Get Caught on Fly Fishing

Why Ashley Peters and so many others are up to their knees in fly fishing

The 2019 Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo is March 15-17 at Hamline University.

Photo by Hansi Johnson

Fishing in Minnesota does not require being on one of our 10,000 lakes or the sputter of an outboard engine. It can be a little more—or a lot more—elemental, knees deep in a slowly chuckling stream. That’s fly fishing.

“I sit, all week long, in an office for the most part, so when my weekend comes, I want to be in it,” says Ashley Peters, an avid fly angler and Audubon Minnesota’s communications manager. “I want to be walking around, I want to be moving, I want to be feeling the world around me. That’s the biggest thing for me, is that I’m in the stream and I’m getting exercise.”

Peters grew up in the “backwoods” of Iowa but remained more or less ambivalent about the outdoors until a few camping trips with her track teammates in college lit a spark. Wary of the shackles of a desk and keyboard, she spent the better part of 10 years on the front lines of wildlife conservation, building trails everywhere from Louisiana to Alaska, where she discovered a love of fly fishing.

“I bumbled my way through it,” Peters jokes. “I got a hand-me-down rod and reel, I got a pair of rain boots, and I went out and just flailed around. I accidentally caught this sculpin. It’s one of the uglier fish that you can catch in Alaska. I was not happy to see this fish, and it was not happy to see me.”

Fly fishing incorporates a flexible rod (usually 9 feet long) and an extremely lightweight lure designed to mimic a bug floating along, or just below, the water’s surface. The sport’s iconic, and addictive, whip-like cast allows your tapered line to land ever-so-gently, and much of your reeling will be done by hand, rather than crank. Sure, there’s a bit more finesse involved than with the Snoopy rod you tossed off Grandpa’s pontoon, but rocket science this ain’t.

Once primarily used for trout and bass fishing on rivers and streams, many local anglers are now catching warm-water panfish, and even the mighty Northern, on the fly.

If that all still seems intimidating, Peters encourages you to take it slow and enjoy the natural splendor that comes wrapped up in fly fishing. There’s also the Fly Fishing Women of Minnesota community, which hosts regular events for anglers of all skill levels to enhance their skills and make new connections.

Some of Peters’ favorite places to fish include Minnesota’s southeastern state parks and water trails around Preston and the ever-popular St. Croix and Rum Rivers. “I just tell people to come along for a hike,” she says, of her pitch to friends on the fence. “A lot of the areas where I’m fishing are some of the prettiest areas in the state.”

For Peters, it’s also like cracking a dog-eared favorite from her bookcase. “I think anybody who loves a good book can understand an obsession with fly fishing, because every species has its own story,” she says. “I go out there, a lot of days, to just pursue the stories. Each fish has a habitat that it prefers, bugs that it likes to eat, and things that it has to navigate to survive.”

The 2019 Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo is March 15-17 at Hamline University. More info at