It was inevitable that Wanda Hair Taylor would find her way onto the roster of BD Fishing Chicks. She was introduced to fishing by her “heroes,” her grandmothers, at the early age of four. Taking her down to the creek behind their sprawling, now 120-year-old Hair-family farm near Dalton, Georgia, where Wanda still lives, they devised a plan to keep the rambunctious imp busy. Giving her a pole, a bucket and a can of worms, they instructed her to catch fish for her blind Poppa’s lunch.
When she would catch a fish, off she would run, back to the house where her first mentors would “ooh and ahh” over her catch regardless of the size, before carefully cleaning her fish. After enough fish were caught for lunch, they were battered and fried in a sizzling frying pan; and when they were served to Poppa, much to Wanda’s delight, he always claimed that he liked the smaller ones the best because they were so crispy and tasty.
Unknowingly her introduction to fishing became a passion for a hobby that morphed into a career and created a lifestyle she has loved and lived throughout these years.
Along the way, mentors came into her life.
In the 1970s, her love for fishing in the mountains of north Georgia served her well. It was there she met her next mentor, Gary Taylor, a professional fly angler who shared her passion for fishing and was eager to share his fly-fishing skills, knowledge and expertise. She quickly fell in love, with both fly-fishing and Gary Taylor.
Her introduction to the world of saltwater began at that time when she caught her first bonefish. Sight casting for the gray ghosts on the flats was an eye opener for her. Adding to the bonefish were more and more saltwater thrills as her catch list swelled to include new and larger species — redfish, false albacore and dorado.
After about a year of an exciting courtship filled with outdoor adventures and of course, fly-fishing, the couple were married in 1980.
In 1982, Wanda took a fly-fishing class with instructor Les Kirk, owner of Choo Choo Fly and Tackle, who recognized her natural skill and invited her to assist him in teaching the women’s classes.
As luck would have it, when Lefty Kreh visited Choo Choo Fly and Tackle for a fly-casting demonstration, Wanda attended the event, and she happened to be part of his presentation. Under his guidance and instructions, she was able to cast 75-feet, the longest distance she had ever cast at that time.
She bumped into him at various fly-fishing shows over the next few years, but it was almost a decade later before she had any interaction with Lefty other than a smile and a hello.
Then she sent him a letter voicing her frustrations with the fly- fishing industry issues. Lefty responded with a telephone call, inviting her to his home in Baltimore to spend a couple of days with him and his wife Ev.
Soon after she arrived, he offered her some advice about not only becoming a writer and photographer, but also marketing her work, and much more. This was the beginning of an 18-year friendship; she had found her third mentor.
Their friendship grew and he would often call and invite her to fish with him and his buddy Bob Clouser on the Susquehanna River, and once with Flip Pallot.
He continued to introduce her to many other notable anglers from the fly-fishing fraternity including Rick Pope, TFO owner. The Pope meeting led to Wanda ultimately becoming a member of their legendary advisory staff.
On all the trips with Lefty, he counseled her on presentation and casting techniques, and she had more and more success with her fishing, and his mentoring lasted the rest of his life until his passing on March 14, 2018.
When she met Captain Jake Jordan at a fly-fishing show in Chicago, he was offering tarpon trips in the Florida Keys. Their first meeting developed into a friendship and a few years later he invited her to attend one of the Bonefish Schools in Exuma conducted by Steve Rajeff and Jordan; upon completion of the school, they would all guide anglers out on the flats.
When her new mentor Captain Jordan invited her to accompany him to the world-renowned Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala, she didn’t have to be asked twice. Her very first trip in search of sailfish was astonishing: they raised 32 fish and under Captain Jordan’s expert guidance she hooked and released 19 in only two days of fishing.
Her next expedition began when her phone rang.
“Wanna try for an International Gamefish Record?” barked Captain Jordan. Then he continued. “The IGFA women’s world record on 20-pound tippet for blue marlin on fly is only 90-pounds!”
Wanda balked. “I don’t want to kill a fish to set a record!”
Jordan assured her that what he had in mind was a “potential IGFA World Record,” documented by a writer and film. Reassured, Wanda agreed to be part of the team.
Destination: Los Suenos, Costa Rica. Team: Jordan, well-known writer Gary Caputi, and angler, Wanda Taylor, fishing aboard the “Dragin Fly,” a 42-foot Maverick with renowned billfish Captain James Smith at the helm, and mates, Roberto and Berto, working the cockpit. They would travel 140-miles offshore to the area where the FADS are located to find the blue marlin.
They traveled all night arriving in the FAD zone at gray light. The Costa Rican coffee was still percolating when a blue pursued one of the teasers and the Captain screamed, “FOLLOW!”
