Cancer, Set Me Free

by Michelle Karl

Michelle connected to SaraBella through a colleague of her husband, and a dear friend of April. When April met Michelle, she was inspired by her story, by her authentic battle with breast cancer, and by Michelle’s adventures ahead. We will share Michelle’s journey on our website and social media – through fishing, reflecting, exploring, and discovering. Her family will float various rivers in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia. We’re all cheering for health, fun, and for cancer to set her free.

This is a special Mother’s Day.

I am asking for an unusual gift, I am asking for my own peace.

I am an overachiever, a perfectionist and a caretaker.  I am also a therapist so I know that my tendencies are rooted in a fear of not being good enough… a fear that the people I love will see my faults and leave.

Over a year ago I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer.  Today, I have completed: a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, nineteen radiation treatments, 16 rounds of Herceptin, and one reconstructive surgery.  This last year has shaken me.

In hindsight, I can see that my body braced itself for the assault.  I lived my life, I performed in my roles as a wife, a mother, a friend.  I had low expectations for myself during treatment.  I bowed down to cancer and embraced my vulnerability, asked for help, thanked God for my good and bad days, and survived.  This week I was talking with my daughter and she expressed that although the year had challenges, cancer had also brought blessings to our family.  I can see that as well.

Greg and Michelle’s daughter…and their boat

Despite all that we endured last year, enveloped in a loving community of friends and family I was able to remain positive, for the most part.  However, it is now, that I have found myself to be more pessimistic and critical, especially of my physical  body.  I have gained weight, my jeans are too tight, I do not like my hair, I have scars, the list goes on.

When I look at my physical self I see myself falling short.  I often do not see someone who is accomplished or strong, maybe even lovable.  I have tried to run away from these messages all my life by doing more. Preforming at work, preforming athletically, preforming in the care for my children, my home and my marriage.  Using my body as the shell that orchestrates it all.  Looking at the surface of what my body was showing to others as a reflection of what I was worth underneath.

Michelle’s daughter

There is no more shell. There cannot be.  It is only me.  It has deeply saddened me that I have not been able to accept the power that my body has shown this year.  How can I possible berate this physical body?  This body that, not only survived this year but has been able to show strength and courage and grace and vulnerability.

How can I not be thankful to this body that allowed me to wake up everyday and somehow go for a walk?  The body that allowed me to laugh and love in the midst of a crisis.

Intellectually, I know I should feel differently.  But when will I believe?   My body wants to be acknowledged for all it needs and all its strength, for the reality of all it does.  I am just starting to understand this.  My body wants its voice to be heard.  To stop the performance. To stop running and accept the nurturance that I can give it by listening in the quiet.

Michelle on the boat they built

This week my husband and I had the opportunity to meet with April, the founder of SaraBella Fishing.  We talked about being out in nature and the healing that can happen there, in the quiet. We talked about breast cancer, about empowering women and gaining self awareness and strength.  She told me about an organization that teaches women diagnosed with breast cancer how to fly fish, I am a novice.  We talked about my families three week, summer fly fishing and camping trip and the opportunity to use that time that time to heal.

I am looking for peace. Cancer has certainly impacted my life.  Yet I know the cancer did not get me  The cancer may be what sets me free.

Jim Sawyer

written by April Archer

Our beloved friend and SaraBella team member, Jim Sawyer, has passed away this morning. In the past few weeks, his beautiful family (and so many friends) have surrounded him with love. He is ready to begin his next chapter. Please keep Jim’s family in your thoughts and prayers.

We have learned many things from “Grandpa Jim”. We’ve learned about serving our country, working hard, studying in school (and in life), being thankful, and enjoying the power and beauty of water. He taught us that perfection doesn’t exist, that we all make mistakes, and that life is a gift that should never be taken for granted.

A few years ago, when SaraBella was in its infancy, we were defining how we wanted to hire, build rods, and make an impact. As we searched for new team members, we learned about Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and their rod-building program.

When I reached out to Jim (he was the leader of the rod-building program at Denver PHWFF) he took us under his wing, taught us, inspired us, befriended us, and let us into his life. Jim became our “Head Rod-Wrapper” and has been an incredible team member.

