Fish for a Change, a nonprofit that offers international fly-fishing programs for students that carry out local initiatives, is holding its first “Gals’ Week.” Equipment provider Orvis has partnered with the group to offer one young woman a full scholarship to the program.
The all-female trip to Guanaja, Honduras is a way to attract more female participants to destination fly-fishing trips, said Christine Atkins, one of the women who spearheaded Orvis’s 50/50 initiative, an effort launched last year to promote gender parity in fly fishing.
In the Fish for a Change program, young women have a chance to fly fish while giving back to the local environment by spending time working on local community projects.
Olivia Merlino was the recipient of the Orvis scholarship. “She’s just amazing,” said Atkins. “What’s really cool is her desire to have an impact and take what she learns from this experience and bring it back and take it beyond herself. That’s the whole goal for this.”
Merlno, 22, lives in Oregon. She shared her fly-fishing experience in her application about living alone in a trailer on the Metolius River in central Oregon.
“Living alone in the woods has its moments of serenity, but I am human and get lonely now and again,” wrote Merlino in her application. “I invited my dad up to visit me for a few days. He noted that I was living right next to a fly-fisher’s paradise, so naturally I suggested he teach me how to fish.”
Those “glorious first days of fishing with her dad” led Merlino to seek out professional instruction so she could enjoy the recreation for the rest of her life.
“I emailed a woman by the name of Mary Ann Dozer,” wrote Merlino. “She is a professional guide and casting instructor in Oregon. I told her about myself, what I desired to learn and get out of instruction, and about how much I could afford to pay her as a student working three jobs to make ends meet. She was so generous and spent three days with me practicing casting, studying entomology, and fishing our local waters. After that I fished alone for the next two years.”
It was tough trying to learn through the internet and watching others, but Merlino did her best.
“Most women I meet who fly fish have been fishing since they were kids,” she wrote. “This trip would give me a chance to learn from those women, be inspired to keep expanding my skills as an angler and build a bigger fly-fishing community.”
Atkins said Orvis wanted to sponsor one female applicant like Merlino who couldn’t afford the experience.
Guanaja is one of the Bay Islands of Honduras and is part of the second-largest reef in the world. Guanaja has 15,000 residents in three different villages.
Even though the area has some of the best snorkeling, diving, fishing, kite-surfing, and sea-kayaking in the world, there are very few jobs. Fly Fish Guanaja helps to provide local jobs, working with a local a non-profit Mangrove Restoration Project.
In 1988, Hurricane Mitch destroyed many of Guanaja’s mangrove forests. The symbiotic relationship between the mangroves and the reef make it paramount to helping this forest grow back.
With students, volunteers, and fishing clients, Fly Fish Guanaja has planted over 300,000 mangrove shoots in the past nine years. The mangroves are already seeing re-growth.
Students experience the fishery and explore the ocean, and spend an afternoon with local fishermen, hunting and gathering from the ocean as the people of the islands have done for as long as they have been there.
Orvis’s other women-only trips include Women’s Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing Retreat in Lake George, Colo.; Glamping and fly fishing in the Great Smokey Mountains, and Paradise on the Fly Women’s Fly Fishing Trip in Ambergris Caye, Belize.