Local fly fishing legends of the past & future

Each week we will share an interview with a local fly fisherman that has done many things for the sport.


This week we highlight Mary Alton. Outdoor enthusiast, Fly fisher, and long time Trout Unlimited member.


TU640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?


Mary: My earliest memory of going fishing occurred when I was quite small. We lived on a farm and there was an old man, Mr. Morton, who would occasionally walk about 3 miles to fish in the creek that ran thru the farm. He was kind enough to let a young kid tag along. I would sit on the bank and help him fish. It was a small creek. We (he really) would catch a few cat fish, a sun fish and maybe a small bass or two. I enjoyed the walk to the creek and whatever critters we turned up.


TU640: What fish is your favorite to fish for?


Mary: Trout, trout or trout!


TU640: At what age were you introduced to fly fishing? How did you get hooked?


Mary: I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first started helping Mr. Morton fish. I didn’t own any gear and no one on the farm fished so he let me pull in a fish or two with his rig. I didn't own any fishing gear until I was an adult and started fly fishing when some good friends suggested we all go. They fly fished and we used a guide to go down the Holston. That first trip hooked me. How beautiful and such fun. Mike Bone was our guide and did a good job of getting us on fish with a small bead head. I even hooked up a carp by accident while he fixed our lunch. A belated 'thank you' to Mike. We kept fishing with our friends after the Holston fly trip. We did some other local rivers. The Caney was fun and we tried fishing for spot tail bass in the ocean flats.


TU640: Was fishing and the outdoors a big part of your life growing up?


Mary: Outdoors was a big part of my life, but not fishing. None of the adults fished and aside from our creek there was only farm ponds with cows and pigs which did not provide good habitat for fish, but I loved being outside. We often built dams in the creek and brought home tadpoles, water newts, and other creatures to put in a small cement pond we built at the house. Most were lucky enough to escape!


TU640: Who are your biggest influences in fly fishing and conservation?


Mary: Really my influences and first helpers on the Hiwassee were Don Denney and Dean Tullock, who was very encouraging when he ran the Reliance fly shop, where Flip Flop Burgers now sits. Both were kind to help me solve problems and offer suggestions. Of course Trout Unlimited on the conservation side, many conservation minded people there.


TU640: What's one thing every fly fisherman should know?


Mary: What to do when you fall in! Don Denney’s book Stay Vertical has some pointers.


TU640: What does the Orvis 50/50 On the Water initiative mean to you?


Mary: Its important to interest as many people in conservation through the outdoors and fishing as possible. We need everyone to feel connected to the outdoors and protective of our resources. The outreach to women will help with that and bring new ideas and energy to the club.


TU640: What obstacles prevent women from getting into fly fishing?


Mary: I think some women believe its hard, complicated, expensive and they don't know anyone who fishes, so they don't really know where to start. I remember taking a 1 day Orvis class after our trip down the Holston so that I could get going with a decent cast and basic gear. I'm not sure now who offered it, but it was in Knoxville and we practiced casting at a pond. It was a good informative day.

One of the things that I love about our TU 640 chapter is the effort the members put into teaching everyone enough to make a cast and possibly catch a fish. Having a trip of the month is my favorite addition, particularly for women who may not have anyone else to fish with and don't know where to go. It's been helpful to me to try out new spots and techniques.


TU640: Why is Fly Fishing a great sport for women? What are your thoughts on the industries response to the growth of women in fly fishing?


Mary: I feel fly fishing is a great sport for anyone because it gets you outside, learning something new and spending time in beautiful, peaceful places. I drop all the problems of the day when I set foot in the river and just focus on a fish, a cast, a bird, a pesky otter, or waving grasses in clear water. It a "Zen" place! Additionally, I've learned more about the associated plant, bug, water life while enjoying new friends that I've met in connection with fly fishing. I particularly like that the TU members really care about the water and environment and work to help it improve.


TU640: How do we continue the growth of women in the sport and keep them coming back?


Mary: Well, buy the TU car tag and wear the tee shirt! I have had several women see the emblem and ask about fly fishing. Let others in on the secret of how enjoyable it is. I've been surprised when I've mentioned fishing or when someone has spotted my Trout tag that women start asking questions about it and several have decided to give it a try once someone they know offers to assist them.


TU640: Do you have any words of advice for a female audience who wants to spend more time outdoors this year?


Mary: Check with your local fly shop and connect up with the local TU club. These places are willing to help and can often direct you to like minded women or men who will help you grow your fishing skills. Most everyone I've met is willing to give advice, tell you a spot to fish, or go with you and show you around. It's a friendly bunch. There are an increasing number of female guides available now if you want to spend a whole day in drift boat fishing.


TU640: How important is it to teach the next generation to fly fish?


Mary: Well not just fly fish, but get them outside and interested in the environment and the condition of our land and rivers. Help make it last for the next person.


TU640: Name one thing you can't live without?


Mary: Nature


TU640: Name one thing that no one knows about you.


Mary: My first boat was actually a sail boat that I built myself from a Styrofoam kit and fiberglass. I didn't get too far on the farm ponds and the creek was not navigable, so I took it over to Fort Loudon which was a few miles away. I talked my younger brother into going with me and we sailed it from Concord thru the locks at Lenoir City and safely returned. It was a good little boat!


TU640: If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?


Mary: My 16 year old self wouldn't have paid any attention!


TU640: You're very active in the protection of our rivers, can you tell us about your conservation efforts over the years? What was the most important to you?


Mary: I just hate litter whether its on the road or in our streams. I appreciate all the effort a number of clubs expend to pick up and clean our area. I hope the focus on Trout in the Classroom will help instill this interest in young people and perhaps the problem will lessen. I hope we will see them in our clean up campaigns.


TU640: What is your favorite river to fish and why?


Mary: Hiwassee - It's so easy to cast on, like a big western river, and lots of good places to fish.


TU640: What is your favorite memory of fly fishing and why?


Mary: Catching any trout on a dry fly. Just a pure joy. My favorite memory was from just last year when I spotted a good fish behind a rock in a shallow pool near the 'rock garden.' She didn't take my first cast, so I worked around to some other areas. I circled back to try her again before I left and popped a small elk hair caddis in front of the rock. She snapped it right up and gave me a good fight to bring her in. I hope she's back at that rock and we can do that again this summer!


TU640: We know one of your other passions, outside of fly fishing, is antiques. Tell us why you enjoy that so much.


Mary: Maybe old people just appreciate old things! Actually, what I love about antiques are the stories they tell about the lives people led 50 or more years ago. I like to know how things were made and used. I've even been able to snag a few old bamboo rods and leather fly wallets from the 'good ole days.'


TU640: And last how do you want to be remembered?


Mary: That I left my spot a little better than I found it.



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