Skip to main content

Female guides make inroads in Missouri fisheries

Female guides make inroads in Missouri fisheries

BRANSON, Mo. (MCT) - Years ago, Carolyn Parker never would have pictured herself where she was Thursday - floating down Lake Taneycomo in her drift boat, getting paid to go fishing.

At the time, she was a longtime employee of the Bayer Corp. in Kansas City, stuck in the "daily grind," as she called it. And though she loved to fly fish, she never imagined a day when she would be a guide.

Guiding? That was man's work - or at least, so the common thinking went. 

"Guys who are in their 60s come from an era when people thought, 'Girls just don't do that type of thing,' " Parker said as she used her fly rod to launch a cast. "You just didn't see that many women fishing guides."


But Parker and several others are breaking that stereotype - and in a big way.


Launch your boat on Lake Taneycomo on any given day and you might see Parker guiding male customers to big trout. You might also spot her fellow guide Gina Leitle showing a client how to use a fly rod to work a secluded spot.

And visit the White River in Arkansas, and you might catch Lisa Mullins cutting across the water in her boat, headed to another favorite pool.

Together, they represent the new face of Ozark fishing guides.

Parker laughs when she recalls the fear she felt when she first decided to get into guiding with her husband, Stan.


"When I got started, I was really nervous," said Parker, 66, who lives in Branson. "Being a woman, I felt I had to prove myself.

"I remember one of my first guide trips. I had a guy who just didn't want any help. You could tell that he wasn't going to let any woman tell him how to fish."

But that story has a happy ending. That fisherman did take advice from Parker, he caught lots of trout, and today he is one of her valued customers.


And so it goes. The water is often a proving ground for women fishing guides. But when you fish as well as Parker does, that test often doesn't last long.

She has been fishing most of her life. "My dad wanted a boy," she said. "So I became his fishing partner." But it wasn't until she and her husband watched a couple fly fishing that her life took a turn.

"I thought, 'Boy, that looks like fun,' " she said. "So Stan and I tried it.

"At first, I wasn't very good. But I caught fish. "To stand in the middle of a stream, figure out what the trout want, present that fly just right and get them to hit  ... for me, that's the ultimate."

She has been fly fishing since the 1960s, and today, it's the central part of her life.

Once she retired from Bayer, she and Stan decided to turn their hobby into a business and they started guiding.

They borrowed a technique they had seen while fishing with guides out West, using a drift boat to navigate the swift waters of Lake Taneycomo.

That allowed them to control their customers' drifts with their flies and get to water that couldn't be reached with ordinary boats.

It wasn't long before the Parkers opened their own fly shop, River Run Outfitters in Branson, and they hired other guides to meet the demand.

They must be doing something right. Orvis, a leading manufacturer of fly fishing equipment, named River Run as its 2006 Outfitter of the Year, an honor the Parkers take great pride in.

Carolyn also is on the board of directors for the International Women Fly Fishers. And she works tirelessly to get other women involved in the sport she loves, giving clinics from her shop and talks to groups whenever she can.

"A lot of women are intimidated," she said. "They think, 'That isn't something I could do.'

"But once they try it and see how easy it is, a lot of them love it.

"It's very therapeutic, very relaxing."

On a cool summer morning, Parker was getting her therapy.

She rowed her drift boat into the fog below Table Rock Dam and pulled over into a stretch of slack water at the edge of the current. Then she tied a tiny burgundy midge fly to her line and tossed it into the water.

No sooner had it started drifting than Parker watched the orange strike indicator move slightly. She immediately set the hook and felt the frantic pull of a nice-sized rainbow trout.

"That's a good sign - a fish on the first cast," she said as she unhooked the 13-inch fish.

That was a sign of things to come.

Parker and I spent the day fishing the edge of current runs in Taneycomo's specially-managed Trophy Area and enjoyed one of those days fishermen dream about. We caught trout at every stop - many of them rainbows in the 12- to 14-inch range. Add one brown trout that measured 19{ inches, and you have a day to remember.

"I haven't seen it this good in a while," Parker said. "But that says a lot about this fishery.

"A good fisherman can come out here and catch 50 or more trout a day when conditions are right."

Parker should know. She and Stan have enjoyed many productive days on the Ozarks trout lake.

Today, though, she takes just as much satisfaction at teaching others to be good fly fishermen.

She often starts a trip with a beginner who hasn't even cast a fly rod. By the time she is done, she has often taught that person to whip a fly into the water, how to drift it efficiently, how to play fish that are hooked and what to look for.

