Nova Scotia

Cape Breton guide breaking barriers for women learning to fish

A Cape Breton woman became a fishing guide on the Margaree River in Cape Breton after receiving many messages asking her to show other women how to fly-fish.

Gioia Stanley launched all-women fly-fishing retreat on the Margaree River in Cape Breton

Gioia Stanley guides in the Margaree River in Cape Breton. She is one of just a handful of female fishing guides in Nova Scotia. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Gioia Stanley has always loved fishing. She and her dad were out on the water starting when she was young.

A few years ago, the Baddeck, N.S., woman decided to try her hand at fly-fishing.

Then the messages started. 

"Women were approaching me to [teach] them how to get into the sport," said Stanley.

"It can be intimidating. I think being a woman helps break down that barrier of someone who's new and not sure how to enter an industry such as fishing, where it can be typically very male-dominated."

That led Stanley to become one of Nova Scotia's few female fishing guides. Over the past two years, most of her clients have been women. Last weekend, she launched her first all-women fly-fishing retreat on the iconic Margaree River in Cape Breton. 

"What has helped me is representation," said Nancy Duguay, a participant in the retreat from Elmsdale, N.S.

Nancy Duguay casts in the Margaree River. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Like many of the women at the retreat, Duguay is an avid fisher but felt intimidated by the fly-fishing.

The sport requires more know-how when it comes to casting. It also relies on community knowledge. Some rivers and salmon pools have specific etiquette regarding how close to other fishers you should be and how to wait your turn in a pool.

"What I try to do with all the clients is to show them what gear they would need if they wanted to fish on their own, where they can go fishing on their own," said Stanley.

Duguay said following women in the sport on social media and going to these types of retreats is a big help when it comes to breaking down some of these barriers.

"If I reach out to ask a question, they actually respond and don't give you just like a brush off."

Caitlyn Dempsey hopes the retreat leads to more fishing friends so she doesn't have to go solo all the time. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

For some of the women at the retreat, it was the camaraderie that has been missing for them. Caitlyn Dempsey wanted to learn how to fly-fish and meet people while doing it.

"I'm from Halifax, so I have a lot of friends in the city. None of them are even remotely into anything to do with the outdoors," laughed Dempsey.

"I figured this is the chance to get up here and meet some women … so when I get home, I have some fishing buddies and get some practice.

Stanley said that was the ultimate goal of her retreat.

"It's nice to see how fast everyone caught on too so I think the passion is there and that helps them learn."

Stanley watches as one of the women at her retreat casts a line. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

For those still nervous about trying their hand at casting a fly rod, Stanley's advice is to talk to as many people as you can.

"The more that you ask questions to people you meet on the river, the better off you are, I found that getting over that hump is what helped me let go of any expectations and what people think," said Stanley.

"Everyone is here to have fun and to enjoy the same river."


Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?