MARLO THOMAS
08/13/2014 10:41 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Registered Nurse Quits Her Job To Teach Fly-Fishing Off The Tropical Shores Of Belize

marlo thomas"One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us—that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story, an excerpt from my new book “It Ain't Over Till It's Over,” is about about Lori-Ann Murphy – a registered nurse who took a trip that led her to teach Fly-fishing to celebrities and fishing enthusiasts alike." —Marlo, MarloThomas.com

Some women are afraid of change. Others thrive on it. And if you have wanderlust like Lori-Ann Murphy, you seek it out.

Lori-Ann was a fourth-generation nurse who had started working in hospitals when she was just 14. To many, nursing is a secure job, but it’s also one that fit Lori’s restless temperament perfectly. Hospitals everywhere need nurses, so whenever she got the itch to move, she would look for a job in the Southwest desert, or the Rockies, or wherever the Southern California native had never lived.

“The length of time I spent in any one place varied,” she says. “On the short side, I’d stay until my curiosity was satisfied; longer stays usually meant I had something to keep me there: coursework, a nursing contract, a boyfriend (several), or even a husband (two).”

But change was always the most important part of the equation. That is, until one day when she was in her late twenties, and her perception of change…changed.

Lori-Ann was working at a hospital in Arizona when a doctor friend invited her on a fly-fishing trip to the Deschutes River in Oregon.

Drifting along the wide river, tucked between the fir-covered cliffs of the eastern Cascades, Lori-Ann was struck by the beauty and serenity of the remote location. But what was truly life changing about the trip occurred when Lori-Ann caught her first fish. It was a steelhead, a rare sea-run rainbow trout that spends two or three years in the ocean, then returns to fresh water to spawn. In this case, the fish would have left the Pacific, traveled up the Columbia River, then up the Deschutes, before encountering Lori-Ann, who had come all the way from Arizona and had stood hip-deep in the river for four hours before they met.

“Here I was, holding this amazing creature that had found its way hundreds of miles from the ocean to the river to me,” says Lori-Ann, “and I was blown away, by both the marvels of nature and the randomness of the world. I felt so present, and had such a deep connection to that fish—and to nature.”

Before coming to Oregon, Lori-Ann had been reading The Power of Myth by the philosopher Joseph Campbell and had been intrigued by his teaching to “follow your bliss.”

Fly-fishing, Lori-Ann discovered, was her bliss, and she began looking for nursing jobs that would allow her to actively pursue it in her free time. She also knew that learning a whole new skill would be somewhat humbling and that she’d have to ask a lot of questions.

As Lori-Ann’s fly-fishing proficiency grew, so, too, did her reputation among locals. Eventually, Orvis, the venerable Vermont-based company that is the go-to source for all things outdoors, certified her as its first female guide. The last step before certification is to take a client onto the river; in Lori-Ann’s case, her test client was Leigh Perkins, the owner of Orvis.

“I was late picking him up,” Lori-Ann recalls, “which left me a wreck until I finally blurted, ‘Leigh, it’s making me too damn nervous knowing you are the owner of Orvis, so I’m going to pretend you are one of my regular fishing pals and go from there!’ He said, ‘That’s a great idea, Lovely!’—he calls me ‘Lovely.’ So we fished all day and then sat down to dinner at nine p.m., still wearing our waders.”

Lori-Ann’s rising as “the fly-fishing nurse” began creating even more opportunities, some completely unexpected. Such was the case when Universal Studios called—out of the blue—and offered her a gig teaching Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon how to fly-fish for the movie “The River Wild.” Then Martha Stewart called—she wanted to do a story on fly-fishing in her magazine and needed Lori-Ann’s help.

See below the amazing pictures of Lori-Ann’s adventure, not only with fish, but with the many famous people she met along the rivers.

PHOTO GALLERY
Lori-Ann

Though Lori-Ann continued to work as a nurse, which she still considered her “profession,” fly-fishing opportunities kept cropping up. “I held an Orvis class for three women,” she says, “When it was over, they walked into the Orvis Store in Jackson, Wyoming, and each dropped two grand because they wanted to buy ‘everything Lori-Ann had.’ Being an astute businessman, Leigh had me start the Women’s Schools for Orvis.”

The classes were a hit from the very beginning; the first one attracted 27 students. That gave Lori-Ann the idea of offering her own tours specifically geared to women, so in 1994 she and a friend cofounded Reel Women Fly-Fishing Adventures.

With so many stars aligning in her new career, Lori-Ann decided it was finally time to set nursing aside. For the next dozen years, her life was devoted to guiding, trips, schools, trade shows, speaking engagements, and traveling the world to fly-fish.

Then in 2009, Lori-Ann got an offer she couldn’t refuse: She was recruited to interview for the job of director of fishing for El Pescador Lodge in Belize, a tropical outpost along the north-eastern shores of Central America. El Pescador is a beautiful, Orvis-endorsed, saltwater fishing nirvana, where well-moneyed enthusiasts pay $6,000 a week to pursue a grand slam of bonefish, tarpon, and permit fish. The resort interviewed 175 men for the position. “No women applied, not even me. Then a guide friend said, ‘Lori-Ann is the one for the job,’ and I got it.”

But even after they’d made her an offer, she had her doubts. “I wondered whether an outsider like me would be welcomed by the guides, all of whom were men, and a pretty macho bunch at that. But all my friends screamed at me, ‘No way are you not taking it! This is the job you were meant to do!’”

Today, Lori-Ann works at El Pescador eight months a year; the rest of the time she guides trips around the world.

“It’s not a profession I ever imagined myself doing,” she says. “But it goes to show you: Pay attention to what falls out of the sky. We work and work and work, focused on goals. But sometimes the best opportunities are the ones we don’t expect.”

“I loved nursing, but even with all the moving around, the job had be- come predictable. Fly-fishing never is. When you’re there wading in the water, there’s only one constant: the thrill of catching a fish. Everything else—the people, the day, the fish themselves—is different. And that is the bliss I’ve been wandering and searching for all of my life."

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To find out more about Lori-Ann’s journey -- and to read 59 other inspiring stories -- buy your copy of "It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over." Click here.

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