Braided: Weaving Women Together
As channels of a river weave between small islands of sediment, like interlacing strands of hair, a braid is formed. Geologically, the term braided refers to a river pattern caused by an increase in sediment load. To Kami Swingle, it represents the interlacing of experiences, tied together to form a shared narrative around the fly fishing supported by those waters.
Kami didn’t grow up around the water, nor with much exposure to the outdoors, but after getting introduced to fly fishing by her now-husband, she’s fallen in love with both. That’s why she uprooted from the urban jungle of Washington, D.C., and moved to Durango where she has now started the fly fishing community, Braided, with the help of her vice president, Katherine Sumrall Griego, to encourage women to come together around the traditionally male-dominated sport.
Braided is proceeded with three words, each helping to define the movement: wild, stronger, together. Kami explains wild as “Exploring wild places, especially those involving water and fly fishing.”
Strength comes from having “A place where women can come as they are (no matter if they are a novice or experienced angler) to encourage and challenge each other without pretense or competition; where personal connections, grace, and joy ultimately matter more.”
As for together?
“While this is a women-focused group, we welcome the men in our lives to join us in these pursuits and in this community,” Kami wrote. “We want a shared experience.”
The Birth of a Passion
Kami didn’t start fly fishing until she met Nick. She’d never even picked up a rod before.
“I’ll admit, I started fly fishing to impress a guy,” she says, in a short film by her husband: The Way It Began. “And it turns out, I fell for them both.”
Her favorite fishing memory isn’t of the one that got away, or the one that was this big, but rather of her first catch.
“I love the first fish I ever caught, just because I had never fished before and it was just this tiny little brook trout,” she said, during our interview. “I felt like it was this really big fish, it was probably six inches long, and I feel like it started me on a different path and different journey in my life.”
“I always look back on that picture of that fish and just smile and think about where I was then and where I am now and all the experiences I’ve had, just because I started fishing,” she said.
That first fish was in Virginia, but the Swingles found themselves with full-time jobs in Washington, D.C., where Nick did management consulting and Kami did contract work for the government and other organizations.
Kami had a hard time finding other women to go fly fishing with but discovered the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, which helped organize a community of local fly fishermen.
“I loved Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders because it gave Nick and I a community of friends that fished,” she said in a follow-up.
A couple of years later, after doing some work for the fly fishing company Orvis, Kami was asked to travel to Missoula, MT, to help brainstorm with 30 some other women about how to get more women involved in the sport.
The initiative that came out of that was dubbed “50/50 On the Water”, named-so to promote equality between the genders. To do this, the campaign tackles three goals: making it easier for women to participate, celebrating women’s connection to conservation, and showcasing the experience of real women fly-fishing.
When the Swingles eventually moved to Durango in March 2016, Kami found that Nick had no shortage of new friends to go fishing with. She, on the other hand, didn’t see many other women enjoying the sport.
“I said to myself, ‘if I really believe in 50/50 On the Water, then I need to do something about it. If I want to have more women friends that fish, I need to find a way to make all of this come together,” Kami said. “So what we kicked around, my husband and I, was the idea of me starting a women’s group.”
And so Braided came to be.
A Man's Sport
Fly fishing has been a traditionally male-dominant sport, with a lot of technical jargon and information to learn. Because of this, the equipment is designed for male body types, and it can be intimidating to start learning.
Looking back, Kami wishes she had a better avenue through which to learn fly fishing, other than through Nick whom she felt obligated to impress.
“If I had had a different place to learn from, it would have been a little easier. I was trying to impress Nick while I was learning,” she said. “I pretended, sometimes to know what he was talking about when, instead, I really had no clue and needed to be asking more questions.”
She hopes that having a women’s group, free from pretense, will give women the opportunity to learn from one another without fear of judgment or dismissal.
With movements like 50/50 in play, companies are working harder to produce women-specific equipment, like waders, boots and clothing. At the last big fly fishing trade show that Kami attended, she saw a lot of new lineups for women.
On top of this all, the sport can also be expensive, especially when setting up your first outfit.
Fortunately, Kami is seeing a lot of companies releasing inexpensive entry-level gear, which should help lower the cost barrier for entering the sport for everyone, not just women.
Sharing the Magic
There’s something innately magical about catching a fish from a stream, something Kami hopes to share with the members of Braided.
“There’s some unknown about it,” Kami said. “You don’t know whether the next cast is going to be a fish, whether that’s a big fish or a small fish--there’s always that excitement of ‘is this going to be the cast.’”
There’s also an element of intellectual trickery that Kami appreciates. No two streams are the same, and to catch a fish you need to understand things like what bugs are in season, where the fish go and what times they’re striking.
“It’s almost like you’re tricking the fish into eating your fly and, when that happens, it’s pretty satisfying,” she said.
The beauty of it all is a major piece to the puzzle.
“It really feels like you’re connecting to something wild, that you wouldn’t normally get to connect with,” she said.
Kami’s deep desire to share the experience of fishing translates into her personal catch-and-release policy.
“I feel like if I take that fish away, someone else won’t be able to experience that fish,” she said. “There’s something very beautiful about catching a fish and just watching it go back to its natural habitat.”
Through Braided, Kami is helping to organize women in and around Durango (though she hopes that Braided can exist outside of geographical boundaries) and provide opportunities to learn from one another, organize trips and help promote stewardship. Interest has been high.
Her first event had over 25 women show up, with more women reaching out to say they wished they could attend. By the second event, a film night featuring women anglers, the head count jumped to around 70, both men and women.
There was a well-attended casting clinic, with 60 or so attendees, this past Tuesday, July 18, and on Saturday, July 22, Braided will work with Duranglers to host a fly fishing 101 class.
“This is anything from how do you you string up a fly rod, what’s the difference between a fly line and the leader, what are the top five flies that you could buy and successfully catch fish with,” kami said. “So it’s all the really basic stuff and terminology that you need to know.”
More fly fishing company presentations are in the works and an upcoming etymology event, presented by Trout Unlimited, will explain the life cycle of bugs and what to look for on the river to help pick the right fly.
In the fall, Braided will be doing some river cleanup and tree planting alongside Trout Unlimited and learn about the importance of conservation and what it means for our future. Early next year, Kami hopes to host a women's-only trip to Mexico to do some saltwater fishing. Some local excursions are also in the works for the future.
From the Braided website, Kami writes:
“I started this group to form a community for exploring wild places, especially those involving water and fly fishing. This group is meant to be a place where women can come as they are – no matter if they are a novice or experienced angler. And while this is a women-focused group, we welcome the men in our lives to join us in these pursuits and in this community. We want a shared experience. We want a community that encourages and challenges its members without pretense or competition; where personal connections, grace, and joy ultimately matter more.”