In the spring of 2015, Emily Roley packed as many belongings into her 2006 Subaru and a 13-foot 1972 Yellowstone travel trailer as she could cram in. Departing Nashville, Tennessee, she left behind family, friends, a lucrative career, a house and many memories. Her quest — to become a professional fly-fishing guide. After researching various locales, Taos seemed the best fit.
Roley’s journey began when she was a young girl. Her mother and father both fly fished, but it was her father’s deep passion for the sport that took a hold of her at a young age. He would take Roley and her siblings on fishing adventures in the streams and rivers of the Smoky Mountains only three hours from Nashville.
It was in the Appalachian Mountains that the stage was set for her growing passion to become a guide. She continued to fish throughout high school and college. She graduated with a fine arts degree in painting from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (art being one reason Taos was appealing).
Not one to squander any opportunity, Emily took advantage of a scholarship and drove out to British Columbia, where she attended Western Academy of Photography, where she also obtained a certificate. Roley began to build her new life and in the process, she continued to work on her hobby o fly fishing. She soon became good friends with two other young women that became the “twin trio,” as they called themselves. They made a non-negotiable pact that every year, no matter the circumstances, they would plan and go on a fly-fishing trip to destinations unknown. Just them — no partners or other riffraff.
The where was not as important as the pact. This tradition became the catalyst for Roley’s yearning for a road less traveled. In the fall of 2014, the “twin trio” decided go to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, where guide Natalie Jenson captained them up and down the Colorado River. It was during these two days on the water with Jenson that Roley started to feel the pull to pursue fly fishing as a career.
She started talking about guiding with Jenson, a woman that had been there, done that and was still doing it. Roley had the mind-set of a novice regarding all the questions that needed to be asked. They spent seven days and nights in Lee’s Ferry and slowly but surely, Roley’s plan began to emerge. It was on her way back to Nashville when Roley committed to the dream that would not take no for an answer, although she knew she had chosen a very long line to cast.
‘The guiding profession is a hard one to break into because the competition is high,” Roley expressed via email. “So, going into it I knew that I would have to work extremely hard and be persistent.”
Her first step was to research and locate a guide school, preferably in the Southwest. She had the skill set to capture trout on the fly, but after talking with Jenson, she knew that the nuances of being a guide would best be served under the tutelage of a master. After much research and the advice of many professionals, she decided to enroll in Taylor Streit’s Fly Fishing Guide School at the Taos Fly Shop. Streit is regarded by many as the dean of fly fishing in Northern New Mexico. Roley believed that both the man and the town of Taos would make for a good starting point.
She contacted Streit and he promptly began to tell her all the reasons not to become a guide — long hours, low pay, seasonal work and fussy clients. His bluntness and directness is as well known as his fly-fishing skills. Roley remained unfazed and enrolled in spite of — or maybe because of — Streit’s objections.
Later, he called Roley back and apologized and mentioned that his son, Nick (owner of Taos Fly Shop and part owner of The Reel Life in Santa Fe), might be interested in hiring her. Nick believed that with the increasing number of wome becoming interested in fly fishing, Roley might bring more balance to the shop. Her duties would not include guiding, but mainly catering to customers.
Roley immediately recognized this opportunity and followed up with Nick. She was hired over the phone as it became clear to Nick she had both the fishing knowledge and people skills to be an asset to the shop. After graduation from guide school and with a new job that held promise, Roley set up the Yellowstone and began to live the life that was just a twinkle in her eye only months ago.
As with all new beginnings, one has to pay their dues. Roley immersed herself in the shop; learning and listening, seeking added responsibilities as Nick recognized her organizational and management skills. Eventually, her efforts resulted in Nick choosing her to be the day-to-day shop manager. Her duties included inventory, ordering equipment and supplies, coordinating the booking of guide trips, waiting on the customers and sharing her expertise and knowledge of fly fishing with others.
Soon, Nick noticed that several customers were inquiring as to the availability of Roley to guide them. There was a noticeable difference in the number of families that wanted Roley to share her skills with family members that were unfamiliar with fly fishing, as well as those that had a longtime addiction to trout fishing. Gradually, she began to fulfill her ambition of becoming a professional fly-fishing guide.
She continues to run the shop and guide when she can, and convinced Nick that he can get along without her for a day or two or three.
Roley has since sold her home in Nashville and bought a parcel of land on the outskirts of Taos with her fiancé, Ron Sedall (he happens to be a fly-fishing guide as well, but that is another campfire story).
Roley feels committed to introducing others to the thing called trout fishing. She has a personal blog, emily-roley.squarespace.com, where she chronicles both the personal and professional details of her transition from Tennessee to Taos. She also writes for and manages the Taos Fly Shop blog, taosflyshop.com, which
allows her to communicate with other aficionados and wannabes.
Roley is well aware that she has immersed herself into a male-dominated
sport, especially in the realm of guides. “If you get on any shop or guide service website throughout the country and look at the listed guide staff, you will see how the percentage of male to female guides is significantly high,” she relayed.
Did that fact ever give her reason to pause? “Honestly, it was this very fact that made my desire to become a guide more appealing,” she explained. “I was attracted to the challenge of it, and as a woman with great passion for the sport, I feel it is my duty to help other women experience what the sport has to offer.”
Both she and Nick want to develop the increased interest by women in the sport. The Taos Fly Shop coordinated with the University of New Mexico-Taos to offer a course for beginning, intermediate and advanced students with plans to create a program specifically designed for women and children 12 years and older. She also is involved in the Enchanted Circle Chapter of Trout Unlimited, whose website is ectu.org.
This spring, Roley will be leading a group of women down to Argentina,
where they will spend six days exploring the many rivers and lakes of the Patagonia region. She hopes to make this an annual pilgrimage, every year offering adventurous women the opportunity to take their passion for fly fishing to the next level.
Roley embodies the spirit of a Taos woman: independent, adventuresome, strong, creative, resourceful and intelligent with a fierce desire to follow her heart. She champions for other women to explore a day of fishing, which does not always mean catching a fish, but always means catching a memory.
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