The stereotypical image of the fly angler may be that of an older man with a faded-out vest and a well-worn, long-brimmed cap, stalking a trout stream somewhere in the hills.
In saltwater fly fishing, you might think of a leather-skinned gentleman, who squints all the time due to a lifetime spent in bright sunshine looking for fish.
Kristi Irvin of Kitty Hawk is here to break all your stereotypes.
She’s young, doesn’t have leathery skin, and rarely — if ever — squints.
In the past few years, she’s gotten into fly fishing in a big way and has cashed the receipts to prove it. Her fly fishing journey has taken her to some pretty special spots and aided her with some personal healing, as well.
Like so many who grew to be accomplished anglers, Irvin grew up in a family that fished together.
“I’m from central Pennsylvania, and I grew up in a large family of avid fishermen,” Irvin told Coastal Review.
It was her father, Scott Pecht, however, whom she credited with really getting her going.
“My father would take us on several trips a year to fish in Canada. I remember the excitement of being allowed to go out in the boat with my dad,” she said.
Back home in Pennsylvania, she was almost always in or near the water.
“I spent my entire childhood swimming, tubing and fishing in the Juniata River,” she explained, adding that her desire to be around the water directly contributed to her passion for fishing. “My love of fishing really is a byproduct of my love and need to be in the water. Looking back now, my life has always involved being near water.”
That included water-themed sports.
“I swam for years at the local swim club and was on the crew team,” she said.
Call it destiny? Her career path steered that way for a time.
“I even worked for a few years at a lake, running the bait and tackle shop,” she said of the lure.
Fly fishing was something she was interested in early in life, but she thought it seemed too difficult. Still, the allure of handmade flies was fascinating.
“My fly fishing interest started when I was a teenager. I was always very crafty, and I remember being fascinated with flies.”
But even with all the fishing they did, nobody in her family fly fished, so she was not able to really get started.
“I thought it would be too difficult to master the art of casting without any help. So, it was another 20 years before I picked up a fly rod,” she said. But she got there eventually.
Nowadays, Irvin fly fishes exclusively.
“I am the only one in my family that would call themselves a fly fisher. To my knowledge, I don’t think my father ever touched a fly rod,” she said, adding that once she got into it, fly fishing gave her focus through difficult times. “I have faced significant loss and some very hard days, and fly fishing has brought me back to life.”
The joy she gets from fly fishing is real.
“I literally feel giddy every time I go out,” she said, expressing what is true for many of us.
Irvin said she feels lucky to have met fine guides and instructors who have helped her.
“I credit every one of the guides that I’ve fished with for my growth and knowledge. Many have become friends and mentors, and I call on them often for advice and guidance,” Irvin said.
And Irvin said she respects the knowledge they have gained through their time on the water and their ability to pass some of that wisdom along to others.
“I respect their skill, knowledge and willingness to teach me. I love that I can learn from guys that have been fishing longer than I’ve been alive,” she said.
As we all know, the best way to get good at something is to get out there and do it.
“It’s a privilege to hear about their memories and watch them fish with a skill that is only earned through a lifetime of experience. It’s humbling,” Irvin said, noting that she prefers saltwater. “Although I learned to fly fish in freshwater for trout and smallmouth bass, I have become a saltwater gal.”
She likes being right in their element as the fish feed and hopefully grab her fly.
“I prefer wading in big water, hunting fish and experiencing the huge tug and run of a big saltwater gamefish,” Irvin said.
Fishing has led Irvin to destination around the world, as shown by her trips to Germany and Nicaragua just in the past year. “I love to travel. I love to fish. Life is short. I will travel and fish and make memories.”
Irvin’s family includes two grown kids who also enjoy getting out on the water, son Wyatt and daughter Brinley go out with her quite often.
“They prefer offshore fishing, and I have taken them on many trips,” she said, adding that these varied experiences helps them become better people themselves. “I want my children to know from my example that doing what makes you happy has a ripple effect on the entire world. I want them to see me actively pursuing an activity that requires effort, learning, humility, respect for the environment, and patience.”
Irvin said she tries to embody those traits by creating and learning to create more, including her love for tying flies, which she said goes along with knitting socks and hats that she wears on her winter fishing outings. It’s the same passion and challenge of learning that keeps her intrigued, she said.
“The end result of catching a fish is an indicator of how well you have prepared and educated yourself for that moment.”