You could call her the queen of the San Juan River. She’s that good-looking gal behind the counter at Fisheads Fly shop. The one dispensing expert advice on how to fish the blue ribbon trout waters or offering to guide a couple of lucky anglers below legendary Navajo Dam. And in the man’s world of flyfishing, it’s a role she relishes.
“I love this job,” she says with a beaming smile, “And being a woman doesn’t hurt either.”
Peggy Harrell grew up with her younger brother and sister out in the Oil Patch of Hobbs, NM. Their father was an auto mechanic while Mom worked for the telephone company. In the summer the family would vacation in Texas, renting a cabin at a lake where the kids learned to fish.
“All the guys would get to go out in the boat but us girls always got left behind on the shore,” she says. “I felt bad but maybe it was just because they didn’t know what to do with us if one of us had to pee.”
During her career she has had to overcome other gender based obstacles in order to achieve respect as a fishing guide.
“When I first started out it seemed I’d get a lot of guys who didn’t listen to me or questioned everything I said,” she said. “Or maybe someone would try to squeeze into my hole out on the river. I always felt like it was because I was a woman.”
But Harrell says that changed, as she grew more experienced, confident and assertive.
“Now I feel like most clients who ask a lot of questions just want to know what my qualifications are,” she says.
Harrell says she’s been fishing on the San Juan River for almost 30 years and guiding for the last fifteen.
Favorite spot to fish:
“Above the cable hole in the catch and release area, there’s no boats to deal with.”
“Right now it’s the grey Zebra midge.”
Favorite piece of equipment:
“A magnetic fly holder, it works easier and better than a patch.”
Favorite rod and reel:
“A Helios 10-foot, 4-weight rod armed with a Mirage reel.”
Worst pet peeve about clients:
“People who try to teach the sport to their children too soon and clients who don’t listen to me,” she says. “Most kids don’t have the physical capabilities or attention span before the age of twelve and why hire me if you don’t want my advice. Both can be a waste of my time.”
Most common mistake anglers make:
“Overcasting!” she says. “Casting over fish and casting too far to control the drift.”
“I fish the San Juan almost exclusively,” she says. “I’ve been spoiled by the size and quantity of fish here.”