Keani Taketa is a fly fishing guide out of Missoula, Montana. She believes guiding is a lifelong learning journey and is always looking for opportunities to improve her fishing and guiding skills. She isn’t afraid to ask questions or ask for help; this quality alone has allowed her to progress immensely in her fly fishing career. Flylords had the opportunity to chat with her recently. Check out the full Women on the Water Interview below.
Flylords: Tell us a bit about you? Where are you from, where do you live now, what are your passions, and what role has fly fishing played in your life?
Keani: I’m a fly fishing guide originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, and currently live in Missoula, Montana. I’m fortunate enough to be able to guide out of Missoula during the guide season and then escape the cold for a bit in the offseason to Hawaii where I spend time with my family.
Fly fishing has basically molded what my life is now. Each year centers around my guide schedule and how I can expand my experience, knowledge and skill as an angler and guide. For example, before the pandemic I spent some time in New Zealand fly fishing with a local guide in order to improve my own fishing skills and learn different techniques and methods for guiding. Once I realized how important it was to travel and fish new waters and learn under knowledgeable guides, I made it a goal during my off-season to do this. My schedule is mainly focused on fish.
Flylords: How did you start fly fishing? What has been your biggest motivation to grow as an angler and now a guide?
Keani: My dad started working for the Nature Conservancy fresh out of law school, where he met like minded people who shared a love of the outdoors and who later introduced him to fly fishing. His passion for fly fishing grew and he wanted to share it with my older brother. However, my brother did not share the same love for it. When I was about nine years old my dad tried his luck on me and to his surprise, found his fishing buddy. From that point on, my dad and I fished every single summer in Montana and Idaho, driving up to 2,000 miles just between those two states and fishing with friends, guides and meeting new people who shared the love of the sport. Those father-daughter road trips changed my life and led me to where I am today.
My growth as an angler parallels my growth as a guide. During my first year of guiding, I asked guides, outfitters, shopkeepers, (really anyone I could talk to) on what tips and suggestions they had. I would ask what to do and not to do on the river or how I could better instruct a stubborn client. I was probably annoying to people because I kept asking questions. That intrinsic desire to acquire knowledge and be better than I was before is still a part of me and has helped me get closer to becoming the guide I want to be. In addition to that, seeing the mastery and knowledge of OG guides and outfitters is one of my biggest motivations to becoming better myself. Guiding alongside them on a multi-boat day is the most humbling thing. It shows how much I don’t know and how much I need to improve. Some of them have been doing this for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I eventually want to be 1/10th as skillful and knowledgeable as them. I have a long way to go.
Flylords: Did you fly fish much in Hawaii growing up? What was that like?
Keani: My dad and his best friend are avid saltwater fishermen. Hawaii has some of the largest, most elusive bonefish in the world so every weekend they would go out and try to catch those saltwater ghosts. I would tag along with them on some weekends but I wasn’t as motivated to catch one as I am now. When I went out with them I was more focused on enjoying the ocean or mountains and more importantly, connecting with them. It was our time to converse about life and appreciate the surroundings of a place we love so much. They love the ocean just as I love the rivers. And what has brought us together? Fishing. Fishing has brought us together more than having endless dinners ever could have. Having that time on the Hawaii flats solidified my notion that fishing can bring anyone together because of a common love for the environment and solitude.
Flylords: There aren’t many women of color fly fishing guides; what has been your experience as a woman of color in this industry and is there any advice you would give to other women of color wanting to get into fly fishing and/or guiding?
Keani: In terms of the guide industry, it has been difficult for me not because I’m a woman of color but more so because of my age and lack of experience compared to other guides. I feel like in the last few years there has been such an emphasis on highlighting the characteristics of a person that would set them apart rather than the actual person themselves, particularly on social media. For example, some people outside of the guide community tell me to stress the fact that I am an ethnic, female guide in order to stand out but that is not my intent. The guide community values hard work and paying your dues, not if you’re female or male or brown or white. I’m thankful for the guides and outfitters who treat me like another fellow guide. Don’t get me wrong though, I am very proud to be a female POC guide but it is not what I want to be identified as. My goal is to be known as a good guide first and foremost.
With that being said, there have been moving moments that I’ve experienced where me being a female guide and a person of color was acknowledged in an impactful way. I was guiding on the upper Blackfoot a couple of summers ago and there was a father and his daughter on the river. The daughter was about ten years old and she would glance over to my boat whenever we passed them. After we got off the river I ran into the father outside of a nearby gas station. He stopped me and said that his daughter saw me on the river and wanted to be like me. Not going to lie, I teared up after he said that. I never thought I could actually inspire another person, especially a young girl. I had such a focus on just being a guide that I forgot that having female representation on the water as a guide and just showing people that we can do it too is important.
My advice for other women of color wanting to get into fly fishing and/or guiding is to not let those characteristics define you. If your goal is to be a figure in the fly fishing or outdoor industry focused on female representation and diversity then that is a different story. I support it fully and appreciate those who are advocating for it. But if you want to be a guide then I would say work hard, be humble and learn from the OGs.
I’m not ignorant to the fact that being a woman in this industry can be difficult though. I’ve met people within this industry that don’t believe women should be guiding. I have been treated with hostility in shops and upon meeting me, doubtfulness from clients because I am a woman. But is it because they’re uncertain that my small frame can handle the boat? Or because I’m a person of color? I know others in my circumstance have had similar experiences and don’t know if it’s one thing or the other. But I think it’s important to point out that the guide industry as with any industry can be judgemental, regardless of gender or race. They look at how new your boat is, what fly you tied on, if you have a bobber. So when other guides glare at me on the river or have a look of judgment I just try to remember that they’re probably glaring at the other young guides on the river as well, not just me. I say to the women entering this industry, don’t let your differences deter you from enjoying this beautiful sport.
Flylords: What role does social media play in your career as a guide? How do you think it has affected the fishing and guiding industry as a whole?
Keani: Honestly, social media is a difficult line. On one hand you want to be proud of your guiding and show the public your guide journey (which non-guide individuals love to see) but on the other hand you’re going to get criticized by some guides because they think you’re posting too much. Where’s the line? I’m still trying to find it. And like I said, the guide industry values hard work, not how many Instagram followers you have. The guides and outfitters who are the most respected and admired as a guide are predominantly silent on social media or don’t have one at all. And I learned that you’ll garner their respect way more when you keep your head down and you commit to improving your craft.
Flylords: What are you most looking forward to this upcoming guiding season?
Keani: I’m looking forward to using my experience on my recent trip to Belize towards improving my own guiding. When I was in Belize I was the client and I definitely looked like a client who never cast a fly rod in their life. Upon seeing tailing permit, I got so nervous I couldn’t even get a proper cast out. It was such a humbling experience. As guides, I think we sometimes forget how difficult it can be to execute an action in the heat of the moment. Next time a client performs a terrible cast to a rising fish I’m going to remember how terrible I was on those Belizean flats.