We just got in a bunch of new women’s clothing from Patagonia and Simms. As I sit here looking at our women’s section, I can’t help but wonder how much of that clothing will end up on the sales rack, how much will go home as gifts for wives and girlfriends, and how much will actually be bought and worn by women on the river with fly rods in their hands.
The latest numbers that I’ve seen claim that 1 in 5 fly anglers is a woman. There are two ways to look at that number. On the one hand, that’s considerably more female fly fishers than, say, 25 years ago. On the other hand, it’s pitifully low, especially considering female participation in other outdoor pursuits. I don’t have the numbers for hiking or skiing, but my guess is they’re a great deal higher. Why couldn’t fly fishing have comparable numbers of women participating in the sport? Why shouldn’t we?
There’s no inherent reason for fly fishing to be a male-dominated activity. The legendary founder of the sport, Dame Juliana Berners, was female. Some of the best casters and anglers in the world are women (think Joan Wulff). There’s a new crop of young female guides and anglers who are making quite a splash in traditional and social fly fishing media circles. The role models are out there. And women can certainly learn to fly fish. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from several guides and instructors that female students tend to learn the sport more quickly and easily than males. They listen to and follow instruction better and aren’t as likely to overpower their casts with brute strength. And there’s no reason why women wouldn’t enjoy the sport as much as we do, if they were to take it up. There’s nothing gender specific about the enjoyment of the outdoors and the pursuit of a wild quarry.
Why should we care? After all, more women on the river would add to the crowds and fishing pressure that some see as the antithesis of the sport. But I would argue that getting more women involved in fly fishing is necessary for the survival of fly fishing as we know it. Much has been written about the “crisis” of young people no longer getting an education in the joys of the outdoors. And the truth is that fishing and hunting license sales are declining. As fewer young men enter the sport, many local specialty fly shops will be forced to close their doors (yes, I do think as a businessman sometimes). More importantly, there will be fewer stewards for the lands, rivers, and public access that we cherish.
I’ve argued previously that when you create a fly fisher, you create a conservationist. Bring more women into the sport and we have more voices against those who would trammel our wild places for their own gain. As a plus, women are more likely to vote than men. Why wouldn’t we want an influx of new participants who will speak up and vote for the preservation and enhancement of our streams and public access rights?
And it goes beyond that. If we love doing something so much, shouldn’t we try to get others involved, so that they may also enjoy the benefits of the activity? Share the love, as it were?
As men who love to fly fish, we need to be evangelists for the sport. My observation is that the majority of women who fly fish accompany husbands, boyfriends, or other male friends to the river. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that, and we should encourage our wives and girlfriends (and daughters!) to take up the sport. But we need to go beyond that. Friends, coworkers, nieces, we all have women in our lives who we could benefit from being involved in fly fishing. Take them fishing, suggest that they sign up for a beginner’s class or lesson, extol the virtues of being out on the river. Whatever it takes to get more women on the water.
All of that inspires me to begin planning for an as-yet unscheduled Women’s Day here at Sweetwater Fly Shop later this spring. Stay tuned. There won’t be any margaritas or short shorts (trust me, you don’t want to see me in skin-tight clothing). There will be casting instruction, an informative tour of the shop, and a chance to meet other female beginners and enthusiasts. I must admit that previous such events have been sparsely attended. I’d like to see that change, and not just for the benefit of the fly shop. If you’ve read the preceding text, you know what I mean.
Have any ideas about how to get more women involved in fly fishing? Leave us a comment!2