Fly-Fishing Stories

Guide for Life

Nelli Williams fosters her kids’ love for nature with a simple approach—create space for fun outdoors, and the curiosity and connection will follow.
A woman and child smile as they show off a freshly-caught fish.

Create space for fun, and the curiosity, connection, and commitment will follow.

Nelli Williams’s approach to inspiring a love for nature for her children is simple: create positive experiences outdoors. Time in nature does not have to be challenging or intense; adrenaline does not have to be stoked. Keep it simple.


“When you have small kids, it’s hard to do long backcountry ski trips or hiking trips, so we adapted and adjusted our expectations. Our kids have developed a natural appreciation for nature.”

With babies, Nelli and her husband discovered that a high-sided driftboat made a good playpen, and a comfortable baby carrier became the most important piece of outdoor gear. Now that Mason (12) and Morgan (8) are older, the entire family enjoys the building-knowledge stage of outdoor play.

“Our kids ask lots of questions. ‘What do trout eat? Why are the baby fish only in slow water?’”

Sometimes she answers, sometimes she lets them figure it out on their own. Not only is nature where they play and learn, but Nelli has modeled to them that getting outdoors is an awesome way to recharge their batteries. “If everyone is cranky, it’s usually because we haven’t played outside in a while. It is soul filling.”

Two children run through scrublands in Alaska.

When it comes to fostering a conservation ethos, Nelli—who is the Director of Trout Unlimited Alaska—leads by example. And, while she has always had a deep love for nature and a steadfast commitment to conservation, motherhood has transformed her role as a leader and advocate.

“Motherhood makes me more motivated than ever to do the hard work of conservation. We are at a pivotal point where if we don’t change the trajectory, the outdoor spaces where so many of us spend time with family could look much different.”

Like so many of us parents, Nelli struggles with balancing parenting and working. But her desires and her dreams for her children’s future make the two priorities inseparable.

“I want my kids to be able to take their kids deep into wild places, to feel the fight of a wild salmon on the end of their line, and to giggle around the campfire without the background noise of traffic. I want them to experience quiet sunrises and fish a river that still meanders.”

One weekend, when her two children were young enough to be unpredictable but old enough to walk on their own, Nelli packed them into her truck and drove two hours from their home in Anchorage into a valley she had been eager to explore. A tough work week and an out-of-town husband had created a deep craving for the recharge that only nature can provide.

“If I didn’t unplug, I’d end up frustrated and unable to be a present mom.”

They set up camp and enjoyed the cozy, quiet evening she had envisioned. In the oh-so-precious and fleeting pre-kids-wake-up window, Nelli took in the stunning tilt of the morning light on the steep valley and devised a well-thought-out plan to hike a nearby ridgeline that would offer spectacular views. “If well-executed, we could get some exercise, a good view, and be back in town by a birthday party that night.”

Nelli Williams takes a selfie with her kids in the background.
Nelli Williams poses with her son showing off a cool nature find.
A man with waders standing hip-deep in water shows a fish to a child in a boat.

After breakfast and cleaning up camp, they laced up to hike, and Mason insisted on heading up a steep hill opposite the direction she had planned to go. She resisted but then reconsidered. After all, the kids spend most of the school week being told where to go and what to do. She had raised them to be curious in nature, so this felt like the right time to let them lead.

“I thought of how freeing it might be if I just followed them to see where they wanted to go.”

Nelli followed. The hill was steep—more of a scramble than a hike. They entered an alder patch, and Nelli felt her annoyance rise as they navigated the nearly impenetrable spiderweb of branches. She considered encouraging her kids to find another path, but, instead, she followed. She followed them as they laughed. She followed them as they had fun bending and twisting through the gnarly branches. She followed as they pretended to be monkeys. She followed as they proclaimed this was “the best hike ever!” They spent two hours meandering through the alder patch.

“I found the fun my kids saw.”

In the remarkable way that they do, her children have taught her more than she could have ever expected. They have taught her about patience, the power of different perspectives, what is and is not important, and how to appreciate the tiny things. And, just as she always modeled for them, when it comes it time outdoors, they remind her to keep it simple and enjoy it.

Embrace a Stream | Orvis | Trout Unlimited - Give Where You Fish

Embrace A Stream (EAS) is a matching grant program administered by Trout Unlimited that awards funds to TU chapters and councils for cold water fisheries conservation.

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An angler casts from a dry bit of rock in a wide, shallow river.