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 Wanda Hair Taylor. National Advisory Staff member with TFO, World record holder, and The South’s 1st Lady of Fly Fishing.


TU640: How old were you when you started fishing?


Wanda: Four Years old.


TU640: Can you tell us a little bit about your life growing up in the Blue Ridge area, and the strong female influences you had?


Wanda: I grew on the Hair Farm in Dawnville, GA. My grandmothers were fisher women that taught me how to fish with a bobber, cane pole and worms. I remember being eye level with my grandmother Hairs knees as she would take a hoe to dig up my worms, as I held the soup can to put them in. I was a pretty intense kid to be around…you know the kind that ask “why” and can I “help”. My grandmother had to find something to keep me busy and out of the way. We have a small branch on the farm where my grandmother would take me, place me on a bucket and say,” drag up every fish you catch to the farm house and I’ll cook them for Ole man Hair.” My grandfather Hair was blind the last 20 years of his life. I thought I was doing a very noble thing in feeding him lunch and learned to love fishing at the same time.


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


Wanda: I grew up with ten boy cousins on the Hair farm. Shooting crows out of the garden or fishing for our supper were our games.


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


Wanda: Late 20’s. I married a fly guy and as you learn real fast, It’s not easy teaching someone you’re emotionally involved with a sport. So I enrolled in a women’s fly fishing class at Choo Choo Fly & Tackle in Chattanooga, TN and realized I liked it. Afterwards the owner, Les Kirk ask me to assist him with a future women’s fly fishing class. I loved it and realized that I had found my tribe.


TU640: Who are your biggest influences in fly fishing?


Wanda: Joan Wulff – I enrolled in her Wulff’s Fly Fishing school late 80’s to become a better caster and instructor. She was the only women I knew that had such stellar credentials, World Fly Casting Champion, World record holder, author, and Fly Fishing school owner. We had a cool relationship that weekend. I ask her if she had time after the class would she give me my FFF Certified Casting Instructors exam. She said she would. So I missed my flight home and stayed until she finished teaching a private casting lesson to the owner of Tiffany’s. It was worth the wait. She taught me so much about the professionalism of becoming a great instructor. Oh, and I did pass and It’s an honor to have her signature on my FFFCI certificate.

Lefty Kreh- I met Lefty at Choo Choo Fly & Tackle. He was invited by a few Doctors in town to give them a day of private casting lessons. While there, he agreed to do a casting demo on the small lawn in front of the fly shop. Most of our Appalachian TU friends were attending so for me it was dinner night out. I didn’t have a clue who he was. We had a big crowd all lined up listening to him teach. He ask for a volunteer to teach. Noone raised their hand. Before I knew it I had been pushed from behind and suddenly was face to face with him. He ask me my name and said, “Now Wanda I’m going to cast with you, but don’t try and help me.” I had just graduated from a fly fishing school and thought that was a ridiculous thing to say …..soooooo I Helped him. The cast went maybe 35 feet. He stopped and address the crowd with, “ I can teach any woman to cast as long as I’m not married to her.” Everyone laughed. I turned 3 colors of red and could have crawled into a hole. He turned to me and said, “Wanda, this time we are going to cast and let me do the casting”. I obeyed and that flyline went 70ft…That’s when he got my attention! We have, had been friends for over 40 years until his death. He was a dear friend, mentor and my fly manager. We all miss him tremendously.

Captain Jake Jordan – I met Jake in Chicago at a fly fishing show late 80’s. His booth was next to mine. I’d never met anyone that had caught saltwater fish on a fly. He told stories of his bonefish schools in Exuma, Bahamas, Tarpon Schools in the Florida Keys, Fly fishing in the Galapagos Islanda, Sailfish in Guatemala , and Blue Marlin in Costa Rica. I as mesmerized, to say the least. I knew after that, those were fisheries I wanted to experience and learn how it’s actually possible. We have been friends for 30 plus years and it’s a privilege to have him not only as my guide and mentor but as a true friend that I treasurer. He’s caught more saltwater fish than most anglers on the planet. He is truly a Legend in his own time.


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


Wanda: That it’s just that – FISHING! Not necessarily CATCHING! We win some and we lose some so don’t take it so seriously. To me it’s about the whole experience of the day, the smell of the water, sharing a sandwich or a secret garden. Watching hatches or gulls over bait balls at sunrise or sunset and the long ride home….remember these things.


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


Wanda: That it’s about time! Kudos, to not only Orvis, but the entire fly-fishing industry that have embraced it.


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


Wanda: There’s not any. It’s every persons God given right as a human being to enjoy nature when they have the free time to do so. Obstacles of Jobs, children, carrying for parents, getting an education etc…. everyone has to deal with some time in their lives. But it’s not male or female specific. Go after your passions.