Wanda leaped into action, snatching the TFO Heavy-Duty blue water fly rod, with a Mako #9700 Fly Reel and 20-pound tippet. Heading to her place in the stern corner, she frantically stripped line off the reel in preparation for the cast, and the mates teased the hot fish into casting range. With Captain Jordan at her side coaching, she flung the big pink and white Cam Sigler’s billfish popper, (or as Wanda calls it, a pink “half a chicken”), into the wake near the pursuing billfish.
The popper was inhaled as soon as it hit the water. “FISH ON!”
Twenty minutes later, Wanda released her first blue marlin on 20-pound tippet. The crew and all aboard estimated that it weighed approximately 125-pounds.
That blue would have been large enough to beat the current women’s world record on 20-pound tippet, had it been killed and weighed on a certified scale. However, under Costa Rica fisheries regulations, it’s against the law to kill a billfish.
Throughout day one, there was rarely more than a half-hour between fish coming into the spread, and by sundown, 17 blue marlin had been raised, 7 had taken the fly, but the only release was Wanda’s first fish of the day.
Day two, the marlin action seemed never to stop. Wanda’s second release would have beaten the current ladies’ world record by more than double as the fish was estimated to be 225-pounds by both Jake and the Captain.
By the end of day two, the boat had raised an astonishing number — 29 blues and 3 very large sailfish had been spotted. Thirteen had eaten the fly, and the team had managed to catch and release 3 blues and all the sailfish. Mission accomplished! Caputi had released his first blue ever which the crew had estimated to have weighed approximately 175-pounds.
The final day began with Wanda being the first angler up; she hooked and released another marlin before it was Caputi’s turn.
A solid hookup and a prolonged battle ensued before the estimated 270-pound monster was alongside the boat and quickly released.
By the end of the final day, they had raised a total of 58 blue marlin and 6 sailfish; they had managed 23 bites from marlin and 5 from the sails, caught and released 6 blue marlin and 5 sailfish. The ratio of hookups to releases was 25%, a solid number for blue marlin even for the most experienced big game fly anglers.
Taylor’s colleagues have called her the “The South’s First Lady of Fly Fishing” because of her many “firsts” as a woman in the fly-fishing industry.
She’s the 1st woman inducted into the Southern Appalachian Fly Fishing Museum Hall of Fame.
She was the first woman certified by the FFI as a Master Certified Casting Instructor (MCCI) and was the first female Orvis-Endorsed guide in the Southeastern United States.
She was awarded the Southeastern FFI’s 2005 Woman of the Year Award, as well as in 2008, the FFI South East Council Award of Excellence. This award was given to Taylor for her work with breast cancer survivors of “Casting for Recovery,” the Georgia Women Fly Fishers “Casting for Confidence,” as well as, for her teaching and testing activities for the FFI Certified Casting Instructors’ program.
Wanda is an ambassador for the Goodwill Guides and Project Healing Waters nonprofit organizations.
She is and has been an Advisory staff member for 18 years with TFO Rods and is a pro staff member of Patagonia, Chota Outdoor Gear, MavenFly, Costa Eyewear and Aqua Design.
Wanda teaches fly fishing and conducts instructional guiding classes locally in Tennessee and Georgia, as well as nationally at International Federation of Fly Fishing (IFFF) Expos, Trout Unlimited festivals, club events, fly-fishing conclaves and shows. Her topics range from “how to fly fish in fresh and saltwater,” “destination fly fishing,” “mentoring others into the sport” and her “fly-fishing life story.”
Wanda is awaiting IGFA confirmation of her potential ladies 20-pound class tippet spearfish on fly world record that she caught aboard the vessel Northern Lights on February 6, 2019 off Kona, Hawaii.
“The heart of Wanda Taylor is not just climbing the ladder but climbing it with a hand down pulling people up to be more than they thought they could be. Donna and I are proud to call her friend!”…Jim & Donna Teeny,
And Kathy Ackerman, of Casting Carolinas, writes of Wanda, “It is the very rare person who can convey their love of something… be it a sport, a hobby, a place… and actually bring that passion alive to others. Wanda Taylor is so very gifted, not just at fly fishing (although she is good at that) but at filling spaces with her positive energy and sharing that energy with those around you.
We are so fortunate to have her as a part of Casting Carolinas!”
“She is one of the best fly casting Instructors when it comes to men, women and children of all ages. She is a person of the highest character and morals, a great teacher, and fun angler to fish with.” Captain Jake Jordan
Wanda has been a professional guide, a fly-casting instructor, a feature angler, host in magazines, on radio, television, video, computer fly fishing games and podcasts from coast to coast. But her passion is teaching and bringing the love of fishing to every person with whom she comes in contact, and oh yes, her passion is also pursuing fish, all fish, around the world with a fly.
Her first “heroes” didn’t realize what a wide net of passion for fishing they spread when they introduced a little four-year-old to her first fishing pole.
How many lives has Wanda Hair Taylor mentored since then?