C of I couple finds fulfillment through fly-fishing
Looking down into the aquamarine depths of the Indian Ocean may seem like the perfect vantage point for any fisherman, but it takes a master of the trade to spot the deceptive fish that pervade these waters.
With a translucent exterior and lightning-fast speed, the bonefish is a catch reserved only for the most skilled anglers – and pursuing the elusive “Gray Ghost” has long been a fascination for avid fly-fishers Rick Williams ’74 and his wife, Shauna Williams.
As the couple describes it, nothing is more invigorating than wading in the tropics and making the catch.
“Fishing for bonefish is arguably one of the best types of fishing there is,” Rick said. “You wade out into knee-deep, subtropical waters and look for these difficult fish and once you catch them they just take off like rockets. It’s really good fun.”
For the past 35 years, fly-fishing has been a pivotal part of the Williams’ lives. Together, this skilled couple has fished waters around the world including Mexico, British Columbia, Alaska and the Amazon River in South America. Traveling the world has been one of the many perks that come with Rick and Shauna’s dedication to the sport, but for them fly-fishing is more than just a hobby; it’s a way of life.
Conserving Idaho’s Wildlife
Growing up in Idaho was the perfect outlet for outdoorsman Rick Williams. His love and appreciation for nature led him not only to the sport of fly-fishing, but also down the path to an education in conservation biology.
“I graduated from The College of Idaho in 1974 with a double major in zoology and English literature,” Rick said. “I went on to Notre Dame and then transferred to BYU because they had a program on birds of prey. While I was there, I met Shauna and followed her to Hawaii where I did my doctoral work on non-native birds over there. After that I did some post-doc work on fish genetics working with salmon and trout and the recovery plans for native fishes.”
Rick's interest in native fishes continued to grow after receiving his Ph.D. in conservation biology. In 1993, he opened Clear Creek Consulting and focused on work tied to the conservation and habitat restoration of trout, salmon and steelhead found in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. As an Independent biological consultant, Rick assesses fish populations and habitat conditions in the environment and then proposes restorative actions.
In addition to his consulting work, Rick has devoted a large part of his life to fly-fishing instruction. He currently is certified by the Federation of Fly-Fishers (FFF) as a Master and Two-Hand (Spey) fly casting instructor. Rick is the only angler in Southern Idaho – and one of only 25 people nationwide – to hold both Master and Two-Hand Instructor certifications. He also serves as the Senior Conservation Advisor on the FFF’s Board of Directors.
“I do a lot of private instruction for the Federation,” Rick said. “So I’ve traveled quite a bit internationally to teach and do examinations. I’ve taught in Japan twice, Ireland, Scotland, England and a few other countries as well. It’s really been a lot of fun to do.”
Casting for Recovery
Shauna, a Boise surgeon and member of the C of I Board of Trustees, grew up in an entirely different outdoor wilderness than her husband, but the Hawaii native developed a similar passion for fishing early in life. Over the years, that passion has continued to grow into an impactful and fulfilling activity.
“I’ve always loved to fish since I was a little kid,” Shauna said. “I started with a bamboo rod out in the tide pools and then as I got older I traveled to San Francisco quite a bit to fish.”
After meeting Rick at BYU, Shauna’s interest in fishing turned toward the art of fly-casting. The sport was a natural fit and, after earning her fly-casting instructor certification, Shauna decided to use her skills to give back to the community through a program called Casting for Recovery (CFR).
Casting for Recovery is a national program that encourages emotional and physical healing for women who have been affected by cancer. Chapters throughout the United States sponsor women to attend a two-day retreat where they learn to build strong support systems and enjoy life through activities such as fly-fishing.
Shauna has attended seven retreats as a casting instructor with Southern Idaho’s CFR chapter, and although she has never had to experience cancer personally, she always ends up taking something away from the experience.
“Sometimes I feel like I get more out of the experience than anyone,” Shauna said. “It is so rewarding to see these women, some of whom have never held a fishing rod in their life, catch a fish and see the joy on their face. It really is a cool experience.”
Shauna is also an active member of the Women Fly Fishers of Idaho Club and spends her professional career as a colorectal surgeon. She received her medical degree from the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine in 1984 and has been practicing in the Boise area since 1991.
Along with their dedication to fly-fishing instruction and community service, Rick and Shauna also have invested in Southwest Idaho’s premiere fly-fishing shop: the Idaho Angler. The couple has been involved with the business since it opened in 1993, first as customers and then as owners.
“It always puzzled me that Boise didn’t have a good fly-fishing shop,” Rick said. “An angling shop called the Ultimate Angler started down on Bannock Street and we had gotten to know the owners quite well. After a few years, one of their business partners wanted to sell his share, so Shauna and I decided to buy his portion out.”
In 1999, the renamed Idaho Angler moved locations to Vista Avenue and transformed into southern Idaho’s premier fly-fishing shop. The shop has seen exponential growth under the direction of Rick and Shauna, co-owners Don Knickrehm, Joy Knickrehm and Ken Pursely and General Manager Tim Mansell.
“It wasn’t an overnight success,” Rick said. “It’s all been about hard work and paying attention to quality and customer service. For example, one of the things that we do is require our fly-fishing guides to be certified fly-casting instructors before we actually let them guide. We’re one of only about 3 or 4 fly-shops in the country that requires our staff to do that.”
The Idaho Angler caters to the fly-fishing enthusiasts with high-end equipment, fishing information, specialized classes and exceptional customer service. The shop also provides travel opportunities for its customers to explore areas throughout Idaho as well as some of the more tropical places in the world, such as Christmas Island in the central Pacific.
“We’ve got a great staff down at the Idaho Angler,” Rick said. “Shauna and I just try to stay out of their way.”
But for Rick and Shauna Williams, staying out of the way almost never means relaxing at home.
Not when there are habitats to preserve.
Patients to heal.
A community to serve.
And many, many more catches to make.