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


Wanda: It’s a great sport for women IF they enjoy the outdoors. Not all women do or men, as far as that goes. The fly Industry has finally understood that if they want this industry to grow they need to embrace the families, not just the dads but the moms and children. Face it, in most households women write most of the checks and control the budget. So finally, the industry is giving women what they want. Outdoor gear that fits a woman’s body, as well as children, comfortably at a price they can afford. That’s the very heart of TFORODS.COM. Lefty wanted to create an affordable fly rod that has exceptional performance that can outfit the family and He/TFO has done just that. I’m very proud to have been a part of this company.


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


Wanda: Create opportunities for them to be comfortable and a welcomed part of events, clubs, shops, water, blogs etc.


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


Wanda: Other than wear a mask and stay 6 ft apart? Smiling! Plan ahead. Look at the water flow schedule in advance, Check the weather, invite someone to go with you and share the expense, call the fly shops and ask fly selections suggestions, ask what hatches have been coming off and when, when was the latest stocking and where? Make plans to fish even if it’s one hour on a pond for bass. Keep your gear with you rigged and ready to go. Don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray, hat and polarized sunglasses. The rest is just DO IT!


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


Wanda: It’ not only the life line of our water and future of the sport but it’s theirs as well. We all need time away from cell phones and computers but especially children, It’s good for the heart, mind and soul.


TU640: How did it feel becoming the first woman Orvis endorsed as a guide in the Southeastern United States?


Wanda: It’s like asking Neil Armstrong…. “Did you wake up one morning and said, “I think I’m going to be the 1st man on the moon?” I didn’t know until much later that I was. I think I was motivated with a passion for fishing and sharing it with others and being prepared when the Opportunity knocked at my door.


TU640: What did it take to become the world’s first woman to become a Master Certified Casting Instructor by the International Federation of Fly Fishers?


Wanda: 1st and foremost is NOT knowing that there weren’t any other women IFFF Master Certified Casting Instructors in the world. If I’d known that going in…I probably would not have competed. What it really took for women or men to achieve their Masters is; Passion, Knowledge of all fisheries (warm, fresh, salt), great teaching abilities, professional casting skills and the love of creating new anglers.


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


Wanda: The Hiwassee is my home waters of choice but my heart belongs to bone fishing in the saltwater of the Bahamas.


TU640: You recently set the world record for catching a 33 pound Spearfish on a fly rod, can you tell us about that day?


Wanda: I was with my mentor Capt. Jake Jordan in Koni, Hawaii fishing with Capt. Kevin Nakamaru’s on the Northern Lights one year ago. We had two other guests on board David and Laura Taylor. We were taking turns fishing. Jake was up first and caught and released 150lb blue marlin, I was next. The only fish Jake need to achieve a Super Grand Slam of a life time was a Short bill Spearfish. The mates teased up a fish, I couldn’t tell what it was from the deck, so I looked up at the captain and said, “If it’s a spearfish I’m handing off the rod.” He said he thought is was a sailfish so I cast and hooked the fish. It was the rare short bill spearfish. I immediately tried to give the rod to Jake but he refused because he/we would be disqualified. We (me, the captain, the mates and my mentor) fought the fish for about 15 minutes. The mates brought it on deck and the captains yelling, “it’s a World Record catch!” After that is was a blur of measuring, weighing, photo’s and celebrations! A day in time I will never forget!!


TU640: What did it mean to you to be inducted in the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians?


Wanda: Normally when they start inducting people into Halls of Fames they are getting old or dying, so that was my first thoughts of, does someone know something… I don’t? Laughing aside…..It was/is a high honor that I’m very grateful for, mainly because I was nominated by my peers in the industry and they wanted to recognize my life’s work in fly world in a VERY kind way. Humbly I say Thank you. My favorite part about the day was that all my Georgia Women Fly Fisher friends were there, My Casting Carolinas team members, A lot of men and women I’ve fished with over the years that I love and most importantly my immediate family members. I had all my great nieces, great nephews and my granddaughter come up on stage with me to receive my award. They were the stars and our next generation of fly anglers.


TU640: What charitable organizations do you help with and what do they mean to you?


Wanda: Women’s cancer fly fishing retreats such as, Casting For Recovery, Casting for Confidence, Casting Carolinias. My dad died in 2001 with lung cancer. I was so angry at the disease that I had to find a way to fight back. Georgia Women Fly Fishers helped me do that by assisting me in creating a one-day fly fishing retreat for women with cancer in 2002. It is still going strong with the leadership of the GWFFers. These retreats are designed to give the women a reprieve from thinking about dying, chemo, radiation, and medications. We/I receive more out of these retreats than the participants do remembering my day with each one.

Project Healing Waters working with our women and men veterans to cope with PTSD and live stronger with loss and injury. It is my honor to be a volunteer for these retreats as instructor/guide to see the changes of each person as they leave with smiles on their faces. We live free because of the price they paid. Thank you, veterans for your selfless service.

All Girls Fish- is a one day workshop for girls sponsored by Orvis, Unicoi Outfitters, Dun Magazine to introduce young girls to fly fishing and conservation of our rivers. The next one is held Oct 17, 2020. This is what Wanda Taylor is about giving back to the women that taught me so much as a young girl. Passing it on!


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


Wanda: I can’t swim!


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


Wanda: John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.


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