“Girls, certainly girls of my generation, didn’t fish,” she says.
But a move to Alaska in 1969 with her then-husband and young son changed things. Husband and son took a fly fishing class together, which Kleinkauf had to skip because she was teaching at the University of Alaska at night. Her husband didn’t become a serious fly fisherman, but her son did.
“My son just took to it like a duck to water,” she says, and Kleinkauf was intrigued. Her first forays took place on the Russian River. “I decided that I really wanted to learn to fly fish. Pretty soon, women would start asking me to take them out or teach them to fish,” she says.
Women, she found, often didn’t feel comfortable– or have fun – learning to fly fish from men.
“A lot of women would say, ‘Oh, my husband tried to teach me but that didn’t work out so well.”
So she started her guiding business – expressly for women. These days, she spends at least 90 days a year on the river, guiding small trips to Argentina’s Chimehuin River, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and all over Alaska. She’s fished in Sweden, Ireland and everywhere from Kotzebue to Kodiak in Alaska. Her next dream trip? Chasing down Arctic grayling in Mongolia. Over the years she’s taught hundreds – maybe more than 1,000 – women to fly fish, and has authored three books about fishing: “Fly-fishing for Alaska’s Grayling: Sailfish of the North,” “River Girls,” about teenage girls getting into the sport, and “Fly Fishing Women Explore Alaska.”
Breaking into the male-dominated guiding world had its challenges, especially when she started out a quarter-century ago, but she’s always relied, she says, on a trusted group of boat captains, pilots and lodges. Some of her favorites include the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova and a small, locally-run fish camp near Nome, where her clients stay with a local Alaska Native family.
These days, more women are taking up fly-fishing, Kleinkauf says. One in four fly-fishers is a woman, according to a recent Outdoor Foundation study. She expects that percentage to increase.
Behold, for instance, the way a day of fly-fishing works a quiet magic on women who’ve never met before. It happens on almost every trip, she says.
“They laugh, they drink wine,” she says. “You’d think they all went to high school together.”
One of her favorite parts of guiding and teaching, she says, is watching women find, along with fish, confidence at the end of their fishing rod. Watching the milestones motivates her.
“Seeing them get their first fish on a fly rod, their first salmon, first grayling on a fly rod,” she says. “That’s what I love.”
For more information on Pudge Kleinkauf and women’s fly fishing in Alaska:
Women’s Flyfishing www.womensflyfishing.net