SaraBella rod by Jim (photo 5280 Magazine)

The last rod he wrapped, for Deb

If you have purchased a SaraBella fly rod in the past few years, there’s a high probability that “a Veteran named Jim” wrapped it. He has also trained and taught our team members with techniques that make our rods so special.

Soon after he began working with SaraBella, Jim told me about the anniversary of the passing of his daughter, Julie. She battled cancer, and Jim was deeply saddened by her loss. When he shared this with me, I asked him to write a blog, entitled “Honoring Julie” to recognize her. From that point forward, we had a really special connection.

When a tough and rugged Veteran uses his hands and his mind to create artistic fly rods, the result is amazing. He focuses, he measures, he counts, and he thinks about the person who will experience joy on the water with this fly rod. He always asked who the rod is for and where it’s going. I would tell him, “This one’s for a woman in Tennessee” or “This one’s for a teenage girl in Minnesota” or “This one is a ‘David Bowie’ tribute rod for a guide in Colorado”. When wrapping a rod, he reflected on his life, he worried about nothing, and he poured his love into each wrap.

Jim teaching SaraBella team

Jim often told people, “There are only two things that are certain – birth and death — the bookends. It’s what you do in the middle that matters most.” This is so true, and I feel so blessed that we have had the opportunity to be a part of his (and our) “middle”.

Jim and April, at an event

When my family went to Montana last summer, Jim sat down with me, over black coffee, to plan the route and the fishing. He told me that he lived in (I think it was) 7 towns which are now “ghost towns”. He shared stories  about the ranches he worked on, the cattle he tended, the rocks he threw, the winters he endured, the science he studied, his favorite fishing spots (especially the Big Hole) the crazy journey of war, family, education, love, loss, and life.

Jim Sawyer is with all of us every time we’re near water. He believes that water heals. Really heals. He believes that it can transform PTSD, ease depression, inspire hope, bring joy, give peace, and create life.

Thanks to Jim, we appreciate a Montana-style chicken fried steak, creamy ice cream, a tattered fly, perfect trim wraps, and bumpy dirt roads.

Jim at a SaraBella casting party

One of Jim’s beautiful rods

Jim teaches at an event

Jim Sawyer – you’re a “keeper”, we love you, our words cannot thank you enough, and we wish you great joy in your adventures ahead!

Real Men and Breast Cancer

by David McElwain

As of 2016, David is a member of the SaraBella fly tying and rod-building team. We are honored to know him, to learn from him, and to share adventures in fly fishing with him! Thanks to David for his courage an inspiration….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the leaves begin to turn, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here and on my pink_ribbon_t670mind. I am a professional flyfisher and tier and spend most of my time on the rivers and lakes of Colorado. I am a man and a breast cancer survivor!

That’s right, I am male. Not only women HAVE BREAST CANCER…

During this season and year round remind your loved ones to soap up and feel for breast lumps.

As you turn your calendar make a note to remind your husband, boyfriend or lover to check.  Your teenage daughters and sons need to be virulent as well. This soapy check can change and save your life.

Something as little as a tugging on your shirt button should be investigated, don’t just write it off to weight gain. CHECK IT OUT!

Very few males get breast cancer, but it very aggressive and can’t be dismissed. I survived MOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAale Breast Cancer in 2015. It seemed like a never ending battle. If not for the support of my wife and friends, I would have quit!

As the leaves begin to turn, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here and on my mind. Remember to CHECK IT OUT on the first of every month….REAL MEN CAN GET BREAST CANCER!



More about David….

We are honored to have David McElwain as our first SaraBella fly tier. He is also a member of our SaraBella rod-wrapping team, and he does fantastic work. It’s an honor to bring his talents to you!

David has been fly fishing for over 40 years. As a youngster, he was taught the ways of fishing and nature by his grandfather and Dad on the shore at Bennett Springs, Missouri. He started with a cane pole and a wooly worm in the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOzark Hills. In his early 20’s, he started tying flies while working at a friend’s fly shop at Bennett Springs State Park. In 1999, David joined Bass Pro Shops as a member of the fly fishing team – as a tying and casting instructor. He later transferred to Denver to lead the efforts to open the store’s fly fishing department.

