Casting out: A new group is trying to diversify fly fishing in Maine
On a sunny June morning, fishing guide Jared Ouellette walks into an eddy on the Wild River, reaches down under the cold water, and pulls up a round rock.
“So there’s a really tiny mayfly nymph on this guy, writhing around in the water there," he says.
He’s revealing one of the many tricks he's picked up through years of fly fishing — flipping rocks.
“Flipping rocks is kind of like a good way to start when you get to a new stretch of water," Ouellette says. "Trout mainly feed on insects, and a lot of those are nymphal stages of mayflies, caddisflies or stoneflies. And they kind of just hang out and cling to the bottom of rocks. So it’s a really good way to get a feel for what sort of insect life is in the river.”
It’s a classic scene on a western Maine river: an experienced guide sharing the secrets and magic of fly fishing.
But this gathering is anything but typical. The participants have signed up for a special weekend called Outcast Campout, put on by a new organization, the Confluence Collective. Although Maine is known for its diverse fly fishing opportunities, anglers themselves are not so diverse. And the collective aims to change that.
Zsakee Lewis says the organization is helping to diversify the sport of fly fishing – for women, people who are LGBTQ, and people of color like her.
“You open up a magazine or you go online, or you’re looking for gear, and the person fly fishing isn’t going to look like me, right?" Lewis says. "And so, to the layperson, that might give you the impression that this isn’t something that is accessible to me, but it is."
Lewis is from Staten Island, and this is her second Confluence Collective retreat. Many of the participants are new to fly fishing. Others, more experienced. Lauren Murdock has been fly fishing for years. But she says this weekend feels different.
“I actually, have never fished with anyone but men before," Murdock says, "so this is a really awesome experience.”
As Lewis and Murdock cast for trout on the Wild River, another group of anglers heads to the Magalloway River in far northwestern Maine, where native brook trout and landlocked salmon are rising, eating flies from the surface of the water. The fish are picky, but by lunchtime, everyone in the group had caught a fish.
Confluence Collective founder Bri Dostie says this is what it’s all about — bringing rivers, fish and people together. Dostie says she started fly fishing at the age of 15.
“I’ve found some of my most beautiful relationships in my life on the water, it’s fueled my creative practice, it has brought me together with people that will be part of my life forever, and I found myself out here in ways that I couldn’t possibly imagine outside of being in nature," Dostie says.
She says her goal, when she started the collective in 2019, was to share the experience with people who otherwise might feel left out.
Outcast Campout isn’t just about fly fishing. There’s also fly tying, good food, and campfires. But in the end, it’s not about those either, says Zsakee Lewis.
“Catching a fish is great. Tying flies is great. But just enjoying the environment is something that we have access to as fly fishers that no one else does," Lewis says. "I find a lot of calm and peace and enjoyment in nature, and this is just another way for me to access that.”
A video of this story was also produced for the Maine Public series Borealis. It can be viewed here.