Meet Hilary Hutcheson
Owner of Lary’s Fly & Supply in Columbia Falls, MT; Fly-Fishing Guide; Brand Ambassador to YETI®, Costa® & Patagonia®; member of Protect Our Winters (POW) Riders’ Alliance, and board member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers—to say Hilary is a busy woman could be our understatement of the year. Luckily, she found some time for this interview on how she broke into the sport of fly fishing, and how she became such a force in shaping the future of conservation in the industry.
ORVIS: How long have you been fly fishing?
HH: Since Junior High, around 13 years old.
ORVIS: What barriers did you break through to become a female fly-fishing guide?
HH: Honestly, I was lucky enough to have a boss who believed in hard work and character and ability over gender. I was the first female fishing guide hired at Glacier Anglers as a teenager. My sister followed shortly after. We were the first two, and it wasn’t a statement. My old boss never even pointed that out to us until maybe a few years ago. I don’t feel that I had to overcome any barriers because there were men who believed in hard work and character and talent above gender. I think that’s key. Your support is not just women as a wild feminist—it’s having men out there that believe in women, too.
ORVIS: What ignited the spark in you to start your own fly shop?
HH: When you’re looking at careers—the obvious thing is to follow your joy and talents. I’ve always loved guiding, ever since I was a teenager. I love working in the fly-fishing industry. I’ve just found that there were things I could do differently if I was the boss. And the biggest thing for me to do differently is in conservation. I felt like I couldn’t wait around for some conservation-action to happen. I felt like if I were to have my own shop I could make some of those changes. I think that needing to be more active in climate, public lands, and river access issues was a big spark that motivated me to have my own shop.
ORVIS: Who has been your greatest inspiration in your fly-fishing journey? What motivates you?
HH: My brother and sister are my greatest inspiration in anything that I do professionally. They’re my biggest cheerleaders. They’re always supporting me and encouraging me. And they’re the ones, when I have an idea, that will give me an honest answer— “you should totally do that” or “maybe that’s not a very good idea.” My brother and sister are the ones who are really good at tough love.
I’m also really motivated by some of the threats that I see to river access and public lands and climate. That’s really the driver for me, to be the boss of my own operation. So, it’s not just about clocking-in and clocking-out and getting people down the river, but about helping everybody be a part of the solution and running a business that puts the resource first.
This story kind of ties everything together. Being a fishing guide for so long I would complain to my brother and sister that I just felt guilty not being part of the solution but adding to the problem—driving trucks and pumping people down the river. I asked myself, “What am I doing?” And, “Is this really good for the resource?” I was complaining, and my brother and sister are the ones that said, “Well, then you can change it. You have the ability to change it. You have the ability to be a leader in that.” They were the ones who told me I needed to stop complaining about what we’re doing to our water and land and to be a part of the solution and that I COULD do it. It was a combination of “stop whining” and “you’re going to be great at this.”
ORVIS: Give me a life lesson you have learned from fly fishing?
HH: The life lesson I learn from fly fishing every single day is to have a good time. I feel like everything we’re trying to do with the sport in terms of trying to protect the resource and help everybody be aware of some of the negative things that we’re dealing with, I have to reel myself back in and say, we’re just out here to have a good time. If we just remember that, then we’re more likely to take care of the resource.
My mantra is: Let’s just have a good time. And if you look at it that way it’s like, “Ok, we don’t get to have a good time if we don’t take care of the resource first.” It’s no fun to fish in a polluted stream. It’s no fun to have to pay for access, or be bottlenecked into a river because there’s not access, or to have to get off the river by 2pm because it’s shut down for being too hot and dry and low because of climate change. I just think, “Man, that just really shuts down our party and we just all wanna party.” When I’m guiding, I just want people to have a good time, and I just love it when they leave the river and are like, “Man, that was the BEST time of my life!” If we can take care of this place, then we can all just have a good time.
ORVIS: What does the Orvis 50/50 On the Water initiative mean to you?
HH: It’s a statement—that all these non-profits, brands, individuals, friends, and competitors in fly fishing and the greater outdoor industry are getting behind the idea that, “We believe that there should be parity in angling.” It’s not just a box to check. It’s a pledge. It’s a chance to stand up and say, “Yeah, absolutely, there should be as many female anglers as men.” And saying it, is living it. To me, it’s also a pledge to women who are just now stepping out and angling, that there is a supportive community behind them. It’s a reminder to them as they venture out that all of these brands, all of these individuals, all of these non-profits believe in you. They believe that you can have a good time out there. They believe you can work in this industry. They believe that you can share your personal fishing experiences with others. They believe that you belong. And even for somebody like me, who has been doing it for a long time—I feel sometimes it’s encouraging to recognize you’ve got this community of people cheering you on. 50/50 broadens that feeling.
ORVIS: 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?
HH: I think that the industry is excited to be able to make this 50/50 statement. They’re excited that there’s not some huge commercial hook to it, that no one is trying to make a ton of money and exploit women in fly fishing—that 50/50 is very honest, that it is here for the right reason. It is the most real and honest initiative in the fly-fishing industry right now, driven by people who are trying to share their love of angling and help others have a really great experience. And also acknowledge that, if my mantra is that everyone should have a good time, it’s that men and women should equally have a good time, and that they can do it together. It’s not all just women fishing together, getting out there for a sisterhood, but it’s that women can walk through this fly fishing experience at the same level as men and have a good time.
ORVIS: Do you have any words of advice for a female audience who wants to spend more time outdoors this year?
HH: First, commit to protecting the resource and look at the ways you can do that. I think that should be the first step before you even pass go. So that, essentially, is your path. That is your license. That is your ticket. If you can do that first, this outdoor world is your oyster. It’s not just getting in a casting class, it’s not just booking a guide, it’s not just getting your gear. Before you do any of those things, look around you, find your place, commit to protecting it, and be part of the solution. If we can do that, then we can have a good time.