Joan Salvato Wulff

Click here

for more IGFA Fishing
Hall of Fame videos.

Joan Salvato Wulff1926 –
2007 Inductee

No other person has impacted fly fishing or influenced generations of anglers more than Joan Salvato Wulff.
At the age of 10 Joan borrowed her father’s fly rod and promptly lost the tip in a pond.  Far from being angry, Jimmy Salvato began taking her to his casting club. Though competitive casting was big in the 1930s, few females were interested in the physical sport.  But Joan was, and Jimmy encouraged her.  She won her first title at 11; at 12 she caught her first trout on fly and started dancing lessons.  A year later she was competing in regional tournaments andteaching tap dancing.  At 16 Joan won the Women’s Dry Fly Accuracy event, the first of an extra-ordinary 17 national casting titles she would capture between 1943 and 1960.
Joan just wanted to dance and fly cast.  But it was 1943 and women were expected to make sensible career choices, so she began working as a secretary for $25 a week.  In the fall of 1944 Joan and her former teacher opened a dance school and soon had 200 students.  Joan, not yet 18, was earning $150 a week for three days’ work and had time to travel to tournaments.
In 1948 noted fly fisher Charles Ritz invited her to the first post-war events in Europe.  Competing against professionals and amateurs of both sexes, Joan won the baitcasting title in London, a remarkable achievement for any 21-year-old.  In 1951 she added five more national titles and, casting 131 feet against all-male competition, became the first woman in history to win the Fisherman’s Distance Event.
Joan Salvato was now the best female fly caster in America and was determined to make angling her career.  She became an audience favorite at shows, trick-casting in evening gowns and high heels.  Ashaway Line & Twine Company appointed her their "goodwill ambassador," and in 1959 she signed with Garcia Corporation, the first woman offered a salaried contract by a tackle manufacturer. In 1960 Joan stopped competing, but not before making an astounding 161-foot cast at one of her last events. Though designated "unofficial" (too few females had participated), it was a new women’s record.  
By the mid-1960s Joan was based in Florida, where she spread the Garcia word, won tournaments (Key Colony Beach Sailfish and Gold Cup), and spent time with her growing family.  In 1966 Garcia sent her to Newfoundland to fish for bluefin with Lee Wulff, someone who lived the life Joan dreamed about.  They married, and for 25 years were America’s most famous fishing couple.  At shows, club dinners, and clinics Lee talked about conservation and Joan demonstrated impeccable form with the Fly-O, an indoor practice rod with yarn, invented by Lee.  When Joan was scheduled, men brought their wives, and women soon realized they could be part of this sport.  The introduction of flyweight waders and graphite rods helped, too, and were a cause for celebration after the years Joan had spent campaigning for women’s clothing and gear.
In 1979, the Joan and Lee Wulff Fishing School opened its doors along the Beaverkill River.  Above all, Joan is devoted to teaching, and the school has become a world-renowned institution.  Convinced by Lee that she should share her knowledge through writing as well, she had a monthly column – a first for any writer -- in Outdoor Life by 1980, and in 1981 her casting columns began running in Rod & Reel, where they continued for 22 years.  A book was next, but before she put anything on paper she began dissecting her own performance, figuring out what her hands and arms were doing, and where the line was going.  The sport had no “vocabulary” so she created one to name the moves, the strokes, the parts of the cast.  It took two years, but when Fly Casting Techniquesappeared in 1987, with the lexicon and set of mechanics Joan had pioneered, it was revolutionary: the first book to explain casting factually, in perfect English.
Joan continues to speak out on conservation, to write, and to teach. She is a founder of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center, Trustee of the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the International Game Fish Association, advisor to the Federation of Fly Fishers, and consultant for the R. L. Winston Rod Company.
Though she’s regularly celebrated for her promotion of fly fishing to women, Joan is an inspiration to all anglers, a combination of mastery, grace, enthusiasm and devotion to the sport that captivated her many years ago.  The IGFA is very pleased to honor Joan Salvato Wulff, a woman who was born to fly cast ... and to teach others how.