"That's all we do - fly fishing," she said. "It really is a productive way to fish.

"It allows you to make a natural presentation. You're imitating something the trout see all the time."

Gina Leitle, 55, considers herself a late bloomer when it comes to fly fishing.

Up until eight years ago, her idea of a good time was playing golf, not going fishing. But then she attended a Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation - a program designed to teach women about everything from fishing to hunting to camping.

That changed her life forever, she said.

"I bought a fly rod and a friend and I hired Stan (Parker) for a guide trip," said Leitle, who lives in Aurora, Mo. "We did real well that day and it just really got me addicted.

"I learned tons that day and I just knew fly fishing was for me."

Soon, Leitle made a New Year's resolution - to take each of her four brothers and sisters on guided fishing trips with the Parkers. That only served to further fuel her passion over fly fishing.

Soon, Leitle was heading out on Lake Taneycomo whenever she could, fly fishing for trout. Then she returned to the Parkers and expressed an interest in guiding.

The Parkers taught her the business, everything from handling the drift boat to dealing with customers. And she was ready to go.

She still remembers one of her first tests. It was a cold, rainy day and every other guide had his customers cancel their trips. Not Leitle. Her fishermen wanted to go.

So they headed out and ran into nothing but adversity. They were miserable, and worse yet, the fish weren't biting.

"My fingers were so cold that I could hardly tie a fly on," she said. "But I didn't want to let on. I didn't want them saying, 'Poor girl,' so I kept working."

That work paid off. The group finally hit a spot where the trout were schooled and they caught fish after fish.

"I still worry about how I will be accepted," she said, referring to her gender. "I've had a couple groups I've had to win over.

"But once you get them into fish, a lot of that is forgotten. You're just another guide."

(c) 2007, The Kansas City Star.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Penn Battle III Spinning Reel

Penn Battle III Spinning Reel

Jeff Weakly talks with Mike Rice, Product Manager at PENN Reels about the relaunch of the Penn Battle III Spinning reel.

Lew

Lew's Kevin VanDam Fishing Tools

The bass-fishing legend talks about Lew's new tools with In-Fisherman's Todd Ceisner as part of the 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

P-Line Copolymer Topwater Fishing Line

P-Line Copolymer Topwater Fishing Line

Get the inside info on the new topwater-specific fishing line; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Tackle Test 2020: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Carbon

Tackle Test 2020: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Carbon

Tackle Test 2020: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Carbon

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Here's how to get your rig ready for archery deer season.19 Ways to Get Your Crossbow, Compound Ready for Opening Day Bows

19 Ways to Get Your Crossbow, Compound Ready for Opening Day

Bob Robb - August 21, 2020

Here's how to get your rig ready for archery deer season.

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix them.10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems Fishing How-To

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix...

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

Sight Savvy: Different styles of bow sights each have their strengths—and weaknesses.How to Pick the Right Bow Sight for You Bows

How to Pick the Right Bow Sight for You

Tony Hansen - August 25, 2020

Sight Savvy: Different styles of bow sights each have their strengths—and weaknesses.

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Pan-friend slabs may not sound like a holiday meal, but as a celebration of Mom's life it was my most memorable Christmas dinner ever.Crappie for Christmas: The Fondest of Childhood Memories Stories

Crappie for Christmas: The Fondest of Childhood Memories

Keith Sutton - December 19, 2018

Pan-friend slabs may not sound like a holiday meal, but as a celebration of Mom's life it was...

Actions speak louder than words when sharing the passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.Outdoors Perspective: The Power of Paying Forward Stories

Outdoors Perspective: The Power of Paying Forward

Keith Sutton - November 12, 2018

Actions speak louder than words when sharing the passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

'Entering a fishing tournament is like gambling. If you can afford it, go for it, but I'm not bankrolling you.'Money Fish: Things Change When Cash is on the Line Stories

Money Fish: Things Change When Cash is on the Line

Jeff Johnston - August 05, 2020

'Entering a fishing tournament is like gambling. If you can afford it, go for it, but I'm not...

As wintertime takes hold, power plant lake bass fishing heats up for anglers that focus on a lake's optimal water temperatures.For Wintertime Power Plant Bass Lakes, Water Temperature is Key Stories

For Wintertime Power Plant Bass Lakes, Water Temperature is Key

Lynn Burkhead, OSG Senior Digital Editor

As wintertime takes hold, power plant lake bass fishing heats up for anglers that focus on a...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now