David is a certified Adaptive Fly Fishing Practitioner and enjoys teaching people to fly fish through various organizations including, Adaptive Fly Fishing, Wish of a Lifetime, and the Wounded Warriors. He is also a member of Trout Unlimited, the International Federation of Fly Fishers, and The Fly Dressers Guild.

David’s first book, Our Grandfathers’ Flies, a historical retrospective to fly tiers reaching the shores of a new world; which is fabulous tribute to flies tied with furs, feathers, and hairs. In the past year, David has been battling breast cancer. He is determined to beat this disease, and with support of his wife, Lauren, he is able to keep his hands and mind connected to the sport of fly fishing.

When asked why he supports the vision of SaraBella Fishing, David replied, “I applaud the efforts and tenacity to start any new business in this country, especially a fly rod company. I believe and salute your wisdom and mission to empower women to be part of what I believe to be the ultimate sport.”

Lake Lessons

by JT Archer

FullSizeRenderJT is the Chief Operating Officer for SaraBella Fishing. He brings a wealth of talent and experience to our team, and we appreciate all of his skills and insight. Whenever possible, he loves to fly fish (and spend time outdoors) with April, their children, friends, and family.

[Read more…]

In Wildness

By Andrew Todd

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 9.04.39 AMAndrew Todd is a dad, husband, research biologist, and fly angler. He leads the effort for the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon, and he loves to get his two daughters outdoors. Professionally, Andrew is a PhD environmental engineer with experience in aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicology, hydrology, instream flow issues, water quality standards development, and general stream ecology. Andrew believes that by experiencing “wild” life (especially with kids), life can be really fun, interesting, and wonderful. SaraBella Fishing loves his passion about connecting girls with the sciences, the outdoors and in Wildness.

In retrospect, maybe it was a little crazy to drag my nine-year-old daughter and our Jack Russell on a work trip into the wilderness. Truth be told, during my many days in the Sand Creek drainage of the Great Sand Dunes, I have experienced the gamut of craziness, from Katefreak September snow storms to a (thankfully) brief encounter with the largest black bear I have ever seen. Yet something compelled me to pull Kate out of her second week of fourth grade, load her and Eddie Vedder into the truck, and drive to the edge of the wild Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Throwing on our packs, we crossed over Music Pass, incentivized by frequent water breaks and a bottomless bag of mini-marshmallows. Once we had descended into the valley, we set up camp, scarfed dinner then freeze-dried double chocolate cheesecake, and crashed out in a heap of down.

Over the next few days, Kate patiently stalked a vibrant Sand Creek cutthroat trout with her fly rod, hooked it, brought it to the bank, and carefully released it. Her first cutthroat on the fly. We day-hiked to Lower, then Upper Sand Creek Lake where we caught more trout then belly-flopped its frigid waters. We lingered for hours in the shadow of the Sangres. And on that last night, we camped a little too close to the campfire that Kate helped Kate2build, where she heard my fish biologist colleagues use words that she has been told not to use in new and creative ways…

Sure, the logistics of taking a nine-year-old girl and her twelve-pound dog into the wilderness are complicated. And there is significant risk. So why do it?

On the brink of middle school, I want Kate to know incredibly wild places that she can revisit when times are hard, even if those visits occur only in her mind. I want Kate to know that the world is much bigger than the girls who will inevitably pick on her for being true to herself. I want Kate to seek out adventures that challenge her notion of what is reasonable. I want her to ask me to get her out there, wherever there may be, whenever she wants to go.

In Wildness is the preservation of the girl…






Hooked on the Hunt

By Myrna White

Myrna has been a loyal supporter, friend, and customer of SaraBella Fishing since the early days of our company. She is an avid angler and truly a joy to know! In her professional life, she is a Senior Manager with Sprint/Business Customer Service and Technical Support. Since moving to Colorado, she has joined the Colorado Women Flyfishers, although she still loves to visit the South with her friends through Georgia Women Flyfishers. We are blessed to know her, and we enjoy hearing about her adventures!

