Joan Salvato Wulff, known as the First Lady of Fly Fishing, changed the sport for good.
The technique of fly fishing has been around since the days of the Romans and, today, stands as one of the most popular methods of fishing on the planet. But it wouldn’t be much without the contributions of one of the most famous women to ever grace the reel, Joan Salvato Wulff, the First Lady of Fly Fishing.
As a child, Joan would watch her father and brother fish, wondering what it must feel like to reel in a large fish from the water’s depths. She wondered why there weren’t any women fishermen, and why she couldn’t join in on the fun.
It took convincing, but finally her father gave her a chance, and she’s never looked back since.
Less than a year later, at age 11, Joan won her first casting club title. At 16, she won the Women’s Dry Fly Accuracy event, and would capture a remarkable 16 more national titles between 1943 and 1960.
In 1948, noted fly fisher Charles Ritz invited her to the first post-war fly fishing event to re-open in Europe, sand he won the competition in an impressive fashion at only 21-years-old. In 1951, she became the first woman in history to win the Fisherman’s Distance Event, casting 131 feet against all-male competition, a truly remarkable achievement.
Joan Salvato Wulff was considered the best fly caster in the world, and she managed to make angling her career. She was the audience favorite at shows, trick-casting in feminine wear, night gowns and heels. Ashaway Line & Twine Company made Joan their “goodwill ambassador,” and in 1959 she became the first woman to sign a contract with a tackle manufacturer, in the Garcia Corporation.
1960 was the year Joan decided to retire, but not before going out with a bang. In one of her last events, Joan made an astounding cast of 161 feet, a new woman’s record.
“Good fly casting is beautiful, graceful, and feminine. I love it,” says Joan.
In an article, entitled An audience with Joan Wulff by Ally Gowans, Joan was asked about what fly fishing means to her. “You are in beautiful places and you are there because these fish only live in clean water and you can touch another living creature and feel its heart beat, feel its life source and still release it and let it be free again.” She continued, “The idea of holding the life force of another creature without hurting it, it’s just wonderful.”
Joan’s love of nature and her deep spirituality are what deepen her love and appreciation of fishing. When she’s there, on the water, she can interact with nature in a way she wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.
“I’m a very ordinary woman who has had a very extra ordinary life through the magic of fly-fishing and I wish that for everyone.”
In 1979, Joan and her husband Lee started the Wulff School of Fly Fishing. It was meant to be a spiritual home to fly fishing enthusiasts everywhere, a place where people could come together and learn the craft from the most experienced professionals, and achieve their own peace with nature and themselves.
Joan promotes good fishing practices such as catch and release to help the next generation of anglers. She’s helped make fishing an environmentally friendly practice.
Joan was elected to the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2007.
Joan has written three books detailing her unique set of casting methods. She worked for over twenty years, as a writer for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. Her first instructional video, Dynamics of Fly Casting, is still referred to and watched by beginners and experts alike.