Liz Petrella McKellar is President of Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited and a true North Star. Learn more about her story plus six other incredible Northern Michigan women to celebrate International Women’s Month.

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The Conservationist 

The first time Liz Petrella McKellar attended a meeting of her local chapter of Trout Unlimited—a national conservation group founded in 1959 on the banks of the Au Sable River near Grayling—she was the only woman in the room. In 2017.

During member comment, McKellar suggested adding a clause to protect funds the board was considering granting. Their response? “It was kind of just, ‘Thank you, sit down,’” she says.

A few minutes later, another member, a man, stood up and made the exact same suggestion.

“My God, there was such conversation! And the motion was made—and passed!” she says. “I literally got up and walked out of the room.”

Some might never have returned. Not McKeller.

She knew she’d made a smart suggestion, and she didn’t much mind the guy who’d gotten credit for it, her son, Marc.

But McKellar, a lifelong conservationist, new Boardman River resident and fly-fishing fanatic, felt her local chapter had devolved from Trout Unlimited’s original purpose—conservation of coldwater fisheries—and become an elite club more interested in fly-fishing than protection.

Liz Petrella McKellar with her fishing pole and a cigar

Photo by Courtney Kent

So she watched, she waited and when the chapter was awarded a much-coveted weekend at Wa Wa Sum, a historic lodge and century-old fish camp on the Holy Waters section of the Au Sable River, she made her move. She booked a bed.

In response, several of whom McKellar calls “less than welcoming” members canceled theirs.

McKellar saw their absence as an opportunity.

Upon arrival, she strode directly to the screened-in porch where the other attendees were gathered watching the river riff below.

“I pull out my crystal glass; a lovely, probably $80 bottle of Scotch; my crystal cigar ashtray; my leather cigar case … and kick my feet up. I cut my cigar, light it and they were like, ‘Oh my God, we love her. She’s in,’” she recalls with a triumphant laugh.

That Saturday night at the formal membership meeting, after a day of fly-fishing and skeet-shooting, McKellar went from winning hearts to changing minds. All attendees who had caught a fish that weekend—a notoriously difficult feat on those over-fished waters—were to gather by the fireplace for a celebratory photo.

McKellar stood alone. No other member had landed a fish.

Liz Petrella McKellar fishing

Photo by Courtney Kent

Not long after, the Adams Chapter named McKellar one of its directors. In 2022, its members elected her president, the first female in its history. In 2023, they did it again.

McKellar credits the overall change in attitude to the changing demographics of the group—more new guard, fewer old guard—and a renewed awareness that fly-fishing is the benefit of Trout Unlimited’s work—not its mission.

“We need to be about conservation first, because if we don’t have healthy rivers, what fish are gonna be here anyhow?”

Under McKellar’s leadership in 2022, chapter membership grew to 360-some people—with 16 new women added. Membership funding outfitted three young anglers with new waders and fly/rod sets and sent them to a weeklong conservation camp. It made possible projects like Trout in the Classroom and a new river monitoring station.

The chapter also partnered with Project Healing Waters, an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel, and welcomed two vets to its Wa Wa Sum weekend.

“Everyone should be included and encouraged to do this,” McKellar says. “We need that accessibility. We need this river to be clean and healthy, and it needs to be taken care of with really good stewardship. We have a high calling to do that.”

Liz Petrella McKellar fishing

Photo by Courtney Kent

Liz Petrella McKellar fishing with a cigar in her mouth

Photo by Courtney Kent

Liz Petrella McKellar fishing

Photo by Courtney Kent

Photo(s) by Courtney Kent