I’m a native of Louisiana and IMG_3662grew up fishing in the area bayous, streams and lakes. We primarily targeted bass, bream and dozens of other fresh water speces. Occasionally we would fish the coastal waters offshore for a little deep sea fishing but the riches of our inland waters produced such a unique habitat there was never a reason to drift too far away.

Fast forward to many years later while living in Atlanta it was a trip to Louisiana with friends from Georgia Women Flyfishers where I was awakened to the world of the redfish. A few of the guys from the local Trout Unlimited Chapter shared pictures from a trip they had taken and we wanted to experience that action, so we booked our first trip in November of 2012 and headed south.

Four years later, my friends and I are still heading South to the marshes of Louisiana on our annual fishing trip to hunt for the bull reds.  I enjoy fishing for redfish but the bull reds are some kind of special. Once you fish for redfish like this it haunts you…. it happened to me 4 years ago in Port Sulfur, LA and I still feel it.

The weather is always a gamble trying to hit the right conditions in Louisiana in November for bull redfish. We’ve hit everything from cold, clouds, rain, wind and sun. November 2015, on day one of our trip theIMG_3663 weather didn’t measure up to what we had ordered, with very high winds and cold temps there was no way we could have gone out so the guides called it.

It’s day two and I’m up before sunrise, checking the reports, eager to get on the water and pleased to see there is a break in the weather, it’s a go today we were all set for the hunt. The water was a little choppy and dirty but we fished on. All of the fishing is sight-fishing to individual fish, small pods or large schools. We caught fish but we worked hard for it and there were no bulls to be had today. Well it wouldn’t happen this day but there was one more day left and we were still hopeful.

Day three didn’t disappoint, it was another challenging day, but even on the tough days we were managing to sight fish to reds in skinny and very stained water.  The day was coming to a close and I had not caught a bull red yet, I
didn’t want the trip to end, I wasn’t ready. I took one last stand at the bow on the platform looking for tailing fish or a push in the water and suddenly I hear the guide call out 3 o’clock, 50 feet. He maneuvers the boat and begins poling in the IMG_3659 copydirection of the fish, still too far to cast in the wind so we quietly continue our approach. I began my cast trying to get the fly right across the front of the fish so he sees it.  I must admit casting into the wind was a herculean effort on this day.  Finally a cast right in front of him and without hesitation he SLAMS and crushes the fly like he hadn’t eaten in weeks and what a sight!  We didn’t give up, kept plugging, and thankfully we were rewarded with some good action to end the trip.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to catch a bull red on a fly, you must experience it at least once, but I must warn you it may not be your last because it’s addicting.  Thus the reason we keep going back……

Bonefishing the Third Trimester

Bonefishing the Third Trimester
By Amanda Kinsey

Photo by David Noles

Photo by David Noles

Amanda Kinsey is the Founder and Principal of Electric Yolk Media. She is a filmmaker, five-time Emmy Award winning producer and fourth-generation photojournalist.  Prior to founding Electric Yolk Media in 2013, she spent over a decade writing and producing for NBC. Her professional work has included interviewing George Lucas, tracking down the real girl from Ipanema and shooting helicopter aerials over Santa Barbara. Amanda also holds an MBA from Columbia Business School. Amanda has supported SaraBella Fishing since its launch, and she celebrates “smart beautiful” in personal and professional aspects of her life. She resides in Brooklyn, with her husband and son. We are thrilled to publish her piece and incredibly thankful for all of her support!
Amanda bonefish2

Staring into a Bahamian flat is a little like looking into a martini glass. It’s gin clear, but there’s a certain shimmer that hints to the possibility of something more. For the martini, it’s most certainly vermouth. For the flat, it’s the uncertainty of bonefish. Is that a rock on the bottom or the shadow of a single fish?

