By David Tyler
Lindsay Agness developed her love for fishing from spending time with her grandfather at Honeoye Lake. She thought it was odd that her young friends didn’t share the same enthusiasm growing up. “I never thought that girls didn’t want to fish,” she said.
Lindsay’s passion for fishing never went away, and in 2011, she became a New York State Licensed fishing guide, one of a small number of licensed female fishing guides in the state. Lindsay is also a member of the NYS Guides Association.
While fishing was not her full-time career, she managed to carve out time over the years to use her knowledge of fly fishing to help others. She has supported several nonprofit initiatives, and after retiring as director of the enterprise project management office at Rochester Regional Health System, she expanded her volunteer work throughout the state, including the Central New York area.
“I love fly fishing and I love teaching,” said Lindsay. “I really enjoy giving back to the community, and it’s an uplifting experience to see others discover the joy of fishing.”
Last year, Lindsay was inducted into the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame, for her lifetime devotion of giving back to outdoor sports and conservation efforts in NYS. The organization honors sportsmen and women who have made significant contributions to preserving the heritage of outdoor sports.
Fly fishing can be therapeutic for the body and the mind, Lindsay said. “Just watching the flowing of the water and being in nature” can help people release emotions, meditate or just reenergize, she said. It can be beneficial for people undergoing a range of mental and physical challenges.
This month, Lindsay will return to the Salmon River in the town of Altmar to volunteer as a fly-fishing instructor and guide for the Upstate New York Casting for Recovery weekend, a chapter that she helped get started in 2015.
Casting for Recovery is a nonprofit nationwide program that provides free outdoor retreats for women with breast cancer. The event highlights the therapeutic aspect of fly fishing, and provides support for women who may feel alone in their breast cancer battle, said Lindsay.
“We teach them what to wear, how to tie a fly, and practice casting on the lawn before going to the water,” she said. On the first day of fishing, participants hold a prayer ceremony and throw rocks into the water as a symbolic gesture of getting rid of their burdens.
“Sometimes newly diagnosed women have not had a chance to go through their emotions,“ Lindsay said. “This is a great way for them to meet other women going through the same thing.”
The emotional benefits of being with others in a similar situation while connecting with nature are immeasurable, she said. “There is a lot of crying, a lot of laughter and a lot of bonding on that weekend.”
The motion itself of fly casting is physically beneficial because it can help increase arm and upper body mobility after surgery or radiation. “It’s been an honor to guide these women,” she said. “They are delightful, and so full of life.”
Lindsay is also a volunteer for the Fort Drum/Syracuse chapter of Project Healing Waters, a rehabilitation program that focuses on helping disabled military personnel and veterans with physical and emotional rehabilitation through the sport of fly fishing.
Studies have shown that after spending time fly fishing, people often experience lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress, and often sleep better.
Since 2011, Lindsay has volunteered as a fly fishing guide for an annual weekend of fishing by Project Healing Waters participants at the state DEC Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar. The fish hatchery opens areas on site for the veterans to fish which are closed to the public. “I’ve had the honor to guide both male and female veterans as part of the program,” she said.
For several weekends in March, Lindsay and her husband, Dave, volunteer as fly fishing instructors for their local CompeerCORPS chapter, which sponsors a range of outdoor activities to help promote independence, social and emotional well-being for wounded veterans. “It’s a great experience to get them outdoors and focus on fly fishing,” Lindsay said.
Her busiest volunteer work, however, has been with the Trout Unlimited organization. In 2007, Lindsay she started the TU Women’s Fly Fishing classes to introduce more women to fly fishing, and has taught the sport to more than 350 women since that time. This led Lindsay to help develop a national program for women’s fly fishing instruction that is used by local TU chapters throughout the country.
Lindsay, who serves as vice president of youth education for Trout Unlimited, has since been focusing more on programs for children, teenagers and even college students. These include the Trout in the Classroom and the Teen Trout camp programs, along with activities for boy scouts and girls scouts statewide.
Her most recent accomplishment was partnering with a girl scout troop in Honeoye Falls to become the first recipients of “Stream Girl” badges in New York State. The Stream Girls program was started nationwide by Trout Unlimited and offers young girls the opportunity to observe and learn more about the environment.
For Lindsay’s group, that included learning about fly fishing. “It’s so rewarding to introduce young people to the sport,” she said. “Their first fish is like my first fish.”