“I'm living a joyous life on the rivers of the West.”
Char is an extraordinary renaissance woman. She is one of only four women in the world to be a member of the Hyde Boats Pro Staff, and sports her own pink and teal drift boat. She teaches skiing, snowboarding and fly fishing and generously donates 100% of her teaching and guide income to women’s shelters. She is a talented fashion designer and has created a beautiful line of women’s fly fishing attire. As a flight attendant, Char flew over 7 million miles. She is the mother of three children and two darling Cairn Terriers, Ranger & Doodlebug. Meet an extraordinary fisherwoman and a very adventurous woman:
Wow...you have asked some difficult questions!
Where do you get your spirit for adventure?
I don’t have a good answer for this. As a child, I walked on bridge railings, hung from trees, carved out secret hiding places in the Florida swamp. I even stood on the back of an alligator. No one else in my family was even the least bit adventurous. But the good news, all three of my children have amazing adventurous spirits.
You said your first job was on MGM’s ship The Bounty. Please tell us about that?
The HMS Bounty was docked in my town in Florida. I only had to wear a little Hawaiian sundress to work...and flip flops! We had all kinds of animals like iguanas, parrots, etc. My boyfriend also worked there and we had some very fun parties after hours. I thought it was a pretty magical and surreal experience being on board that ship. Getting paychecks from MGM helped make up for the pay being pretty low!
You flew approximately 7 million miles as a flight attendant. What are the pros and cons of being a flight attendant?
It was more like six million miles. There were mostly pros in those days. It was before things got crazy in the airlines. I saw the world, had life-changing experiences, made lifelong friends and made a lifetime of memories. I am fascinated by other cultures and wouldn’t be the same person without the education that travel afforded me. The cons? Too few to mention.
How did airline travel change/evolve from the time you began your career until you stopped working as a flight attendant?
We served food in those days! We worked very hard and were very guest oriented. We had weight and girdle check! People snuck on flights without tickets...things were that lax. We wore different uniforms for different destinations...even disposable paper dresses for certain flights. Once highjackings began, the FAA started to tighten things up a bit. We were, for many of those years, a female cabin staff, highly trained, young and enthusiastic. We had captains in their early twenties that got their flying hours during the Viet Nam war. It was an exciting time to be a flight attendant. It’s just all more stressful now...getting through airports is tedious…but getting on an aircraft and soaring through the ski to a destination still amazes me. I love it…I’m always ready to go!
You’ve taught both skiing and snowboarding. Is it difficult for an adult to learn to snowboard? Is it more difficult than skiing?
I learned to snowboard when I was 50 and started teaching it three days later. Not because I was that good...there just weren’t enough snowboard instructors. I loved the feeling of doing something new and it is easier on the knees and back. The falls...affectionately known as slams...not so much fun. The learning curve on a snowboard is definitely shorter than on skis, the boots are more comfortable and there is less to carry. But don’t let your buddy teach you. You definitely need to take a lesson. Some of the best times of my life were times skiing with my kids every winter weekend, holidays, etc.
You’re also an accomplished fisherwoman and teach fly fishing. How did you originally get bit by the fishing bug?
Ha! I like your choice of words. Yes, bugs abound in fly fishing. I decided to learn to fly fish when watching someone else do it. I was sitting on a rock in the middle of a river reading a book. I’m a better doer than watcher and I was captivated by the beauty. Fly fishing is so sensory because you feel, smell, see, hear the water. After years of wearing out my body on mogul runs, standing in the cool water or on board Petunia is a welcomed change. Water captivates me with its energy, power and beauty.
We just featured Joan Wulff on AdventureWoman.com. What was it like to take lessons from such a fly casting icon?
It was truly an honor. Not only is Joan an amazing caster and fly fisher, but she is one of the kindest most generous people on the planet. The multi-day clinic took place at her home in N.Y and I was humbled by Joan as well as the other professionals in the school. It was one of my first introductions to the quality of people we had in the sport. Although I never intended to teach, I received her instructor certification. It hangs over my desk to this day.
You donate 100% of your income from teaching and guiding to Women’s Shelters across the United States. How and why did shelters become your charitable focus?
I started fly fishing in my late forties. My children were pretty much grown. When I was finally persuaded to teach, I saw it as a way to give back for the many, many blessing in my life….including surviving an abusive relationship. My heart goes out to women and children who are not treated with kindness and respect. It’s a simple thing to do…to devote a few hours a week doing something you love while being of service to others.
You are also on the Board of Wish of a Lifetime. Can you tell us about the organization?
Happily. My youngest son started the “Wish of a Lifetime Foundation” three years ago when he was 25 years old. He had traveled quite extensively as a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and was very impressed by the honor shown to elders in Asia. He knew then that he wanted to be a part of creating a cultural change in the way we view aging and treat our seniors in this country. He also told me that he wants his life to stand for more than his own personal accomplishments. The foundation granted nearly three hundred wishes to seniors in 2010 and has granted over eighty so far in 2011. Our whole family is so excited about it.
