The “First Lady of Fly Fishing”, Joan Salvato Wulff began her interest in the sport under her father’s guidance at the early age of 10 years old. Though competitive casting was big in the 1930’s, few females were interested in the sport, however that did not stop Salvato, who won her first title at age 11. The following year she began competing in regional tournaments. At 16 Salvato won the Women’s Dry Fly Accuracy event, the first of an extraordinary 17 national casting titles she would capture between 1943 and 1960.
In 1948 Salvato was invited to the first post-war events in Europe. Competing against professionals and amateurs of both sexes, Salvato won the baitcasting title in London, a remarkable achievement for any 21-year-old. In 1951 she added five more national titles. Casting 131 feet against all-male competition, she became the first woman in history to win the Fisherman’s Distance Event.
Already the best female fly caster in America, Salvato was determined to make angling her career. She became an audience favorite at shows, trick-casting in evening gowns and high heels. In 1959 she became the first woman offered a salaried contract when she signed with the Garcia Corporation, a tackle manufacturer. In 1960 Joan stopped competing, but not before making an astounding 161-foot cast at one of her last events. Though designated “unofficial” (too few females had participated), it was a new women’s record.
Salvato met her future husband, fellow fly fisherman, Lee Wulff while working in Newfoundland in 1966. Married for 25 years, the Wulff’s were America’s most famous fishing couple, demonstrating together as a team, at shows, club dinners and clinics. In 1979, the Joan and Lee Wulff Fishing School opened its doors along the Beaverkill River, and the school has become a world-renowned institution.
Salvato has received multiple honors by the fishing tackle industry for her promotion of the sport to women. She is a founder of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum, a trustee of the International Game Fish Association and honorary director of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Senior Advisor to the International Federation of Fly Fishers and 2007 Inductee of the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame.
Salvato has two sons, Douglas & Stuart Cummings and two grandsons, Alex & Andrew Cummings and currently resides in New York with her husband, attorney Ted Rogowski.