Life in the Fly

Life on the Fly

Susan Thrasher’s Fly Rod Provides Balance

By Chandra Harris-McCray

A preacher’s kid, Susan Thrasher spent just as much time in church pews as she did worm dunking on East Tennessee rivers with her father. Her reverence for traditional bait fishing parlayed into fly fishing more than a decade ago.

“It’s hard to think about anything else when you are in the middle of the river with a fly rod catching and releasing fish.”Thrasher (Knoxville ’85) was looking for quietude. The civil engineering major, who began her educational jaunt on a volleyball scholarship at UT Martin before transferring to UT Knoxville, was at the midpoint of her more than 20-year career with Parsons Brinckerhoff. She was traveling the country managing traffic engineering projects, “and work could easily slip into the weekends,” says Thrasher, who is now senior vice president and integration manager for the global planning, engineering and construction management firm in Nashville.

“On a visit back to Bristol to see my family, close to 15 years ago, my father suggested we try fly fishing,” she says.

“I had never tried it before, and my technique was terrible. But, somehow, I caught a trout my first time out,” she says. “The experience changed my life.”

In the peaceful waters with a 9-foot fly rod and waders, Thrasher discovered a renewed joy for life and a much-needed work-life balance.

“My favorite pastime became a lifeline,” says Thrasher.

“When I wade into water, the river surrounds me with its rhythmic, babbling sound,” she says. “But the noise that’s filling my ears isn’t the phone or the ding of an email—it is rushing water, and it blocks out the rest of the world.”

“It’s hard to think about anything else when you are in the middle of the river with a fly rod catching and releasing fish,” she says.

Any available free time became Thrasher’s fly fishing days, but she still desired to learn more, so she trained with Reel Women Fly Fishing in Idaho and at the Wulff School of Fly Fishing in Lew Beach, N.Y., in the Catskills, birthplace of American fly fishing.

“It’s more than swinging a rod in the water and outwitting trout,” she says.

“There is a delicate art to fly fishing. Along with the basics of casting, you must learn to read the river and know where the fish actually live and what they are feeding on,” says Thrasher, who has studied numerous books to understand the habitats of fish. “It’s a study in entomology. Everything from the water temperature to the time of year plays into fly fishing.”

“Before you ever get in the water, there is quite a bit of learning and thought involved,” she says.

Susan ThrasherThrasher’s passion has grown into a desire to pass her knowledge on to others. A certified casting instructor and owner of Southern Brookies Fly Fishing in Lancaster, Tenn., along the Caney Fork River, Thrasher offers casting instruction and guided tours on the weekends.

“I’ve been able to transfer my teaching skills found in my professional work into my fly fishing instruction,” explains Thrasher. “In my work role, I have been a mentor, coach and teacher to many of the employees. I’ve learned that patience and attention to fundamentals are transferable skills. Everything must be broken down into different steps, which helps both new employees and first-time anglers to understand the basics necessary for success.”

For centuries fly fishing was a refuge reserved predominately for males, “but now women are joining in and finding great joy in the sport,” she says.

Thrasher, along with her good friend Nikki Mitchell, founded the Music City Fly Girls in 2007, Nashville’s only fly fishing club for women. Now with more than 40 members, novices to experienced anglers, the club also partners with Casting for Recovery, a national nonprofit support and educational program for breast cancer survivors, which offers fly fishing retreats to promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

“The cancer isn’t the focus—fly fishing is,” she says. “It is a new and challenging art form for the participants that brings healing and hope.

“Fishing mimics life,” she says.

“The process alone is very spiritual. You are surrounded by God’s living creation, and you learn a lesson in timelessness,” she says. “It’s a balm to the soul.”