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Making It Her Way

Cindy Garrison never let adversity keep her down.


Garrison has fished from Alaska to Africa.

If you want to succeed as a professional fisherman, all you need is the dream and a cow. Or two.

Okay, maybe there’s a couple of other ways to go about it, but for adventure angler, TV show host, and fishing guide Cindy Garrison, the path to piscatorial greatness started with selling a brace of bovines.

Garrison, a California native, grew up in a fishing and hunting family, which meant she spent a lot of time on the family’s Oregon farm. (This is where the cows come in.) Her father told her that should she ever fall onto hard times and need money, she had ten cows to sell—a livestock trust fund.

Garrison’s father also let her know that the last great fishing frontier was Alaska. The seed of a thought grew inside her angling soul until she decided that she needed to buy a flyrod, waders, and a plane ticket to the 49th state to become a fishing guide.

She called her dad and said, “Do you think one cow’s enough?” He replied, “You’ll probably have to sell two.” Garrison took the $1,000 in proceeds, added the 80 bucks that she had in her pocket, and headed north to take a guide position at a lodge. Her dream was about to be realized—sort of.

Being 21 years old and the only woman at the lodge, her “training” consisted of cleaning toilets and beds for a month—not quite the A River Runs Through It fishing fantasy she had in mind. Meanwhile, the lodge’s owners and guides waited for her to break. Garrison finally presented them with an ultimatum: Allow her to be a guide or else she’d quit. She quit.

Disheartened at first, she quickly regrouped, finding work as a guide at another lodge, becoming the first female guide in its 28-year history. On her first day of work, Garrison took out a six-man party only to have her engine quit, allowing her boat to drift down a fast-flowing Kodiak river towards the tidal nightmare that is Bristol Bay. The fuel line to her motor had been cut. Fortunately a floatplane rescued everyone, and she eventually got the boat back to the dock only to see the other guides standing there grinning. Garrison says, “I decided that not only was I going to be the best guide, I was going to rub it in all their faces.”

For six years, she successfully led anglers in Alaska and while there launched her own charter company called Garrison Adven-tures International, which led to her explore other angling opportunities. During one fishing trip, she traveled to Botswana. She’d heard there was a fierce quarry there called a tigerfish, which she explains, resembles a striped bass but with wicked teeth.

After catching several tigerfish, Garrison was convinced that targeting the species would be a good business opportunity and launched a guiding company based in Botswana called Safari Anglers. For the next five years, she lived in a tent while leading anglers who shared her fishing passion (and didn’t mind losing fish to a crocodile or having to dodge the occasional hippo).

Between charter seasons, Garrison returned to the United States to promote her business at outdoor trade shows. During one, she met some ESPN network reps who hired her to take one of their fishing-show hosts out for tigerfish. They saw something in Garrison, and filmed a couple more episodes with her before asking her to host the show, In Search of Fly Water.

She worked on the show for two years before getting her own program, Get Wild With Cindy Garrison. During its four-year run, she fished around the world and loved every minute, from battling supersize salmon on fly rod to swimming with behemoth billfish.

Sixteen years since her fateful trip into the wild north, Garrison still speaks about angling with the enthusiasm of a newbie, rattling off her to-do list at lightspeed. She’s also working on a new TV show to air later this year. No details were available at presstime, but I’m guessing the settings will be exotic, the antics outrageous, and the action infectious. In fact, I’d bet the farm—and the cows—on it.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.