We recently caught up with Megan Helms AKA Barbie on the Fly for a quick Q & A. After spending 3 years in a wheelchair as a result of an ailment, she has endured one of the most eye-opening experiences of her life. We also dispel some common misconceptions and unveil the woman behind the Instagram account.
SC: Where do you call home?
M: Home for me is in Charlotte, NC but my heart remains in the mountains where I travel to chase trout weekly. In the moment that I step foot into a river with cold water flowing around my feet, crisp air whistling by and a fly rod in my hands, I feel content knowing that the possibilities are endless.
SC: How do you pay the bills?
M: I am a freelance makeup artist, making women feel beautiful on the most special day of their lives which is ironic because I’m married to the fish that I catch and your appearance has no value on the water.
SC: How do you find a balance between work and nature?
M: Outdoor adventures remain the most vital aspect of my life so for me, it’s incredibly easy to make time to cast a fly. If I’m not on the river, I’m undoubtedly planning my next trip or preparing for it by picking up necessities at a fly shop. My free time is consumed by the anticipation and desire of the next tug on my line. When you find your passion and it’s something that enriches your soul, I encourage you to dedicate plentiful time on that endeavor.
SC: Why Fly Fishing?
M: I only began fly fishing in October of 2015 and it has since become the greatest adventure of my life. My journey through fly fishing has proven that the rewards exceed far beyond catching a fish. It has taken me to beautiful places, allowed me to meet lifelong friends, taught me patience, tested my resilience and has been endlessly therapeutic. I find excitement in the struggle that I experience catching fish on the fly. After having had numerous tough days on the river, I can attest to how much more appreciative I am of the good days. The thrill of wanting to improve, expand my skill set and become a better angler is endless. My knowledge is always expanding while I am fly fishing and I am able to graciously take something away from every experience had. I can say with certainty that I’ve learned more about myself within a year on the water compared to the 22 years that I was unaware of this life changing venture.
SC: What is your favorite spot to fish?
M: I have been able to fish numerous streams and they have each had different impacts on who I am as an angler but I seem to always drift back to one river, the river that I learned to fly fish on. Mitchell river isn’t the most breathtaking or the most rewarding but for me, it will always hold a sacred place in my heart. I’ve learned far more as a result of failures on that stream compared to my success on others. It has become my home water, dare I say comfort and it gives me the opportunity to see firsthand just how much I’ve grown. One day in particular automatically comes to mind when I think of my growth. It was the first day I was brave enough to venture out on my own and it took me nearly an hour and a half just to rig my rod, not even knowing how to tie to tippet to leader.
SC: Do you get a lot of flack calling yourself Barbie on the Fly?
M: I started an Instagram account many years ago before I was even aware that fly fishing existed. It featured photos of myself, food and random outings with friends. When I began fly fishing, I was encouraged to post my catches and at the time, I wasn’t sure what hashtags were or how to use them. As I began to fish more and ultimately catch more, I decided to change my username to something more catchy and fitting to my newfound passion. My best friend has called me Barbie for most of my life which has led to others using the nickname when referring to me. So, unsurprisingly when asked of ideas, I was told Barbie on the Fly. I never anticipated that I would have more than the hundred followers that I had at the time. I never anticipated that when people see a photo of me that they would correlate that with Barbie instead of my name, Megan. I believe that the username keeps some from taking me seriously which is unfortunate and it does make things difficult for me. I often deal with hateful comments as a result of the immediate impression that people sometimes get when looking at my account. But I’ve come to focus on what I know to be true, that I am genuinely passionate about fly fishing. I know that I work hard on and off the river so that I can become the best angler that I can possibly be and that what I look like or what my name is on social media doesn’t alter my ability to go out on a stream and be successful.
SC: Tell us about your life changing experience.
My life was remarkably altered 8 years ago after I suddenly became ill, and was later diagnosed with a chronic illness, Mitochondrial Disease. That life-changing diagnosis and the long battle that I was forced to face was never anticipated. Change is inevitable and the effects that derive from it can widely vary. In the momentary, an experience may cause devastation, but the effects that extend into a person’s life have the ability to be constructive. I can now thankfully say that mine is more of the latter. Before becoming a chronically-ill patient, I was naive. I took things for granted that I now have the utmost appreciation for. Spending 3 years in a wheelchair as a result of my ailment was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have had to endure. I have a completely different perspective on the world, making the smallest of milestones on the river that much more thrilling and significant. Grasping and accepting that I am plagued by such a debilitating illness has been overwhelmingly difficult. There has been an infinite number of days that I have wanted to abandon my body entirely and relinquish the duty of suffering through pain and fatigue. As preposterous as it may sound to some, my therapy comes from the river that I chase trout on. I find encouragement and strength out there, even on my weakest of days, questioning if it would have been wise to stay at home rather than overexert myself. The road that I have had to travel on to arrive at this point has been long and grueling, but immensely rewarding. As expected, many aspects of my life including, both my body and mind, have evolved in light of my illness. Even though I am unaware of where my disease will take me, I am certain that I will continue exploring rivers and testing my limits for the next trout. How astonishing is it to be able to say that I successfully went from wheeling to wading?! Also please check out umdf.org and donate in hopes of finding a cure, or at the very least, become knowledgeable and help spread awareness!
SC: What advice would you give women who want to get into fly fishing?
M: For any women that are interested in getting into fly fishing, I want to tell you that you are able to achieve incredible things.. I want to tell you that while you are choosing to be a part of a male driven activity, that you are just as capable as they are. I have unfortunately experienced how we as women often get looked down on and degraded in this industry but allow that to push you to improve. On a positive note, I’ve also experienced that my fellow lady fly anglers are supportive and truly want to encourage each other. Allow this sport to take you to beautiful places, allow it to bring you out of your comfort zone, allow it to push you and allow it to bring amazing people in your life.
SC: What is your go-to pattern?
M: When people think of fly fishing, I bet more often than not, they think of delicately throwing a dry fly and waiting for a trout to rise. While I do love partaking in that and I often do, I’m a streamer junkie. My favorite days on the river have been when I’m able to throw a wooly bugger, strip it back and feel the intense hit of a trout. Specifically, my favorite streamer would have to be an olive crystal wooly bugger. It has the perfect balance of neutral and flash that makes them go wild! I also enjoy that I can change my stripping method, completely changing the look of the fly which allows me to catch more fish!