By Alix Soliman, Operations Manager
September 24, 2020
S tevie Parsons, like many women, did not grow up fishing. “In my family, the boys did the fishing and the hunting,” she said. Now, Stevie is an avid angler and conservation advocate. She has been volunteering with Northwest Steelheaders for seven years and is a past member of our Board of Directors.
It was well into adulthood that she developed an interest in the sport. She had just moved into a new house, and a neighbor asked if she fished. Stevie said no. In jest, her new neighbor responded that if she still didn’t fish after a number of years, they were going to have to “throw her back.” They laughed about it, and afterward, Stevie was left wondering, “Well, why don’t I fish?”
Her curiosity won her over, so she grabbed a few friends and went to a talk on salmon fishing at Dick’s Sporting Goods. The speaker was Bob Rees, former executive director for Northwest Steelheaders, a professional fishing guide of 30 years, and a conservation advocate. Stevie was thrilled by the talk and went to hear him speak again about a month later. Afterward, she asked him what equipment she should have to get started, and he gave her a precise list of what she would need.
“He was also kind enough to give me a bottle of his cured salmon eggs,” Stevie said. He told her that she would have to use them within about two weeks. “So at that point, I thought, ‘okay, I'm going to do this.’ I had gone online, I looked at what was on YouTube, I bought several books on fishing for salmon, and I thought it was going to be a super easy thing.”
As she was gearing up to head to the Sandy River, she asked her husband to put the cooler in the car “because I’m going to be bringing home fish,” she said, optimistic as ever. He responded, “I don't want you to be disappointed if you don't catch a fish, because I think it's going to be much harder than you think.” Stevie was unphased. “I read the books. I have the equipment. I’ve got the magic salmon eggs. I’m going out there and I’m going to catch fish,” she said as she embarked on her solo journey, cooler in tow.
When she got down to the bank of the Sandy River, Stevie picked a spot that “looked like all the books said would be a good spot.” A few men were already there fishing, so she figured there must be salmon.
She set down her gear and began trying to fish. “I didn't even know how to cast! I was getting blowback from the wind. It was horrible, but I just kept trying. And the men began to laugh at me—really laugh at me—as I continued to try to cast,” Stevie recalled, the tension rising in her voice. “At one point, I remember, one of the guys was trying to be a smart*ss. He kind of made like he was falling down on the rocks, he was laughing so hard.”
“They laughed until suddenly, I had a bite! The guy who was laughing on the rocks—I saw his jaw drop!”
The fight was on. Stevie started reeling as fast as she could. “I remembered what Bob had said about keeping that line tight, so I kept it tight,” she said. “I kept reeling, and it was then that I realized I didn’t have a net! So I thought, ‘okay, I’m going to pull this fish up over the rocks.’” She backed up on the bank until there it was, her first fish, a hatchery Chinook salmon flopping on the riverbank. She took her knife, bled it, and put it in the cooler.
“The guys are, at this point, looking at me like they don't know what to make of me,” Stevie laughed. “They're looking at me like, ‘how can this girl do that? She can't even cast and she caught a fish?’”
Stevie put more eggs at the end of her line and kept casting. Before long, she caught a second hatchery Chinook, bled it, and put it in the cooler. The men were still failing in their efforts. “They didn’t have a single bite. They were using salmon eggs too, but I was using Bob's special cure.”
She accomplished her mission and began packing up to go home. The men, finding that Stevie’s attempt at fishing wasn’t so funny after all, watched silently in contempt. Two more men arrived as she was getting organized, witnessed the tension, and offered to give Stevie a hand with her gear.
One of them said, “You know, it's really tough out here fishing,” Stevie remembered. “Clearly, based on how I was breaking down my rod and everything, they knew I was a newbie and they assumed I didn't catch anything and I was just going home,” she said. They were trying to be kind and offered to carry her cooler to the car. “I looked at them and smiled and said, ‘sure!’” she giggled. As they lifted the cooler, their eyes grew wide.
“Woah, what have you got in here?” they asked with disbelief.
“Open it,” Stevie beamed.
They were shocked to find the fruits of her labor, this first-time fisherwoman who must have struck the water with a line made of pure luck.
Stevie figured she’d have a bit more fun with it. When she returned home, she hung her head and looked glum. Her husband wrapped his arms around her and said, “I’m sorry, I told you it’s not going to be that easy.” She asked him to grab the cooler from the car. Shocked and delighted at what he found, he insisted that she have her picture taken in the garden with her first fish since no one had taken her picture down by the river. Hours had passed, so the Chinook was in pretty bad shape, but Stevie (still in her waders) held the fish and smiled with pride for the photo.
Stevie Parsons with her first fish
“I loved that day. All of the guys out there had a preconceived idea that because I was a woman, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be successful,” Stevie said. “It felt like another break in the ceiling for women. It didn't feel so much like it was a personal thing. It felt like, well, don't underestimate us.”
Stevie brought a fillet to the neighbor that first piqued her interest in fishing, and jokingly asked, “so do I get to stay?” Her neighbor gave her a resounding “YES!”
The next time Stevie wetted a line, she felt more confident. She remembered her net. Even though she was still struggling to teach herself how to cast, she carried herself differently. The men didn’t laugh at her anymore.
“I thought, ‘I can do this. I have done this. And I might not be successful every single time. But I have been successful before, so I know that I can be,’” Stevie said. “You take that feeling from fishing and you bring it to other things. It starts affecting everything you do. Fishing sort of cemented that feeling, that new confidence. When you forget that only you set your limitations, fishing reminds you of that.”
Stevie encourages anglers with kids to take their daughters out on the water alongside their sons. The insight that people stand to gain through fishing has no gender. “Fishing builds a love of nature. It builds an appreciation of your resources. It also gives you an appreciation for why you're taking a life,” Stevie said. “When you take a fish, you're taking a life. Something dies so that you can live, so it builds gratitude.”
As a Native Hawaiian, this understanding was ingrained in Stevie from a young age. Fishing, however, helped her put gratitude into practice. Not only does she quietly thank each fish she takes, she gives back to the resource through her activism.
Those that learn important lessons on the water—about life, death, and how human actions are woven into the fabric of our environment—take those lessons with them when they leave. “It doesn't only manifest in fishing, you start seeing life differently,” Stevie said. “That's why it's really important for fishing not to just be for fathers and sons, but for daughters and mothers and aunts and grandmothers, because that gratitude and that understanding of how everything is interconnected comes about through fishing.”
1.) Read everything you can about whatever species you choose to fish.
2.) Find mentors (hers were Bob Rees and Bill Kremers).
3.) Choose the water you want to fish and continue to fish it till you learn that water and where the fish hold in low, high, clear, and colored water.
4.) Attend free “how to” talks, whether in person or online (Youtube is your best friend).
5.) When you can afford it, pay for a competently guided trip. Going out with a great guide can correct your manner of fishing or how/when/where you fish can save you years or stumbling and learning on your own.