ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Pudge Kleinkauf begins her fly-fishing seminar with full disclosure. "Here comes the commercial," she says at the beginning of the slide show and casting clinic.
Then the first slide of her show pops up, which is basically a blown-up image of a business card for Women's Flyfishing, the instruction and guide service Kleinkauf has run for 25 years.
The commercial isn't necessary. Kleinkauf collects clients--especially women--with a knowledgeable but unaffected approach to a topic she clearly loves. A dozen women attended her seminar recently at a local women's show, and chances are at least half of them will be joining Kleinkauf for a class or a fly-fishing trip sometime this summer.
"My husband had tried to teach me to fly-fish years ago and it was a complete fiasco," said Joyce Palmer of Anchorage, who after two hours with Kleinkauf was viewing the sport from a whole new perspective. "Her enthusiasm is so infectious. I'm really believing I might be able to learn to fly-fish now."
Hundreds of women have learned the art of fly-casting and fly-fishing from Kleinkauf, who took up the sport 30 years ago -- 10 years after arriving in Alaska--out of jealousy and became an instructor out of happenstance.
Years ago her son and ex-husband took a fly-fishing class that Kleinkauf had to skip because she was working. The son liked it well enough to keep pursuing, and whenever the family went fishing, he'd fly-fish while Kleinkauf and her ex used a rod and reel.
"My son always caught more fish, and I said I wanna catch as many as he does," Kleinkauf said.
The son kept saying he'd teach her, but never did. Then Kleinkauf went to a cocktail party and met a woman who fly-fished.
Come fly-fish the Russian River with me, the woman said.
"Oh no," responded Kleinkauf, "I hate the Russian, because I can see the fish in the Russian but I can't catch them."
She went anyway, "and on my third cast I had a fish. And I knew then there was something about fly-fishing."
Kleinkauf took lessons from a couple of men, one who was a good instructor and the other who called her "honey" and "sweetie" and "cutie." She stuck with the good instructor and learned to build leaders and tie knots, and soon other women wanted to learn from her.
"They would come up to me on the river, and they always wanted to learn. They'd say, 'Do you teach?' so the idea I'd start teaching was formed. That was 25 years ago," she said.
Kleinkauf cuts a slight but striking figure--bald-headed, leather-faced, gold-rimmed glasses when indoors, dark glasses when outdoors. A teacher most of her life--she taught English to junior high kids, then social work at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and now a couple of grant writing classes at University of Alaska rural campuses--she shares her fly-fishing expertise effortlessly.
A woman mentions that she can never tell when a sockeye is on her line.
"Sockeye don't grab," Kleinkauf said. "Everyone says, 'I never felt anything.' Your line is gonna stop and you set, quick! No matter what you're fishing for, the minute your brain says, 'Is that a fish?' set--at the word 'is,' set! So what if it isn't a fish? What do you got to lose?
"If you set the hook, you'll be darned surprised."
She stood behind each woman and wrapped her hand around the woman's hand and the rod and showed them how to false cast by moving their shoulder, not their wrist. She told them to think of their thumb as a hammer as they hold the rod with their thump on top, always pointed upward.
"End of a baseball hat, stop; back of the ear, stop; end of a baseball hat, stop; back of the ear, stop," she said, directing the women to bring the rod slightly in front of their head and then bring it behind their ear, two distinct motions, each followed by a moment's pause. "Click, stop. Click, stop. Click, stop," she said. "Two stops make a whole cast."
False casting, she said, helps you see if you have enough line out and helps get the line under control before you drop the rod, which is when the casting ends and the fishing begins. "If you stop too soon, all you get is a plate of spaghetti," she said.
Rae Woodsum, who moved to Anchorage a year ago, decided even before her brief hands-on session with Kleinkauf that she'll sign up for more.
"I've learned a lot just from this session, and I'm thrilled. I've done a little fly-fishing in the state of Maine and to go with someone like her would make a big difference," she said.
Woodsum, 46, said her dad is an avid fly-fisher who has already sent her a fly-fishing vest and an L.L. Bean catalog.
"When my dad talks about it, he gets so excited," she said. "He's going to be living vicariously through me. He's fished throughout the world, but never Alaska. I haven't gotten the bug yet, but it could happen."
Seeing people catch the bug is what keeps Kleinkauf as excited about fly-fishing as she was that day 30 years ago when she hooked her first Russian River salmon.
"I love turning women onto this sport. I love being there with them for their first--their first fly-rod, their first salmon," Kleinkauf said. "Once they start fly-fishing, women will say, 'Where has this been all my life?' I thought the same thing."