Ashley Nichole Lewis: Limitless Sides to Outside

There are so many ways to enjoy time outside. This is one of many unique stories we’re sharing as part of our effort to highlight the Limitless Sides to Outside.

There’s a certain kind of quiet on the river that you can’t get anywhere else. Everything just melts away and for a brief moment in time, you just are. No problems. No demands. Just you existing in this world as you were meant to be, and everything is right. 

For me, a member of the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, being on the river has special significance. Sometimes, when I’m wetting my line in the rivers of my ancestral homelands, I watch the mist rising among the cedars that are hundreds of years old and get chills down my spine. My ancestors fought for the treaty rights that allow me to fish here today and keep the river safe, and these trees were here to watch them too.  

It hasn’t always been that way. Being Indigenous in this country has never been easy. My family has faced much discrimination and that’s part of the reason why we haven’t always been connected to our Tribe and our heritage. We didn’t have a lot of means growing up, but we spent a lot of time outdoors, and I loved to go fishing with my friends and relatives. 

It wasn’t until I was at a seminar for Indigenous students at a community college that it clicked. An Elder told us that the best way to understand who we are was by spending time in our traditional homelands. So, I packed up my fishing reel and headed to the rivers in the Quinault Reservation. We Coast Salish people are connected to the salmon. They’re a thread that links us all, and by reconnecting with the fish on the rivers, I started to understand who I was as an Indigenous person.  

Everyone there was so supportive of me, and so I eventually started guiding trips to pay for college. Once you get into the industry, you start going to sport shows, tournaments and things like that. Even two weeks ago, I went to a statewide bass tournament with 300 or 400 people, and there was only one other woman and one other person of color there. 

I want other people to be able to connect with the river like I do. You don’t have to be Indigenous to find joy and healing in it. Some of my favorite moments on the water have been taking clients to these special places and then seeing the lightbulb go off in their head. This is amazing, why don’t we have this everywhere? How do we get there?  

The river is for everyone, but that’s not the way it works currently. Up until now, it’s mostly been an industry dominated by white men. In my experience, when they try to be inclusive, they just create pink fishing products to give out on Women’s Day and think they’ve done their job.  

What I’ve learned is that we need spaces for women and people of color, so that they can lead the conversations about how to make the sport inclusive. We know what challenges we face. We know that many women and people of color don’t feel safe or comfortable going out fishing, and the industry as a whole is still trying to acknowledge that.  

Once we accept these things, then we can start moving onto solutions. I see it a lot like river restoration; these places have been mistreated, and to make things right, each river needs its own individual solution led by the community who lives there. It’s the same way with fishers. Some communities haven’t always been treated fairly, and to make things better, we need solutions led by those communities.  

That’s part of what I do with my work. I hope that by showing myself out doing these things on social media, I can normalize it so it’s not such an outrageous thing to do. I love showing people how to get started on my YouTube channel and my new TV show, Break Out with Bad Ash. Connecting with other people doing work in this space at events like Take Me Fishing has also been instrumental in growing the community. And that’s ultimately what I want to do: grow a community of people who want to make this something accessible for everyone.   

We can’t solve all the big societal problems. But by combining our individual efforts—fishers, non-fishers, men, women, people of color and non-people of color—hopefully we can do our part to make society and the environment a little bit better. After all, the river ties us all together.   

—As told to Lindsay VanSomeren 

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