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 Jessica Callihan. Navy Veteran, outstanding artist, and fly fisher with a passion for helping others.



TU640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?



Jessica: I was about six when I remember catching my first fish though, it is definitely not a usual story. I was swimming with my Mom and Dad at a friends house and a fish accidentally swam into my bathing suit. I pulled it out and it was a bluegill. I thought it was so magnificent that I wanted to catch more, thus my interest in fishing began.



TU640: What fish is your favorite to fish for?



Jessica: Hands down trout!!! I will never grow old of their insane beauty! So fragile yet strong, so vibrant yet camouflaged in the water! Just amazing!



TU640: First off I would like to thank you for your service in the Navy. Why did you decide to join the military and can you share that experience?



Jessica: Thank you. It was truly an honor to serve. Education has always been important to me so after receiving an academic scholarship to college and a year of studying, I knew I wasn’t satisfied just getting good grades. I had done a lot of political work through 4-H and extra curricular activities and knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, just not in D.C., so I thought about the military. My love of water led me to the Navy where I hoped to become a Chief Warrant Officer one day. I knew if I landed on a ship, I couldn’t bare to be stuck below deck so I became an Aviation Electrician. I excelled in my studies and was even promoted twice within a year. Unfortunately, my dreams were cut short when I fell and injured the entire right side of my body while on Active Duty. I ended up being medically retired with no hopes to ever join again. Now I deal with RSD/CRPS, which is like shingles on steroids, and had to have an implant in my spinal cord just so that I can function more frequently.



TU640: Your injury in the military led you to Project Healing Waters, how did that help you in your fly fishing journey?



Jessica: Project Healing Waters is not only responsible for my passion and obsession with fly fishing but they are also responsible for saving my life. I was in a severe depression and didn’t want to live with this kind of pain; I was angry at God and didn’t understand the age old question “why me?”. In hopes to be outdoors again I attended a show where John Miko, with PHWFF, invited me to his tournament in Virginia. That got the ball rolling going from a type of fishing I had never really heard of to one of the biggest parts of my life! I was shown the beauty again that I remember being six years old staring at that bluegill. Fly fishing, and the community that it brought with it, became the best physical, emotional, and mental therapy that I so desperately needed.



TU640: How have you given back to organizations like Project Healing Waters? Does that help continue the healing of your own?



Jessica: Giving back is such a huge deal to me!!! I believe it is every persons responsibility to give back and pass on the joys of your passions: you never know if by doing so whose life you can change, including your own. With PHWFF, I started by donating paintings and sharing my story. It led to working with a brewery to create “No Easy Day, IPA” which I created the artwork for and donated a portion of every can sold back to PHWFF. I even created a fly fishing tournament for fellow disabled Vets called the “Smoky Mountain Grand Slam Challenge”. I work with many different non-profit organizations like The Mayfly Project, teaching foster children how to fly fish and sharing their story in hopes to find their forever home, and Soul River, which focuses on not only fly fishing but empowering inner city young adults to use their voice for the need of conservation, Casting for Recovery, etc. I even visit good ol’ D.C. to lend my voice to politicians for the need to save public lands and parks, as well as issues regarding Veterans. My goal to make a difference in the world is still there, now I’m just doing it in a different way and now know that God had a plan for me all along.



TU640: Who are your biggest influences in fly fishing?



Jessica: This is going to sound odd but people who are just starting out. I love their enthusiasm and inquisitive nature!!! I pray that I never lose that no matter the species or size of fish!



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



Jessica: Don’t forget that each and every one of us has a voice! We can use that voice, in a positive manner, to be the change we want to see! Whether it is passing your passion and knowledge along or advocating for nature, your voice is strong and will be heard.



TU640: What has the power to make or break this sport?



Jessica: Social Media!!!! Having a platform is great but people and their negativity and nastiness, well, it’s just truly heartbreaking. We now have the power to teach others, especially the younger generations, why our sport is so great and why they should give it a try, yet I see, time and time again, negative comments rather than opportunities to teach. Even when I don’t catch a fish, I still celebrate because odds are, I learned something new that day and at least I made it out of the house but to other people it looks like failure because I didn’t catch a fish and post it. There is something wrong about that.



TU640: Can you tell us about Able Women and what the initiative is?



