Interview with Whitney Gould Casting Champion Extraordinaire
Whitney Gould and I have known each other since we met in college in Vermont. Both painting majors, our studios were two doors down from each other. After college, she and I, and some of our other friends, moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn when the neighborhood was still an industrial wasteland and there was plenty of cheap studio/living space. We have been friends ever since (about twenty-five years) and although we no longer live around the corner from each other, we are still in touch. Neither one of us is painting anymore, I am a writer and she is a world casting champion. Both of us have moved about as far from Williamsburg or the east coast, or our original dreams as visual artists as we could ever have imagined.
I moved to Bozeman about six months ago with my husband. If she had told me twenty years ago that’s where I’d end up while writing a book, I would have laughed in her face. If I had told her that she would become a world champion in casting and worked on the river as a successful fishing guide in Alaska, she never would have believed me. I wouldn’t have believed either of us.
A few years back, our mutual friend Laura Watt, the only one of us who still is a painter, told me the story of Whitney showing up to meet her on a weekend vacation. She said that right after Whitney arrived she happened to look in the backseat of her car. It looked like it belonged to an old man, a fishing hat with tackle attached, a couple of fishing rods and a tackle box, the only sign of a woman was a light blue Marc Jacobs handbag squished in next to it. That’s when I first caught wind that fishing was going to be a big thing for Whitney. She hasn’t changed much from that paradigm except now we both laugh that our lives don’t leave a lot of room for Marc Jacobs bags.
Whitney began as a visual artist, then went to RISD to get her degree as a landscape architect. After she graduated, she moved to Portland, Oregon to work in a landscape architect firm when she realized that fishing could become more than a beloved hobby. Soon there was no way to contact her. Alaska and its rivers had absorbed her entirely, and every so often we would hear she had won major world competitions for casting. This interview is about Whitney’s amazing fishing success, but also how our lives took us all the way from Brooklyn to here.
Lara Wisniewski for Bozeman Magazine: What is your first memory of fishing?
Whitney Gould: It’s not as much as a memory but a feeling. In Northern Minnesota, I spent many summer evenings fishing off my grandparents dock trying to entice whatever would bite with a hand carved drop line and sinker. I spent countless hours on my stomach staring down into the water. I’m sure I caught fish, but what I remember most is being consumed by the peace and solitude of catching whatever lived under the dock.
BM: How did you get from Vermont to Alaska?
WG: I moved to the northwest in search of a deep need for solitude, independence and never wanting to take anything or anyone for granted. I wanted to deepen my awareness of living in the moment in an effort to keep everyday life positive. I had developed an inability to sit in front of a computer and wanted a job that would feed my wanderlust and general love of life and adventure.
BM: Please for the readers, and for me especially because I am sure I know less about fishing than most of Bozeman Magazine’s readers, explain what kind of fisher woman you are?
WG: My main focus is to fish with a two-handed rod. After that I’ll fish for any species.
BM: When was the moment that you knew you could make fishing your livelihood? And how did that feel?
WG: Seriously, I never set out to be a fishing guide. Friends and colleagues frequently told me that I may be more involved with the fishing industry than I realized. Then one year, I filed my taxes and remember thinking to myself, wow I can make a living out of this. Intimidation eventually turned into excitement.
BM: I recall that one of your fishing expeditions is solely for women. If I wanted to go, would I have to be an expert?
WG: Not at all. I teach anglers at all different skill levels.
BM: Would you recommend professional casting as a profession to other aspiring women?
WG: Yes I would.
BM: Tell me about some of your other expeditions that you offer? Do you do them with someone else?
WG: Fly Water Travel and Fish Head Expeditions. Both are travel agencies in Oregon.
BM: Tell me about the workshops you are here in Bozeman offering in April? Do you hold them in conjunction with any local fishing stores?
WG: Mike McCune and I will be teaching two-handed casting classes offered through the following fly shops:
The Rivers Edge; Bozeman, Montana, April 26 and or 27 , 2014. To reserve a spot for this class, contact Pierre @ 406-586-5373. www.theriversedge.com
Big Horn Trout Shop; Fort Smith, Montana, End of April beginning of May. For exact dates or to reserve a spot for this class, contact Hale Harris @ 406-666-2375
BM: If someone wanted to get in touch with you in Bozeman next month while you are here regarding group or private lessons, or wanted more info about you or your fishing expeditions, where can you be reached?
