursue a career in the outdoor industry? What was the turning point that drove you into fly fishing full-time?
Kara Tripp: The idea that I could make fly fishing a career came to me just after graduating from Montana State University. I realized my passion for fly fishing wasn’t going away. I wish I had followed my heart then, but it felt like such a crazy choice when I had this graphic design degree I thought I should put to use. Looking back, I wasted a lot of time not listening to my heart. I would be further along if I had just accepted my fate.
The turning point came with the downturn of the nation’s economy around 2008. I had been let go from my snazzy production artist job at a corporate printing company and joined the rest of America in the unemployment line. I took a job as the night manager at my family’s convenience store: schlepping Old English and Marlboro Reds was just the kick in the ass I needed to get motivated and follow my heart.
The downturn of our economy also coincided with the trend of women looking to pursue the sport of fly fishing. My quest to find work lead me to The Fly Shop in Redding, CA, in hopes I could become a camp counselor at their highly acclaimed FishCamp program. I sent in my resume the winter of 2008 and by the summer of 2009 I had my first job in the industry. The year I showed up to FishCamp they had more little girls and women attending camp than any other year, and they needed someone young, personable, energetic, and willing to eat, sleep and breathe fly fishing non-stop for seven straight weeks. I fit the bill perfectly.
The Clymb: You were fishing and working in the industry well before the recent popularity growth with women…. What was your early experience as a female angler and what has changed?
Kara Tripp: A lot has changed over the years. When I first started fly fishing, I didn’t have any female friends that enjoyed fishing or anyone remotely interested in fly fishing and there wasn’t a single piece of gear designed or marketed to women besides hot pink tackle boxes. In the last 10 years, we now have waders, boots and jackets, all specifically designed for women, and through the powers of social media, it’s easier than ever to find another like-minded female to fish with!
The Clymb: Who are your biggest influences in fly fishing?
Kara Tripp: I have a list of names a mile long of people who have influenced, coached, mentored, inspired, motivated and encouraged me to keep pursuing my passion. Every year the list grows longer. If I start naming them all off I’ll sound like a name dropper and I would feel terrible if I forgot someone. It takes a village to raise an angler. Those who have helped me along the way know who they are, including the Clymb! To all who have helped me get to where I’m going I’m eternally grateful.
The Clymb: What inspired you to launch Damsel Fly Fishing?
Kara Tripp: A disappointing purchasing experience for a pair of wading boots, and the passing of my mother. The wading boots were the catalyst for me to start thinking about designing women’s fly fishing accessories. In 2007, I bought the domain name www.damselflyfishing.com with the idea that someday I would start building my dream. It wasn’t until the death of our mother in September of 2014 that my sister and I decided to start building Damsel Fly Fishing.
The Clymb: Tell us about the product line and services. What are you trying to accomplish with the brand?
Kara Tripp: Damsel Fly Fishing was started in 2015. With my sister as my business partner, we started to breathe life into what was once only a dream. I wanted to start making the designs that I would often think up while swinging runs for steelhead or casting to fickle trout. I also work for and with outfitters to create fishing workshops that are geared toward women, to help build a community of educated and self-sufficient anglers. All those years of failing, and then learning from the experience, is now being passed forward to women looking to enjoy the sport.
The guiding and teaching is the service that helps empower and create self-sufficient and well-educated anglers. The product line is what they purchase to help show the world they love fishing and that they’re part of this growing lifestyle. We focus on accessories rather than technical gear (waders, boots and wading jackets). Women love to accessorize, mix and match, and look unique. Currently our line up of products is simple: colorful wading belts that coordinate with our snoods and a gorgeous travel bag with matching rod case. Since our company is small we are able to change out our designs and keep it fresh.
The Clymb: Can you share one of your favorite fishing experiences?
Kara Tripp: My first North Umpqua steelhead—there were so many firsts on that trip! It was a summer steelhead, the second weekend in July. Fish are present in the system but numbers are low. We didn’t care; the place is magical, it’s a blessing to just be in the presence of the river and to be in that space. It was an all-girls trip and my friend Allison’s first trip to the North Umpqua.
We spotted fish surfing the current in front of the ledges of lava bedrock from the vantage point of the famous Mott Bridge on our first evening. By 6:30 the next morning, I was coming tight to my first North Umpqua wild steelhead. I caught it on a special fly my friends had gifted to me for my 30th birthday the previous summer. Upon receiving the fly, I called out its destiny. I told my friend Whitney and Mike that their gift was going to be the fly that I catch my first North Umpqua steelhead on, and I did, almost a year later. I was fishing the last run to have shade on it before noon, fishing the tailout, standing on a slippery ledge. I bombed a beautiful cast with a spey rod and caught my second steelhead, but my first on a skated dry. The experience was so insane, I actually blacked out for a moment and woke up to one hell of a fight!