Joan Wulff has been waiting all of her life, a few weeks short of 72 years, for this day - a time when people actually listen when she touts the art of casting and when women, too, can fly fish.
It wasn't that way when she first picked up a fly rod at the age of 10. Or when she routinely out-cast men on the professional circuit in the 1940s and '50s. It wasn't that way when she wrote the first of three books on fly fishing, or set her first fly-casting distance record, or when she met her husband-to-be, Lee Wulff, creator of one of the most famous flies used today, the Royal Wulff, on an otherwise all-male fishing trip."I've been waiting all of my life for women to come into the sport. This year I saw it happen. I had more women than men in my (fly fishing) school. It was exciting because the women were confident, aggressive, and eager to learn. And in some cases it was the women who brought along men to the school," she said as she sat in the Royal Wulff Products booth at the Fly-Fishing Retailers show currently going on in the Salt Palace.
Wulff said she learned to cast a fly, when other women were giving up the sport, because she had a knack for it. It was fun and she was good. She went on to win casting titles at state, then national and eventually at international levels.
It wasn't easy, though. In 1950, competing against an all-male field, she won first place with a long cast of 131 feet.
"The next year they changed the rules. They went with a heavier lead-core line. I just didn't have the strength to compete. That was the problem women faced, the rods were too heavy and the grips too large. Women would cast for a half day and their arms would become sore and they would give up. That's why, in doing research for my books, I found the names of only 10 women mentioned in more than 500 years of history," she said.
In 1960, she set an unofficial record for women, only because she was the only woman entered, for distances casting of 161 feet. The winner, a male, threw for 180 feet.
She eventually went on to help remold the sport of fly fishing for both men and women. Her first book, "Joan Wulff's Fly Casting Techniques," was the first attempt to technically break down a fly cast.
"It involved placing names on parts of the cast where there had been no names. I thought the world would be thrilled. It wasn't. Everyone wanted to invent their own names. That's OK. It was a start," she said with a smile.
Later, after years of trying to get manufacturers to make equipment designed for women, she succeeded. Rodmakers now make lighter fly rods with smaller handles, and at her urging, a groove in the handle for the thumb. What eventually happened, she added, was that men began asking for a groove in the handle.
Casting, too, has taken a turn toward acceptance. In the past, little importance was placed with the cast or the accuracy of the cast. Key compenents of fly fishing involved presentation and reading the stream.
"I told them casting was important. Even if you don't know where the fish are, if you can cast you can put a fly all over the water until you find the fish. Now they believe me," she said.
And they do. She is, today, the most sought-after speaker on fly fishing. She writes fly fishing columns, appears in videos and made-for-TV fishing shows. It is, she said, a schedule she's cutting back on. "I'm getting too old for this. But I don't want to miss passing on what I've learned. I've got to start slowing down. I have too many jobs," she concluded.
Her company is one of 258 exhibitors presenting fly-fishing equipment to buyer only at the Fly-Fishing Retailers show.
This is, says Jeff Blumenfeld, a spokesman for the event, the largest trade show of its kind in the country.
It is not without Utah representation. There are 19 companies offering a full range of fly-fishing items to national and international buyers.
Matt Wray of BW Sports is introducing the float-tubers delight - Float Power. It is a trailer for a float tube that carries a battery and small electric engine. A trolling motor, if you choose. Instead of flippers and strong kicks, and a prayer for no wind, a tuber can cruise between fishing spots.
He is also introducing a number of fly-fishermen's accessories, like a rugged, easy to carry wet/dry bag, aptly called "Bagit Wet," for handy carrying of wet waders and a dry fishing vest. And, a "Chest Vest," which is a handy chest-high pack holding an assortment of flies on a stable, fold-down fly box.
American Classic, says Lee Farber, produced handguns for Browning Arms. Adapting precision engineering from guns to reels, it now offers a 7/9 weight anti-reverse fly reel for much less than competitor's anti-reverse reels. Anti-reverse means that the spool spins with the strike of a big fish and not the handle. Bottom line: more fish released by the fisherman than because of angler mistakes.
The company, located in Salt Lake City, also offers a line of high-quality fly rods.
Tom Nokes of Troutsmen Enterprises, who started with a dry-fly dressing, has expanded to where he now offers more than 2,500 fly fishing items, ranging from fly boxes to everything from yellow feathers to red thread used in tying flies.
The fly-tying show is one of three that will be put on in the Salt Palace this year by Miller Freeman. Last month, it held the Outdoor Retail show, which drew more than 14,000 buyers and nearly 800 exhibitors to Salt Lake City. This winter it will hold the Winter Retail show for skiing, snowboarding and winter recreation.
The shows are only open to retail buyers. But, what fishing shop owners buy at this show, fishermen will soon find waiting for them on the shelves.