Jessica: Able Women is such a great initiative. It hopes to not only draw women to the water but also remind them that the images we are bombarded with are just that; images. It encourages our individuality, no matter our disabilities, injuries, size, look, style, etc. It celebrates who we are as women and the strength that comes with it.



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



Jessica: I love this initiative as well; it aims to have at least half of anglers to be women as well. I’m very grateful for this because when I was just starting, women’s gear was not readily available and typically came in different pink options. As a curvy girl myself, it’s important to have a great fitting wader, not for fashion but for safety!!! As someone who tends to fall a lot, the last thing I want are ill fitting waders that would fill up quick.



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



Jessica: I think the stigma of “this is a gentleman’s only sport” has really diminished, which is great. There are more and more companies making more women’s gear but we’re not quite there yet on what we need. Really, the only obstacles that we face are the ones we create. I’m a firm believer in achieving your goals, no matter how odd the world may look at you. If you want to learn to fly fish, don’t let anything stop you! I offer, and recommend other fly shops to do the same, women’s only classes where the atmosphere is light and questions fly.



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?



Jessica: Fly fishing is a great sport for everyone!!! It causes you to be in the moment, to take in sights and smells that are often overlooked. It requires grace, skill, intimate knowledge of the water, bugs, wildlife, and fish. It’s the greatest beauty you’ll find all wrapped up in peaceful bliss. Not only that, but it’s a sustainable sport! Children to elderly, injured or disabled to able, we can all partake in this amazing sport and become a voice for conservation of the places we love so much!

Like I stated previously, the industry is doing great but it has a way to go. The weight of gear and boots is something that is significant to me due to my disabilities but I also note when teaching, not only ill fitting gear, but things like having smaller hands leads to awkward netting for some. We need more but not only for women but for encompassing the MOST important clientele; children and youth. If we don’t get them interested, who will carry on this amazing sport and be our voice for generations to come?



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



Jessica: Advertise! You can’t get involved if you don’t know what the heck it is! I love that women are now thought of in the conversation but I REALLY think the focus needs to be on children. We are losing the passion of outdoors to TV screens and phones. Our attention spans have all but diminished and that is terrifying! Take your niece, daughter, granddaughter, etc. out next time you fish!!!



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



Jessica: Do it!!!! If you want to, make it your reality. If you don’t want to go alone join an online group that you can ask people to go with (there are a lot of women only groups). Visit your local fly shop and if they ignore you at first, make your voice be heard. Teach yourself first aid basics and self defense if you are nervous but want to go alone. I will share, after my divorce I felt like I couldn’t go fishing alone so, to prove it to myself, I hopped on a plane, flew to a foreign country with a different language and not a soul that I knew, and fly fished for a week! I had the most magical time and came back feeling strong and had found my independence again. We are strong, smart, and capable. Never forget that.



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



Jessica: I feel like a kid in class raising my hand begging to be called on...teaching the next generation is not only important, it is a NECESSITY!!!!! If we want to keep the sport and conservationist mind alive, well, we aren’t going to live forever so we need to teach and keep teaching!!! Get them hooked, pun intended, as soon as possible!!! Make it as accessible as possible!!! What’s better than an afternoon on the water with those you love?!? Not even chocolate chip cookies beats that!



TU640: Name one thing you can't live without?



Jessica: Ummm...this is an easy one! WATER!!!



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



Jessica: I’m such a farming nerd that I can name every part of a cow! I actually placed 8th in the world in an International Dairy Judging contest when I was only 15.



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



Jessica: Locally, Tellico River, specifically the North River Branch. I love the scenery and I love catching little wild fish that hold insane colors and parr marks!



TU640: What is your favorite memory of fly fishing and why?



Jessica: Teaching my family how to fly fish. It was so incredible watching their excitement as they caught their first ever fish on the fly rod!



TU640: Can you tell us about Jessica Callihan Fine Art? How did you get into art, and who influenced you along the way?



Jessica: I always enjoyed art but really started when I found fly fishing. It became another type of therapy for me. Fine art is my way of expressing my love of fishing and the outdoors when I’m physically not able to make it outside. I want to shed light on the beauty of it to others. I want people to feel the passion through my work. I want to create something that can share my joy with others. It is a big part of who I am.




Add Content