Jess & Laura Westbrook
The Little Rock couple behind The Mayfly Project talks kids, fishing and their favorite body of water.
How did you two meet?
Laura: We met in college on one of our first nights there and started dating soon thereafter—and never stopped. We now have a four-year-old and a one-year-old, and we’re expecting our third child.
What is the Mayfly project?
Jess: The Mayfly Project is a 501c3 organization that mentors children in foster care through fly fishing. We mentor our kids through five sessions and outfit them to fly fish on their own—flies, fly-rod, fly boxes, pack. We have 29 projects that are running or about to start in 13 states with 170 mentors.
When and how did the Mayfly Project begin?
Jess: We started taking foster kids fishing in 2014, and then in 2015 we decided we wanted to make it an actual nonprofit. We started with 25 kids. This year we’ll mentor and outfit right around 100 kids. Jess still attends Arkansas events, but he’s really taken on a national director role over the last few months.
What’s the best outcome you’ve seen from working with foster kids?
Jess: We film videos with some foster kids, and over the last year we’ve had three kids get adopted as a result of their videos being seen. We still have kids today who email us and ask if we can send them more flies. We try to focus on creating long-term relationships between the mentors and the kids. We are so happy when we see kids pick up fly fishing as a long-term hobby.
What do you love about fishing?
Jess: I love the camaraderie of fishing. Obviously being on the water and making friends is wonderful, but being on the water also takes my mind off the daily stressors of life. Fishing brings my stress and anxiety levels down by allowing me to focus on one thing that’s not accounting or numbers. It’s a healthy escape.
What’s your favorite body of water to fish?
Jess: If I’m taking kids fishing, my favorite place to take them fishing is Dry Run Creek in Norfork, Arkansas.
Laura: Even if it’s 20 degrees outside, they always have a good time. And they stock it with trophy trout. It’s wonderful.
Fly fishing or spin casting?
Jess: Fly fishing is pretty much all I do. I only own fly rods. I think it’s more fun. The work and timing require being in tune with everything going on around you, which is, again, very relaxing and meditative.
What do you want the public to know?
Foster kids aren’t bad kids. They’re in the system due to no fault of their own, often because a guardian made poor decisions. There’s nothing easy about working with foster kids, but they often love fishing and cannot get enough of it. We’re serving kids all over the US, but the majority of our kids will be served right here in Arkansas. Colorado has five projects; Montana has two…all these fly fishing places are picking it up, which we think is really cool.
A Note on Conservation
We recently won the Arkansas Water Conservationist of the Year award. We talk with the kids about keeping our rivers clean, preventing contamination to our rivers and basic catch and release principles. It’s not just about learning to fish; it’s about learning to protect our resources.
To learn more about The Mayfly Project, visit themayflyproject.com.