You’re clothing designer. I love your fly fishing jackets – especially the pink one. How did you become inspired to design fishing attire for women?
I so disliked wearing men’s clothing….mostly xl… which was my only choice when I started fly fishing. I also greatly disliked the closed-minded culture which pretty much only permitted khaki and sage green. I kept hoping some other woman would produce clothing designed for women. After a few years, I decided it would be fun to design my own. My passion was in breaking through many of the “wives tales” and traditional limitations (something I’ve never had a good grasp on). Instead of blending in with the dirt and rocks, we now have the choice to camouflage with the birds and the wild flowers…all of which the fish view! Please allow me to clarify something though. Many women prefer the traditional attire and I truly respect that. Women have a choice now…that’s what I wanted. I chose colors that I thought expressed the joy I feel when I am in nature…on rivers, etc. The pink has been my biggest seller! By the way, the New York Times critiqued my vests along with several other manufactures of women’s attire. Mine was the only one with only positive comments!
You have a fantastic kid’s line, too. Do you encourage your kids to fish?
I do also have vests, etc. for children in pink and spruce I feel so strongly that children should be visible when near water. I want to know where they are at all times without straining my eyes! Whether it’s fly fishing or not…I greatly encourage parents to take their children outdoors and to teach them to respect the environment and ALL the living beings that inhabit our planet. I’ve heard so many women talk about the wonderful times they had with their fathers and grandfathers. They will remember them their entire life. And now, more than ever, women are sharing those times with their families and friends.
You are a mother of three children, but Ranger and Doodlebug are front and center on your website. Any jealousy among the kids?
We are all animal lovers and I have four granddogs. My website is public…my family more private. My fuzzy “boys” have run from hawks, swam with beavers, dug for mice on the riverbanks and rolled in many fragrant ‘items’ along the way. My three wonderful and inspiring children are more selective in their choice of activities!
You are one of only four women in the world who is a member of Hyde Boats Pro Staff. How did you achieve this great honor?
Far too few women row drift boats. I went to guide school and the only boat accident was with a man rowing through rapids that all of us rowed through. It taught me two things: One - no one should put their hands on the oars of a drift boat without knowing what they are doing and Two – it is much more about vigilance and competence than physical strength. I enjoy rowing my boat through the fast rivers of the west more than fishing!
You have a custom-made pink and teal drift boat. How cool is that?
So cool! It was the first time that Hyde, or anyone that they knew of, had ever made a pink drift boat. The pride this family and their skilled craftspeople took in manufacturing “Petunia” was a heartwarming and exciting experience. And my pink, teal and purple Hyde boat is a one of a kind show stopper. I have rowed my two Hyde boats hundreds of miles through some of the most beautiful and scenic places on earth.
Is there anything you dislike about fly fishing?
Many people don’t think of fish as living beings worthy of respect. I’ve seen fish thrown up on riverbanks where they die twisted from struggling to breathe. I am very opposed to ‘stringers’ and wish they were outlawed. Same with barbed hooks and lures that rip their faces. Fish offer us food as well as pleasure. I get a great deal of enjoyment sitting at a river, sighting them and watching their behavior. I have never once killed a fish unless it was sick or injured. I understand that many people choose to eat them…I just wish they would kill them quickly and humanely and put them on ice until they can cook them. We certainly advocate that in fly fishing.
What is your motto in life?
I don’t really have a motto in life. I just think we could all step up a little more. We have a few billion people who will never have a hot shower even once in their lives, who watch their children die from lack of clean water. Animals have been so important in this world and, certainly in my life...yet we factory produce them in barbaric and inhumane ways. I hear people say, Well, we’re only human. I say, “We’re human beings, we know better and we can do better. So much depends on us.” I’m encouraged by how many people are doing things to make positive changes in our world. If you eat meat, demand better treatment of the animals. If you see someone with a need, hold out a helping hand. This isn’t a reality show, this is our life. My favorite song….ever: The Change by Garth Brooks And I love my message from the Universe: I'll catch you if you fall, send angels when you call, and love you through it all. How amazing would that be?
When I first started fly fishing, men would sometimes leave the river. One day when I launched my pink boat, wearing my pink vest with two women in purple and raspberry, a couple of male guides bent over at the waist laughing and pointing at us. Two days later, when we pulled off the river, the same guides came over and said that they noticed “you girls did pretty well out there…mind telling us what flies you were using.” I always share that information and both these men have become friends who recommend my products to their female clients. It’s all about having fun and showing respect.
There are currently nine people, three of them women, in the U.S. who are ‘practitioners’ or examiners in the Adaptive Fly Fishing Institute. I am privileged to be one of them. My work with the ‘other abled’ and those who are suffering from what I call chronic traumatic stress syndrome is highly rewarding to me. One of the few guarantees in life: You always get back more than you give.