Monday, May 4, 2015

Real Women of Fishing: Sara Dodd

Not just another pretty face among women featured in outdoor magazines, Sara Dodd has an authentic passion for hunting and fishing, which begs the question: What is the proper term for a woman that's an experienced, successful and true outdoorsman?
No bad days for Sara Dodd
Sara with a blacktail taken this past fall
Photo by Marty Theurer
If you've paid attention to this publication recently, you've noticed there's been a lot of energy put into highlighting women with an authentic love for the Outdoors. While many outdoor magazines feature advertisements of scantily clad women in heels promoting guns and gear, there are women outside that spotlight who are opening camo compacs and putting on seafoam green waders, proving that they can be as capable as any man, without handing in their "woman card."

Sara Dodd not only fits the mold for the "Real Women of Fishing" feature as a legitimate angler, she sets a standard. A native of southern Oregon, she grew up fishing the Rogue, but these days you'll be more likely to find her fishing Tillamook waters. If you've seen her out with her fishing buddy Kristin Bishop, they're probably decked out in goofy costumes fishing out of guide David Johnson's boat.

I was fortunate enough to have her and her father Larry introduce me to the Wilson River earlier this March. With the water barely at a trickle, she launched a Northwest Boats drifter and rowed us two hefty men through some very skinny water. As we approached the first the first pinch point, she made it politely clear to her father that he needed to sit down, and that I needed to shift my weight to the right. Larry answered, "Yes dear," and took a seat while I followed the captain's orders. She then proceeded to tell me how she borrowed the boat from a fellow CCA member, Marty Theurer, who rescued it from sitting in an old farmer's barn. I got a history lesson behind Northwest Boats being bought out by Clackacraft twenty years ago while she rowed us downstream, avoiding her fair share of obstacles with ease.

Sara Dodd & Kristin Bishop modeling their outdoor look.
Ugly sweaters and Fall Chinook.
While she exhibited confidence on the oars, we didn't have high expectations for the day. We were one of only three boats on the entire stretch, one of which was a well-known local guide "Big Dave," owner of the Wilson River Lodge. The water was so low and clear that the chances of us hooking anything in the few puddles we could drift over seemed bleak. I was floating 8mm beads, trying to present something subtle to spooky fish. Sara was chucking a bead nearly twice the size of mine. Her father landed a trophy sized cutthroat on a spoon, but most of the holes seemed to be holding nothing more than a few very late fall salmon swimming around. We stopped the boat to get out and fish a hole on the opposite side of an island we drifted past. Just as I made sense of her presentation and switched to something closer to a chinook egg sized bead, she hooked up on a nice, coastal chrome hatchery buck. While I was scurrying around holding a net, she brought the fish into slackwater to beach it. Just about the time she had it's head flopping in the gravel, I went to reach for it's tail and tripped on the basket of the net. The fish freaked out, broke the line and I stumbled clumsily up the bank trying to swat at it in one last futile attempt to get between her trophy shot in a magazine and that fish's freedom. I could make up a story about how it was a wild fish and we were being good river stewards caring more about the fish than getting pictures, but I've told that fib so many times nobody believes it anymore.

Ryan Beck exhibiting proper netting techniques on a steelhead Sara hooked this earlier winter.
Photo by Kirby Cannon 
Patience paid off with a productive day of catch and release
fishing for wild steelhead in the Siletz gorge.
Photo by Author
"Slimy, scaly, stinky, louse-ridden, beady-eyed sons-a-bitches!" her father exclaimed. I won't repeat what Sara said because she's a lady. Let's just say I took a walk to give her a moment to herself while I stood in a corner and thought about the sloppiest landing job I've ever done. She seemed to get over it pretty quickly, but that was the only steelhead we touched all day and I kept replaying the moment over and over in my head until it haunted my dreams.

I wanted to set up another trip for us to stomp the banks on some water where we were both familiar. Unfortunately, her busy schedule and the oncoming spring salmon season competed with our mulligan, but she made time to fish one afternoon a week later. She managed to spot a few fish that weren't interested in biting. Again, it was a low water situation late in the season, so fresh chrome winters were few and far between. While she has a long successful history as an avid hunter and angler, I grew frustrated with failing to bring her a fish to the bank to make up for my faux pas on the Wilson. I got grumpy, and started
Sara put a couple red stripes in her hair the night before and a few
red stripes on the bank the next day. 
complaining and making excuses. Sara, running on very little sleep already, had to leave the river early to get back to work. Even though we both had little to show for our combined knowledge, skills and experience, she exhibited the one quality that is a priority for fishing: patience. That would pay off on our next adventure.

A trip up into the Siletz gorge in late March finally provided us with some fruits for our labor towards the ending of winter steelhead season. Some rain events earlier in the week had given the water some color, and I was floating a larger bead in the morning. The water started to clear, and about the time I went to downsize, Sara, one step ahead of me, was hooked up. Then she hooked another, and another, and another. In just a couple hours we hooked a half dozen late march wild steelhead with beautiful spawning patterns. She hooked 5 out of the same hole. I spent most of that morning throwing my gear up the bank and scrambling to land her fish.

Our experience fishing together serves as a good example for any women (or men for that matter) aspiring to be a successful steelhead angler. Not because we were consistently successful, but because she was determined to overcome adversity.
One of several spawning bruisers Sara hooked that day
Photo by Author

In a modern culture of instant gratification, patience is required to enjoy fishing. Fishing and hunting are not sports where everyone gets a trophy. If you don't enjoy putting in the work as much as the reward that comes from it, then it isn't for you. Sara says she is drawn as much by the anticipation of a bite as she is the adrenaline of the fight. "Fishing is my therapy. I think about nothing. It's calming," she says. Sara has mastered the zen and art of enjoying being on the water. Sometimes, going the extra mile to create a few smiles along the way.

Playing dress up and having fun
comes naturally for this kid at heart.

Sponsors and pro-staff gigs aren't the motive behind the interesting wardrobe selections. In the words of Cyndi Lauper, "Girls just want to have fun!" When asked about her reasons behind the goofy costumes, she says "Growing up, fishermen have always been serious and competitive about the sport." Far too often, I've found myself frowning at googans and snaggers ruining my trip. Those days I'd give anything to replace them all with a shameless comedian. That's the fishing buddy she aims to be to those she shares the water with. Sara's positive attitude, patience and pleasant company makes it quite clear why she's fished with some of the top guides and anglers in the Northwest. Who wouldn't want to fish with someone who doesn't have bad days?

This article was published in the May 2015 issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine
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