BM: I remember in your painting studio in Brooklyn, you always used to listen to music while you worked. We both did actually. I remember you were always going to the Knitting Factory in NYC (when it was on the Lower East Side) to hear alternative artists play, I think we even went together a few times. I mention this because I just met a friend for a beer in the relocated one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a few blocks away from where we used to live in the early 90’s. Do you listen to music when you fish?
WG: No, I don’t listen to music on the river because it just doesn’t work with the sounds of the river. I suppose I’ve exchanged an industrial genre for a natural one.
Those were fun days in Williamsburg and some great shows. I remember how listening to music while I painted complimented the noise from the street that I heard in my storefront painting studio.
BM: Do you ever miss the old neighborhood in Brooklyn?
WG: Yes, I miss the excitement of riding my bicycle everywhere and discovering parts of the city that I would have missed had I taken the subway. I miss street food, front stoop culture and the art of gab. Most of all, I miss the comfort found in long time friendships.
BM: What does your favorite workday look like?
WG: I don’t know if it’s going to be a great day until it starts to happen. My best days happen because of the guests in the boat. It’s important to me that they are having a fun and memorable experience.
BM: How does it compare to your favorite days in your past as a visual artist and landscape architect?
WG: I like the days where I don’t have to force the event or the outcome of a project.
BM: What does it feel like to be a woman casting champion? Do you feel different than the boys? Better or worse? Are the men casting champions competitive, jealous, or in love and total admiration (as they should be)?
WG: Not at all. Perhaps they just feel different than me.
BM: We pretty much kept in touch up until the Alaskan wilderness almost totally absorbed you a few years back. I didn’t realize you were there until our old friend Laura told me you had retreated into the wilderness and were winning prizes and accolades for your expert casting. I shared those successes with you through her, who only heard from you every few months. And you know we were both so proud of you. Please tell me about what it felt like to win the first significant prize for casting?
WG: I think there was a disconnect between what I achieved and how I felt about my casting at the time. Of course, I was happy that I was winning but overwhelmed by the amount of work I had set for myself. It makes me remember a conversation you, Laura and I had years ago about preparing for a painting show. How so much time and effort goes into the preparation for the show and then after the paintings are hung, the opening night comes and goes and then there is a sense of loss.
It is important for me to view my competitions as milestones for casting goals and self improvement. Winning is just a compliment to all the work that goes into competing.
BM: And what is next? What competitions are you training for now?
WG: Spey O Rama 2014 San Francisco, CA and The World Championships, held in Europe, sometime this summer.
BM: I remember when we moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1989-90 after we graduated from Bennington College. I remember then that the neighborhood was a beautiful industrial wasteland, with a lot of great, cheap studio space. Now the old neighborhood is a whisper compared to what is there now, great restaurants, hip stores and galleries, expensive condos. As someone who spends most of their time on the river in Alaska, does it feel like the same thing is happening to the places where you fish?
WG: Yes. I hate it when a fishery is reduced to the numbers of fish being caught rather than the overall fishing experience. My advice is to go with respected guides, ones who contribute to the conservation of the fisheries. I would recommend that if you are going to a lodge, fish with guides who are invested in the health of the ecosystem and its fish.
BM: What is the women’s fisherwomen support network like? Are there many of you? Is it supportive or isolated?
WG: I have a small group of close friends who are very supportive and larger group of peers.
BM: Thank you Whitney, how amazing to grow up and have a conversation like this all these years later!
Whitney will be in Bozeman in April teaching a two-handed casting workshop before she goes off to train for Spey O Rama and the European World Championships this summer. If you are interested in fishing at any level of style or experience, she is available for workshops and lessons. Please contact her at: Whitneygouldspey.com
Lara Wisniewski is a professional editor of the written word and a longtime writer of fascinating life interests, art and culture. She is also currently at work on her first novel. She is an extremely happy, new resident of the Bozeman area and the proud, new mama of her rescue puppy Bettina.