Last spring, I found myself standing on the edge of a flats boat looking out into the sea for silver torpedoes. It was my second trip to Andros Island. The largest island in the Bahamas, it is also the least inhabited. My first trip was for my honeymoon in 2012. My husband, Alex, and I had come back now for a babymoon. We love the Bahamian beaches, food and culture. However, in both cases fly fishing for bonefish was our primary goal.

Amanda - bonefish1My pregnancy hadn’t been easy. Morning sickness had lasted through week twenty-two. It finally lifted the week before our trip to Andros. The promise of being out on the water with a rod was no doubt the antidote to my never-ending nausea. We were excited. Excited to be returning to a place we loved. Excited about our son we would soon meet.

I was also nervous. I wasn’t sure how well I could stomach being on a boat. I wasn’t sure how well I could cast, let alone set with my growing baby belly. I could barely see my toes. How could I possibly spot fish?

Our friend and local fishing guide, Solomon Murphy, took us out. Solomon had endeared himself to me on our first trip when no matter how I cast he quickly responded with “I can work with that” and then maneuvered the boat into an optimal position. The positive reinforcement worked and I found my casting dramatically improving with each try.

More than freshwater trout fishing, bonefishing is about the stalk. There is something very primal in the hunt, even though it is catch and release. There is also something incredibly calming in the quiet of the flats.

Our first morning out, we pole the waters for two hours looking for fish. And then we see them. It’s a small school. There are only five. My anxiety from earlier in the day suddenly disappears and I am in the moment. The awkwardness of my changing body is soon forgotten. I cast, I wait, I strip… strip…strip…SET! And I remember not to trout set! The bonefish begins a nice and powerful ride. As she darts faster and faster, something remarkable happens. My belly begins to move. My son, Conor, starts to respond to my adrenaline. Here we are, mother and son, catching our first fish together!Amanda bonefish3

I didn’t land the bonefish, but it didn’t matter. Conor and I experienced our first outdoor adventure. We had enjoyed a passion for fly fishing that had brought my husband and I together and now we shared as a family. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

My son was born this past summer and soon we will be celebrating my first Mother’s Day. I can’t wait to take him bonefishing in the Bahamas a few years from now. Maybe the next time around, I’ll be able to enjoy a martini.

To see Amanda’s work, go to:

Caught a Fishing Partner

By Cindy Ward
Cindy & Vern

Cindy & Vern Bass, at Upper Stagecoach – Steamboat

Cindy Ward is the graphic designer who elevated our SaraBella sketch from a post-it note to a beautiful logo. We appreciate her love of fly-fishing and her talent. Thank you for sharing your skills and your spirit with us!

My name is Cindy and I’ve been fishing all my life. Really. Some of the first memories I have are of sitting on my dad’s lap, stuffed in a life vest, hands grasping the grip of a miniature fishing pole, in a boat in the middle of a clear Wisconsin Lake.

Fast forward past my formative years in the midwest woods to those of a responsible adult and mom. (It happens to even the best of us.) There were a few days at the lake here and there with grandpa and kids but most of my time was spent baiting hooks and untangling lines rather than indulging my desire to cast for the lily pads. But enough of that, let’s get to the good stuff.  Fast forward a few more years. Marriage one is history, the kids are out of school, married and on their own and drowning worms in the stocked streams of southern Missouri is fast losing it’s luster.

I fell in love with Colorado when I was a teenager and swore one day I’d live there. So I packed up lock, stock and tacklebox and moved to Denver.  I spent my first year exploring all the amazing outdoor recreation that Colorado has to offer and was captivated with the mountain streams and the people I watched fishing them. A spark went off and I was hooked on the idea of learning how to do that too.  It was then I met this amazing Colorado guy. He loved hiking, cycling and skiing as much as I did but most of all, he also loved to fly fish and was willing to help me learn!

