About 15 years ago, Julia Argyros became obsessed.
It started innocently enough when her husband George was invited to fish the Big Wood River.
"He didn't fish, it didn't appeal to him," said Argyros, who lives in Sun Valley with George. "He thought it was boring."
When her husband turned down the offer—from friend and Ketchum resident Harry Rinker—Argyros said she piped up, "I'd like to go."
Her first outing was a little rough. Starting in a group with Rinker, Julia suffered through a bit of fly fishing anxiety.
"They put me on the bank and said, 'Just do the eleven-to-one (casting motion) and if you catch anything holler real loud, we'll be around the corner,'" she said. "So I did the eleven-to-one and immediately caught my jacket."
She cut the fly loose, but didn't know how to tie it back on.
"So I stood there for an hour," she said.
When Rinker and his friends returned, Argyros said she didn't complain. Two weeks later she found herself back on the river, once again whipping her rod through the air in a flailing eleven-to-one motion.
"This time I immediately caught a tree," she said.
Frustrated, Argyros returned home and immediately made a call to Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum.
"I said, 'Tomorrow I want you to send me a guide, my goal is to out-fish my husband and Harry Rinker—I don't care how long it takes, or how much it costs, that's my goal,'" she recalled.
She said she made the guide show up at seven in the morning and wouldn't let him leave until seven in the evening. And she fished every day.
After three summers of this routine, Argyros said guides at Silver Creek told her, "You're wasting your money, we can't teach you anymore."
That's when Silver Creek Outiftter's owner, Terry Ring, told her she should get her guiding license.
"The thing I admire most about Argyros is that she's become a student of the sport, she practices, reads and studies," Ring said. "She seeks instruction, and in all phases of her life she's in a constant state of improvement."
Argyros said she didn't want to guide, but after some thought, she sent in her $65, proved she could find and catch fish with the best of them, and was issued a license.
"I guided, but only minimally," she said.
Then Ring asked her if she'd like to start a women's fly fishing school for Silver Creek Outfitters. Argyros accepted.
"She's done a fabulous job," Ring said. "The women who take the clinic always rave about it—many have said it's the highlight of their summer. I think it's one of the best things we do."
The school is actually a two-day clinic offered annually in July. All of the students are women, and so are the guides. They come from all parts of the U,S., so the clinic has risen to a kind of national prominence.
In nine years of its existence, Argyros said she has never had a problem selling the clinic, which allows for up to 16 women.
"I've had to turn people away," she said.
Argyros estimates that about a third of the women live in the Wood River Valley, or at least spend their summers here. And, according to some women, the clinic has become a hot gift item.
Visiting this year's clinic
Under a cool tent on a manicured piece of private property in Gimlet last week, this year's students chatted about the clinic over a gourmet lunch from Cristina's Restaurant, which caters the event.
A few steps away, a trout-filled pond bubbled with rising fish.
"I'm getting into this. I'm excited, I'm hooked," said Diane Seals, from Newport Beach, Ca. "I should be able to go out and do this on my own now."
Barbara Crane, also of California, said, "I just feel so much more confident."
That's the main reason women take the class—to learn the necessary skills to feel self-sufficient and confident while fishing alone.
"Most of these girls are very independent and they're here to learn," Argyros said. "What's driving the train is not the social aspect of the class."
The women spend the first day-and-a-half learning all of the necessary fly fishing basics, including knot tying, casting, fly selection, and how to find, hook, fight and land trout.
The property at Gimlet acts as the headquarters for the clinic. Women learn to cast on the lawn, and later hone their skills on the still water of the pond, which holds some fat, stocked rainbows.
But the real test comes in the afternoon of the second day, when the women hit the moving waters of the Big Wood.
After lunch, the women split up, pile into SUVs with the guides—about one for every three students—and head out to the river.
Argyros took two students and drove south to a secluded spot near Starweather.
Once ankle deep in the cool waters, Argyros gave her students a quick refresher course and turned them loose, offering tips when needed.
"Remember the reach-cast I showed you earlier?" she asked her students.
Jumping into action, she grabbed one of the rods, waved it gently through the air as if it was an extension of her arm, and released a smooth yet powerful cast across the river. The line fell delicately across the water as her students watched in admiration.
"Oh yeah," said Anne Crumpacker, who lives in Ketchum, and has taken up fly fishing so she can enjoy it with her husband and two sons. Crumpacker took the rod back and mimicked Argyros, looking like an old pro.
"This has been so fabulous," Crumpacker said. "I've loved every moment of it, it's just been so much fun."
Just downriver, student Gail Dwyer, of Elkhorn, got strikes on nearly every cast.
"I wanted to get this under my belt so I wouldn't have to have someone do everything for me," she said while casting. "And that's why I'm here."
By the end of the afternoon, both Crumpacker and Dwyer caught and landed two trout.
A new world of fishing
Argyros, who spent the last three years in Spain, where her husband George was that country's U.S. Ambassador, is passionate about teaching women how to fly fish.
It's a love born with her personal experiences on the water.
She said, "I love the outdoors, and I find fly fishing very intellectual. I get a very zen-like feeling when I can throw my line cleanly across the water."
In general, she found women have to overcome a reluctance to dip a line in the water.
"Women would come into Silver Creek with their husbands and I'd ask them where they were fishing," Argyros said. "And the women would say, 'Oh no, I don't fish, it's his thing.'
"They were intimidated."
So Argyros would take the women out into the parking lot and in a half-hour teach them the basics of casting.
"Suddenly it didn't feel like such a foreign thing to them," she said. "And that's one of the reasons we started the school."
It has paid off.
While the number of people fly fishing has actually been declining nationally since 1998, Argyros said more and more women are fishing in the Wood River Valley.
"They've entered a new world that has never been a part of their repertoire," she said. "They just want to fish."