Feature: Nanci Morris Lyon, Motherhood, Fishing, and Running a World-Class Lodge in Bristol Bay

With Mother's Day around the corner, it brought our minds to some of our favorite ladies in the business, and how deserving they are of recognition for how well they balance motherhood with their busy fishing lives. This week we spoke with Nanci Morris Lyon, co-owner, operator, and guide of Bear Trail Lodge in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Nanci's daughter, Rylie, grew up in Bristol Bay tagging along with her parents and is now guiding for the lodge as well - truly an inspirational Mother-Daughter Duo. Happy Mother's Day, Nanci!

 

Read our interview below: 

First question - What made you want to become a fishing guide/small business owner/all around queen of multitasking?

I was raised on a working farm, living organic before it was even a word.  We milked our own cows, raised chickens for meat and eggs, raised our own beef and pigs, had fruit trees and a huge vegetable garden, canned, froze and processed 90% of our own food and churned our own butter and made our own cottage cheese. I was milking cows when I turned 5 years old, 5 am and 6 pm everyday of my life until I graduated high school and left for college.
My dad was a farmer and he loved the outdoors.  I was his only daughter and rather than leave me behind when he took my brothers out hunting and fishing, he allowed me to go with them.  I was always extremely lucky and usually caught the largest and most fish and loved the water ever since I can remember.  
Because of the work ethics I learned on our farm, it was seriously difficult for me to ever like working a 9 to 5 job.  All my employers cried and offered me raises when I left them, but i just could not get used to working set hours, I had been taught that if a job needed to be done, you did it and you didn’t quit in the middle because a clock said you should.  I had only a handful of jobs that gave me a pay check in my life, I have pretty much been my own boss since I was about 21 years old.  
The other thing I think the farm and my father taught me was that money is a by product of hard work and not the main focus.  The main focus on a farm is taking dirt and turning it into thick productive grain or grass and taking great satisfaction in knowing you did it right by having the best sense of timing for weeding or watering or planting.  In the fishing industry it’s even simpler, it’s getting incredible satisfaction from helping someone with little or a lot of ability enter a piece of water and successfully finding them the fish they have been yearning after.

How old is your daughter, and how have you balanced mothering her throughout the years with the demands of running your business and working in the conservation world?

Rylie is now 22 years old and the balancing act has not always been easy.  When she was younger, she went everywhere with me, I will admit when she was under 2 I would take her to meetings to insure the meetings would not drag on without reason.  There was nothing like a fussy kid to keep things moving forward.  But seriously, she was a great kid and fun to have around, but there were times it was hard on both of us to have me out working all the time.  I tried to keep priorities straight and would bring her with me every chance I got which, for the conservation work I am involved in, she has now begun carrying her own torch which is something I am extremely grateful to see.

Do you spend your off days on the water too? How often do you and Rylie get to fish together? 

Oh my yes, on the water whenever opportunity allows, we both love the water and fishing.  Rylie went through a phase from about the age of 10 to 12 or 13 where she just hated fishing and she freely admits now that it was because she is so competitive and she wasn’t as good, but eventually she realized, again, around 13 or 14, that fishing shouldn’t be a competitive sport, but one to be embraced for it’s ability to refresh, renew and relax the participants.  We don’t fish together as much as we would like, she is too busy guiding in the summer and I’m too busy running the lodge, but we usually fish quite a bit when I go visit her down in Montana where she is in college.

Did you always know you'd be balancing family life with seasonal fishing?

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would be my life.  Having it happen was an incredible surprise and wonderful discovery for me.  I didn’t even know what a fishing guide was when I came to Alaska.  Our family could never afford to hire someone to take us fishing, if there would have been guides available, which there were not.  So I was never even exposed to the profession until I came to Alaska in 1981.

What's been the hardest thing about balancing motherhood with running your business?

The hardest thing for me was feeling guilty about loving my job as much as my daughter.  It took me years to realize that because I loved what I did so much it was a positive influence in her life, showing her that she should also chose a path that she loved and not one that she “should” do because it was expected of her.  It’s hard to explain if you are not a mother, but you will never love anything as deeply as you love your child and once I realized that, I felt guilty that my love was as deep for the waters I worked in as it was for my daughter.  I sometimes wonder if it was because I was 40 years old when I was blessed with her and if it would have been different if I would have been younger.

What are you most excited about in the coming years?

I can hardly express how excited I am watching Rylie evolve into her guiding career, she is in many ways so different from me and yet shares so many of my traits and passions.  I feel so blessed to have her stepping into my shoes while making her own path in the Bristol Bay tundra.  She and her fiancé Wade are the next generation and I always worried and wondered what the future might bring in Bristol Bay sport fishing with the fights we have had to protect this incredible resource .  Now that I can see a future that is really strong and good and positive, I get really excited about the future!



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