The East Witch


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Through a series of fly casting events, I had survived. I’m “OK” with being “The Queen of the No Pride Club.” I made it up, it’s my club, and therefore it suits me at times. However, I liked winning casting competitions. I still do! But it takes work. You have to practice.

So there I was, at the San Mateo International Sportsmen’s Show, late 90’s. I’m practicing my casting, pretending to cast like my casting idols. I have a few. I still imagine I’m casting like Jerry Siem for grace and Tim Rajeff for style. Right? Anyway, I’m getting ready to fire off a cast and up comes this woman with bright red hair, a big smile and green eyes gleaming through freckles. “Are you Lori-Ann Murphy?” “I am.” “Well, the  Witch of the East has come to beat the Witch of the West’s butt!” Wow. Right then and there Rachel Finn became one of my all time favorite gal pals.

She told me she was a fishing guide in New York. I laughed. “Are you kidding me?” I couldn’t imagine the East fly fishing. I am a born and bred West snob. As a sportswoman, my identity has been really wrapped up with my guiding. It’s how I extend myself. Guiding is such a pain in the ass sometimes, but overall, the days out there keep teaching me something. And one thing I know for sure – the exciting story is about the people, not the fish. Anyway, I found out about Rachel’s guiding in 2002.

It was “The Great Outdoor Games” in Lake Placid, New York. ESPN produced the event. I showed up with a posy of fly fishing friends – all competing in this outrageously fun experience. I met Charles Jardine and Harrison Steves. I competed with Steve Rajeff! Carter Andrews, Mike Atwell, Jenny Grossenbacher, and some other talented and focused anglers all got to fish and compete on the beautiful Ausable River. It quickly became evident that Rachel is of course legendary on the river, and don’t forget this was 2002. There were many Rachel stories from local guides and the stories continue today. 

Everyone knows Rachel as one dedicated, smart and funny fly fishing guide. The top one percent of guides. Her long red braids, and often a cigar lit close by – she has guided on her home waters as well as the wilderness of Alaska. She has fly fished extensively over the planet. I was already living in Belize so I missed it when Rach got to fish the West. Lynda MacButch, Leslie Dal Lago, Carter Andrews and Diana Rudolph all showed her the magic. Now she can’t stop talking about it.

Rachel graduated from Yale with a Master’s in Fine Art.  A few years of a high paced New York City artist lifestyle was intentionally traded as a fly fishing guide in Wilmington, New York.

Rachel is an amazing artist. She takes shapes and material from her outdoor life in nature and finds it somewhere on paper, canvas or furniture. I have a little collection of Rachel made items. My flask covered with feathers from game birds she has shot. Also a duck feather box – where I keep my guitar pics. The placement of each feather reveals such intricate beauty.  One of my favorite’s is a monofilament piece demonstrating the simple lines of a blood knot on rag paper.  The initiated know how satisfying it is to tie a proper knot well. She put this on paper!

After our introduction, Rachel went on to become one of the best casters out there. If she is competing, I am scared. She continues as a long time loyal spokeswoman for the Scott Rod Company. She is also aligned with the Patagonia Company – allowing her voice and participation – as we all try to figure out this life of driven curiosity with a flyrod.

Rachel cut her braids this last year. She decided that she would get ahead of the game since she had to go through chemotherapy for renal cancer. All of her facebook postings revealed her bright red hair still very much intact through all of it. She just announced that she is now “cancer free!”

This is after one hell of a year. Rachel’s courage was shared and she continues to share as she get’s back into her guiding life.

So look out. The mighty “Witch of the East” is back at it and ready to show you the very best of her home waters in New York. And good luck if she enters a casting competition and you are competing as well. Just know that Rachel likes to make it happen.