This spring, we're taking a special glimpse into the diverse businesses of Northeast Iowa. If you haven’t heard of Driftless Fishers, you're in for a treat – read on for an in-depth interview with the owner, Liz Siepker.
Businesses don't just grow from nowhere-- they're people-powered. Tell us about yourself, and who the cast of characters is behind your business.
My name is Liz Siepker, and I am the founder of Driftless Fishers, LLC. I grew up chasing steelhead on Lake Erie and brown, brook, and rainbow trout on cold-water streams in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania. Along the way, I fished for a myriad of other species but for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the family of fish known as Salmonidae. I really can’t remember a time in my life when fishing hasn’t been a part of it. The first recorded picture of me fishing was when I was four but my father recalls carrying me along trout streams before that age. As he jokes, I was the “son he never had". Actually, my sister and I were the “sons he never had”! I’m in my mid-thirties now, and through the years I have watched the fly-fishing industry open up the floodgates for female fly fishers. Growing up fishing, I had to fit into boy-sized waders and fishing jackets. Not to mention that everything was “camo” colored. I’m thrilled to see the current options available to female anglers and the rich diversity that females have brought to the industry. Fishing has always been there for me, like a comforting blanket. Although I can recall numerous occasions when fishing was anything but a “comforting blanket” given certain weather conditions! I will fish in about any type of weather, as long as the fish are biting! My business, Driftless Fishers, is the outcome of a dream I had many years ago about becoming and being a fly-fishing guide. Presently, Driftless Fishers is a one-woman show! If you want me to list everyone that has ever helped me get the place I am today with regards to fly fishing, stop on by for a visit and be prepared for a long chat!
What was the idea that sparked your Northeast Iowa business?
I am not a Northeast Iowa native but I was drawn to the unique topography and cold-water resources of this region. I have to live in an area that has some great fishing resources. Honestly, that was a major selling point for me. I’ve always wanted to be a fly-fishing guide and at this point in my life, it was now or never! I do have some competition since other guiding businesses are in the area, but I consider these guys my fishing buddies. And yes, they are guys, so I’m the first female to solely own and operate a fly-fishing guide business in the area. I’m not secretive about where I catch fish or the techniques or flies I use. The goal of my business is to get people, especially other women, and young girls, hooked (no pun intended!) on fly-fishing and share my knowledge with them!
What were a few of your challenges and triumphs in getting your business off the ground?
A triumph that I’ve had is to overcome my own criticism on the idea of this business. I’m still unsure if it is going to work but that’s the fun of it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am okay with the unknown of this business venture. And most importantly, I’ve focused on the journey instead of some unknown destination. At the end of the day, I want to have fun with the business, meet new people, share my knowledge, and most importantly catch fish! My biggest challenge now is spreading the word about my business and letting locals and outside visitors know that unique fly fishing opportunities exist around Decorah and that I can help them experience it all!
What has been your best or most memorable day as a Driftless business owner?
My business is brand new so probably the best day was when I signed the paperwork and it all became “official.” When I’m not guiding clients, I’m on the water trying to figure out the daily menu of local trout! Any day I’m on the water fishing, of course, is my best day!
What's the heartbeat of your business? Aside from your bottom line, what do you hope to achieve above all else?
The heartbeat of my business is my own enthusiasm for fly-fishing and a passion for sharing it with others! My hope is that my business will inspire others to take up the sport of fly-fishing and to not let intimidation or the fear of not knowing stop them from trying something new! I hope to pass on the heartbeat to others over the years so that the people I've fished with and met become the heartbeat of the business!
Why Northeast Iowa? What makes this place special and/or unique to you?
The natural resources of this area are why I chose to settle here: the cold-water, beautiful streams, karst topography, spring-fed rivers and streams, and most importantly, the fish! It is such a unique treasure and I want to be able to share it with others so they can appreciate the uniqueness for themselves and become advocates for its sustainability.
Who are your customers? And can you share with us a story about a particularly meaningful interaction or experience with one of them?
My customers are usually visitors to the area specifically looking for a fly-fishing outing or someone who happens to be in town and has some down time and wants to go fly fishing. I haven’t had any local residents as customers yet and that is okay! I’m hopeful they are already out on the streams enjoying their back yard!
Who inspires you and helps you to overcome your business/professional challenges and why?
My parents have been my inspiration from day one. They’ve worked tirelessly their entire careers and continue to do so in retirement. Although they’ve never owned or operated their own business, they offer counsel and guidance with an outside perspective. They fully support me in this endeavor and are not afraid to be honest with me. I don’t like the “sugar-coated” advice. It may taste gross, but I’ll eventually swallow it and move on! And I can't leave out my sister. To this day she can out-cast me with a fly rod and that's no small task...because I'm really good...ha! She's been instrumental in giving me the confidence to be a female fly fishing guide.
Tell us what stands about your business in your view.
While the business itself is not inherently unique, I’ve taken a predominantly male sport and made it more accessible to females by being a female fly-fishing guide. I teach fly-fishing with a calming patience (yes, it can be frustrating for beginners) and a level of enthusiasm that is contagious. I focus on techniques while also building confidence and skill. I want my clients to leave me with everything they need to go back out fly fishing on their own next time. That is probably the worst business model ever but if I see the same clients over and over again, I’m doing something wrong! Unless of course, they come back to fish and show off their skills, then that is okay too!
Where do you go from here? What are your dreams for your Northeast Iowa business and how can the community help you grow?
My dream for the business here is Northeast Iowa is to continue to grow a client base and increase the number of people who have experienced fly fishing in Northeast Iowa. Looking into the future, I’d like to offer women and girls-only fly-fishing workshops so other women and girls can learn to cast a fly, and apply it to a local stream. Heck, maybe I’ll even be able to put together a couple of long distance fishing trips in the future! But again, I’m focused on the journey, not the destination.
Give yourself the gift of this uniquely Northeast Iowa experience. Contact Driftless Fishers, and try your hand at casting off with Liz.