Q&A with Erica Nelson’s Original Fishing Guide

Erica Nelson has used social media to teach herself how to fish as an adult — YouTube tutorials, tips from Tinder matches, direct messages to her Instagram account. I learned quickly. Today, Nelson is the only Indigenous Fishing Guide in Colorado, and has a huge impact on and off the water. Six years after she tied her first fly, Navajo Fisherman is a Brown Folks fishing ambassador, Orvis-certified fly fishing guide, and host of two podcasts dedicated to the sport. Despite all her successes, Nelson says she still considers herself a “weird hunter,” which is the name of her Instagram and the name of one of her audio files. We recently sat down with Nelson to talk about everything from her favorite fishing meal to improving racial and gender representation in the outdoor industry. That’s what she had to say.

I use the phrase “embarrassed hunter” for two reasons. First, it has to do with my observations about the under-representation in fly fishing. It’s embarrassing to ask. Nobody wants to talk about it, right? It is uncomfortable. I think it will always be uncomfortable. And I think that’s where we want to be.

Second, I still find trees. I still think I caught a fish when it really is a branch. Fly fishing becomes awkward. I teach people to remember that and be patient.

As a kid, I hated being outside. I was more than a kid inside. I didn’t like the hot weather. I hated sweating. I still kind of hate the sun. But I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of being abroad regardless.

At first, learning to fish was frustrating. I wasn’t sure if I was doing anything right. I started watching hunting videos on YouTube. But I lived in Wyoming, where cell phone service is limited. Anytime I was trying to watch a video when I was on the water it wouldn’t load and I had forgotten what I was supposed to do. I have to go home, study the video, and then try to repeat it on the water next time. Not working. So I actually used a dating app to ask people questions about casting, flies, or where to go. I started meeting some local guides online and eventually found a guide in the area.

The first time you throw a fly rod correctly, it becomes meditation. When you land on your first fish, it all comes together and makes sense.

Nelson catches trout on the Taylor River. Katie Money

I became a fly fishing guide last year. I’ve always said that I’ve never wanted to be a fishing guide, but that there is a need for representation when it comes to not just guides, but Aboriginal guides. You don’t see a lot of local guides in the great outdoors in general, let alone fly fishing. I felt a sense of responsibility to be that representation.

There is a lot of talk in the industry but not a lot of action. I realize that things are not going to change overnight, and I see a lot of conversations happening. I see a lot of programs out there to fill that gap for people historically excluded from being in the offshore industry. But I wonder who is leading those efforts. There has to be a deeper conversation than just throwing people into a program or throwing them into the industry in potentially harmful or toxic environments. How do we support and promote different ideas? How do we make sure their voices are heard and their experiences verified? This is the kind of community I want to see in the end.

As a guide, contacting your customer is important. The questions you ask them and the words you use are part of building an overall boat for the day. Does this person feel safe, appreciated, and welcomed? It’s a really important question that we don’t think about a lot because it’s often related to fishing.

There is something inherited about being able to connect with a living and breathe fishAnd the Then he thanks and lets him go. It’s almost the height of the privilege to be able to catch and release a fish.

I’m the co-founder of Real Consulting, which stands for Reconciliation, Evolution, Progress and Leadership. We help guide organizations and individuals toward racial equality and inclusion. My partner and I noticed back when we were working together as kayaking guides in Wyoming that there are people in the outdoor industry who want diversity but don’t know how to make it happen. In 2019, we co-created Angling for All Pledge. Organizations and brands signed it up to say, “We want to be more inclusive, we want diversity, but we don’t know where to start.” As advisors, we provide education and training to guide organizations through that conversation. becomes awkward.

A woman throws a flying rod of rocks into a small stream
Nelson is currently the only Indigenous guide who catches Indigenous flies in the Centennial State. Ryan Duclos

It’s okay to get cheap when you get started. I don’t think people need the latest and greatest equipment. When I first started, I received an old penis. I was probably wearing shorts and shakos with a tin can of flies and nail clippers. I can put everything in my pocket. Fly fishing can be as expensive and technical as you like. But it can also be really easy and cheap.

I’m obsessed with Green River in Wyoming where I learned how to fish. There is a season when grasshoppers go wild. You throw these big foamy grasshoppers and watch these fish come for them. They become very aggressive. It’s really fun to watch.

The most embarrassing moment for me? There is a lot. Once, she thought someone was a client and gave him a big hug. But it wasn’t them, it was the person behind them.

I always say the best snack when you’re on the river is fried chicken.

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