When she was 10 years old, Leslie Ajari learned to fly fish on the Truckee River, her home waters, near her home town of Truckee, California.
Twenty years later, Ajari lives in Medford, Oregon and runs a steelhead guiding service, Gal Gone Fishin’. Although she typically guides the Upper and Lower Rogue River, Ajari works with Confluence Outfitters and fishes from Northern California to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
“I love the Pacific Northwest. It just a beautiful, beautiful, wild place.”
Nine years ago, Ajari hooked her first steelhead in California’s Trinity River. And the steelhead hooked her right back. She’s been chasing them ever since.
Looking for a way challenge herself even more, Ajari took up Spey casting about four years ago.
“I’m a devotee of the cast,” she explains. “And Spey casting is such an artistic expression of it.”
Spey casting is a fly casting technique that doesn’t require much backswing, so you can use it on narrow, tree-lined rivers — like the River Spey in Scotland, for which the technique is named and where it’s thought to have originated.
And this “devotee of the cast” is really good at Spey casting. Like competition-level good. Ajari is not only a teacher of the technique, but she also placed third in her division when competing for the first time at the Jimmy Green Spey-O-Rama — the world championship of Spey casting.
She’s also quite particular about gear, using SpeyCo reels almost exclusively. She pairs the reels with Sage, Redington, or Gary Anderson Custom rods.
For Ajari, though, the point of excelling at Spey casting and — using the right gear to do so — is not to compete. Rather, doing so serves to elevate the fishing experience.
“Standing in the river instead of floating on a boat is a great way to connect with your surroundings and what you’re doing,” Ajari says. “I love chasing steelhead on the swing…. Just make your cast, let it swing through, and enjoy the view.”
“Finding your moments”
For Ajari, fishing in the larger sense is not about the fish themselves. Yet, steelhead have a grip on her imagination.
“Each fish is different. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “Some will take line and cartwheel. Others will grab the fly and bulldog down on the bottom, and you won’t see the fish until it’s in the net. And a few will take line and then throw your hook, and you’ll never see them.”
Fishing for steelhead is a series of discrete, exciting experiences that keeps Ajari casting over and over, again.
“The unpredictability and uniqueness of each fish creates its own moment. Especially the winter steelhead, hot and burly, fresh from the ocean. They put up an incredible fight and make for a true experience,” she explains.
And Ajari says it’s the experience of the fish, not the fish itself, that matters.
“People aren’t going to remember every single fish they caught. They’re going to remember specific moments and the experience they created,” Ajari explains. “It’s a Zen thing. It’s about finding your moments.”