The girl behind the counter looks like a high school graduate working a summer retail gig. One look at her cherubic face dusted with pale freckles and it’s easy to peg her as a filler, a seasonal hire who doesn’t square with the woodsy lodge styling of the fishing shop around her.
But the moment Jaquelyn Prince opens her mouth, it’s clear she’s no clueless kid killing time behind a cash register.
“If you’re not going to use a bead head for a dry fly, you don’t want to put weight on it. You want to use light materials. When you wrap this feather around your hook, you want it to spread out, so it kind of works like a snowshoe and keeps your fly up on top of the water,” she explains from her wooden station stocked with spools of colored thread, small hand tools and bits of peacock ribbing, rooster hackle and pheasant feathers.
Prince, 19, is a sought-after source behind the counter at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World’s White River Fly Shop in Mesa, doling out advice on fly-fishing rods, reels and line like a grizzled veteran. Though she’s often the youngest person in the store by 30 years or more — and sometimes the only girl — she’s an East Valley authority on flies, lures that are hand-tied to mimic insects, eggs, fish and small animals.
“She’s so insanely good at it that her classes are always, always full,” says Nikole Holverson, one of the store’s managers. “We had to open up another night to accommodate the demand. She’s very popular.”
Prince teaches fly-tying classes Tuesday and Thursday nights to about 200 rotating students. There’s a waiting list to get in; the first open seat comes available in February 2009.
During the sessions, held at a low, rustic table outfitted with green-shaded lamps and a circular cubby full of calf fur and synthetic fibers, Prince teaches fly-fishing enthusiasts ages 6 to 90 how to grip their fishing hook in a tabletop vice and tie beaver-fur dubbing and deer hair in the form of heads, bodies, wings and tails.
It’s an intricate craft — and science — she’s spent 11 years perfecting.
“You’re taking all these different materials that each have different properties and behaviors, and you have to learn each material in order to work with it. Then you put them all together to create this piece of work that’s going to act exactly the way you want it to,” she says.
To be able to do that — and land a fish with any regularity — you’ve also got to know the fauna in your chosen fishing hole, from the what the local fish like to eat to how their prey look and behave at certain times of year. Then there’s the technique of the sport itself to learn.
Prince, a graduate of Mesa’s Mountain View High School, began tying flies when she was 8 years old, accompanying her outdoorsy father and a family friend on fishing trips. That friend, the late Lyle Montierth of Mesa, became her mentor.
“My dad taught me all the knots by hand, and Lyle started teaching me the entomology, all the life cycles of the bugs,” says Prince. “We would go out on fishing trips and spend a whole day nowhere near our fishing rods; we’d just turn over rocks and catch bugs and try to tie something that looked exactly like them.”
Now, she’s passing on fly patterns and fishing lore to students and certifying Boy Scouts in their fly-fishing merit badges.
“Most of the people I teach are 40- to 60-year-old men, which was a little strange at first. The tables are turned a little bit. They come in and sit down and look at me funny, like, 'You’re the teacher?’” she says. “But I push a lot of information at first. If I can say three things right away about the equipment, then it’s immediately boom, boom, boom, 'OK, she knows what she’s talking about.’ ”
Jim Brady, a retired high school football coach and avid fisherman who works at the shop, says Prince has earned the respect of co-workers and customers alike.
“When I first heard we were getting a high school kid in here, I thought, 'Oh, great,’ but she’s something,” he says.
Another experienced angler, Cinda Howard, says she doesn’t see many young women who are active in the sport. She belongs to two local fly-fishing clubs and manages the fishing department at Orvis outdoor store in Scottsdale.
“I’m 40, and most people I know who fly-fish are older than I am. … To see a woman pursuing it to such a degree through her own interest is pretty different,” Howard says.
Prince, who’s putting herself through college, confirms she doesn’t have many peers who share her passion.
“My girlfriends give me the hardest time, because I’ll save and save to spend $60 on beautiful rooster feathers. I would never spend that on shoes. They don’t get it, but feathers I’m going to go out and catch fish with; shoes I’m just going to walk around in!”