Fly fishing in the United States is set to make history and two Centre County residents are in line to be part of that moment.
Ashley Wilmont, of State College, and Tess Weigand, of Coburn, were recently announced as two of six members of the U.S. Women’s Fly Fishing National Team – headquartered in State College – which is set to compete in July of 2022 at the first World Ladies Fly Fishing Championship.
For both of them, it’s just latest step in a long journey that saw them in all the ponds, streams and rivers they could find. In Wilmont’s case, it was a love at first sight early in life. For Weigand, a hobby turned passion thanks in part to a few classes in college just miles from Spring Creek and some of the best fly fishing in the country.
“It was pond fishing when I was very little, catching bluegills,” Wilmont said, looking back to when it all began. “It’s just evolved into what I’m doing now.”
Of course while the feat of being one of the best anglers in the world is no small accomplishment, there is more for the duo and their teammates to be proud of. They are a first, and as women in a sport that has been dominated by men, have a chance to show girls and women of all ages that getting out on the water and losing yourself in the sport is something they can do, too.
“It’s very important,” Wilmont said. “Especially having a women’s team. I’ve been thinking about competing for a lot of years before this, but it was just difficult to get started. I didn’t know who to go to, who to talk to, how to get into that group of competitive anglers.
“So when I realized that there was a women’s-specific team forming, it became much more approachable, the idea of competing. So I think, with us forming the U.S. women’s fly fishing team, it’ll show other women and young women that they can absolutely do this. And they can excel, just as well as the man if not better.”
As for the competition itself, the event which was originally scheduled with the 26th annual European Fly Fishing Championship in July 2021 in Koppang, Norway and postponed due to COVID-19 does not currently have a location or date beyond July 2022.
All the same, the importance of the moment isn’t lost on either of them, even if the exact moment when the first line is cast, is still to be determined.
There is an irony of course in fishing as a team, because it is a sport and an endeavor so inwardly focused. Perhaps it can be social, but the flick of the wrist, the timing and the feel is all you. And in those moments, you are alone away from your team, fishing in the middle of a creek with the water rushing by your boots as you try to trick a fish into grabbing hold of your line.
“You’re just totally in the moment,” Weigand said. “And being mindful. And that’s what I think that really struck me. You know, you’re just totally enveloped in the moment and not really stressing about anything else. Any hobby or career that that allows you to do that, I think is really fun and healthy.”
“It allows me to be focused and clearly in the moment,” Wilmont added. “Also, it’s a very social sport, competitive fly fishing. So I really like interacting with my teammates, and finding out what worked for them on the stream versus what didn’t work. And then taking that information, and then together as a group growing and getting better from that.”
In the meanwhile, the two will continue to hone their craft, finding new ways to get that much better. And when the day finally comes in 2022, they’ll be ready.
The good news: Centre County boasts some of the best fishing grounds in the world.
“It’s incredible here,” Wilmont said. “I moved to this area and I’m planning to stay in this area for a long time if not the rest of my life because of the fishing. It’s incredible here.”