I jumped into my first pair of waders with both feet, borrowed a pole, mooched a few flies and set out to set the fly fishing world on fire. Lucky for me my new love was patient as I learned some new skills – fly fishing is way different from spin casting – and soon we were taking our fishing gear on backpacking and canoe trips.  Some of our favorite times together have been ones spent fishing rivers and mountain lakes, looking for the most likely places fish should be hiding out, being each other’s cheering section when a fish is hooked and gleefully manning the net to help bring them in.  Even when no fish are caught, the time spent together outdoors enjoying the beauty all around us and the quiet rythum of the casting never fails to bring a smile to our faces.  Last September I married Vern, the love of my life and soul mate who also happens to be my fishing partner and our wish list of places to fish, like our love, just keeps growing.

PS – Even our last name reflects our passion for fishing…coincidentally, it’s Bass : )

SaraBella Fishing – by Annika



Annika’s first fish “all by herself” on the fly!

 Written by: Annika Archer- age ten

    The SaraBella Fishing company is made so we can give women a chance in the world of fishing. You might go to a store and want a fly rod but you see there’s none for you they all say ”men”. Well, at SaraBella we make custom rods especially for women and girls. Our products are unique you usually see black, green, brown, and gray… But we’re different, we want not just women to shine but our products as well we make rods in pink, green, yellow, orange, blue, Broncos colors, you name it we make it! Our crew stays up late to make your day perfect we put all of our love into the rods we make.


Casting practice in our alley

    The SaraBella Fishing company is pretty new but so far we’ve made progress on our hope with women and fishing. The rivers are all different but if you carry along what we call the magic wand or fly rod you’re bound to have a good chance on the water. We believe everyone has a fish out there, and with a SaraBella rod you’ll always have fun!

                Annika/ SaraBella crew

Craving the River: Why Fly Rods Benefit Your Mental Health

12188625_10206580773669505_1565495832_nby Kaitlin Barnhart

Kaitlin2Kaitlin Barnhart has her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Pacific Lutheran University and currently works with troubled youth at Integrative Interventions, LLC, as well as writing for Idaho Life Magazines. Check out her blog at and follow her Women’s Fly Fishing Facebook Page.


My friend, Holly Finn, wrote something the other day that made me smile. She posted this under a picture of a huge rainbow trout: “Just snuck off for some river time and glad I did”. A few other friends chimed in and stories filled her comment section of women fishing on their way to the grocery store, or fishing every day on their lunch break because they are a “Better person in the office after river-time”. What do these fly-fishing addicted women receive from these river outings? The list is far too long to write, but here are a few reasons why sneaking away to the river is the best medicine for improving your mental health…

The first thing we receive from river-time is the chance to silence our multi-tasking, problem-solving, minds by focusing only on fishing. When you are stalking a fish, your brain locks down the hatches of all other concerns and gears every movement towards what fly to use and where to cast. In some ways, we turn into simple-minded animals instead of over-stressed moms/wives/employees/housekeepers. To crave that single-mindedness is spot on, because our hard working brains deserve a rest.

The second thing we are craving is time in the outdoors to challenge our viewpoint of the world and calm our anxieties. Our ears hear water trickling and birds chirping, which forces out the gnawing sound of phones ringing, texts alerting, or people needing something from us. Our eyes stare at the colors of the fish we catch and we are amazed every time at the beauty that is in the natural world. We can smell the fresh trees soaked in morning dew and know that even though there may be things out of control in our lives, the outdoors has a rhythm that operates without our hand, consistently. When our minds are bogged down with troubles from our everyday lives, time with a fly rod helps us see that the world is still good out there and things are still beautiful if we choose to see them; if we make it priority to meet with them.

The third thing that we get from fly-fishing is adventure. We need adventure, excitement, the thrill, the chase, the moment of learning we are capable of much more than our mind allow us to believe. When we are out there casting a line or forging a river, we are always calculating; and when those calculations add up to a gorgeous trout or a giant steelhead, we can’t help but feel good about ourselves. We are stronger women, mentally and physically, because of the adventures that unfold with a fly rod in our hands.

Women have lists and lists of things they need to do this fall, but for the sake of your mental health and happiness, I encourage you to sneak away to the river as often as you can. Your boss and family will thank you for it…in the long run. It also helps to get that crazy look in your eye from time to time so people around you encourage you to get to the river! Be well, friends, get after life, and fish on!

Further Evidence:

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