Ashley Nichole Lewis tilted her head to the sky and could hardly believe her eyes. What she saw flying over the waters of Lake El Salto in November of 2019 defied explanation — a fully rigged bass boat dangling from a helicopter hundreds of feet in the air.
The stunt and subsequent drop of a Vexus bass boat into Mexico’s El Salto, the most famed bass fishery on the planet, was part of the Humminbird/Minn Kota One-Boat Challenge, a YouTube series pitting anglers from around the country against each other on bass fishing’s most mythical fishery. Lewis, a 31-year-old salmon and steelhead guide born and raised on the Olympic Peninsula, was soon deeply entrenched in the world of bassin’.
While the most recent chapter in Lewis’s fishing journey took place on a fully-rigged, competition-ready bass boat in Sinaloa, it began with a spinning reel and a mother’s love in Elma, Wash. “I just had mom,” Lewis recalls. “I didn’t have the influence of a dad, or grandpa or uncle, or anything like that. But mom did a very good job of encouraging my siblings and I to play outside, so I would go play in the campground park or go chase fish around.”
From the bow of that Vexus, it’s difficult to imagine a tiny version of Lewis, clad in the fluorescent colors of a puffy, 1990s windbreaker steadily hoisting farm-raised rainbow trout, pellet bellies as she calls them, into her hands. But for years, growing up, that’s what she did. “I was so excited to bring home food for some reason,” she laughs. “The idea of that, at 8 years old, it felt like a big deal to me.”
Lewis enjoyed fishing. She enjoyed spending time outdoors, enjoyed the thrill of the bite, and as she grew older the budding adventurer enjoyed expanding the range of her adventures into the nearby Quinalt and Queets rivers. As a member of the Quinalt Indian Nation, Lewis enjoyed access to some of the most unspoiled waterways in America. And the lush rainforests surrounding their banks became her wild, untamed playground. “As I grew up, I moved on from those pellet bellies to salmon and steelhead on these private, secluded rivers that are frankly better fishing than anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.”
Lewis made a habit of hiking into the remote reaches of the peninsula, savoring the chilly mornings and melding into the verdant landscape that looks more Lord of the Rings than familiar, Tennessee River reservoir. The Olympic Peninsula is famous for stunning scenery. It’s one of the few places in the world where four separate climates converge, simultaneously hosting coastlines, glaciers, temperate woodlands and rainforests. Over this mosaic of natural forces, the snow-capped, volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains carry an eternal watch.
This land, its waters and its fish became the stuff of Lewis’ dreams. By the time she reached college, around 2010, she’d become known as an expert in the outdoors. By request, she began a homegrown guiding business, ferrying friends and visitors into areas inhabited for some 500 generations by Quinalt people.
“I never went into it with the intention of being a guide,” she explains. “I was spending more time fishing, and people wanted me to take them with me. At one point, I donated a trip to a local charity and word of mouth spread very quickly.”