As many anglers have discovered, fly-fishing is a socially well-regarded pretext for grownups to play in the water. While images of the sport are still male-dominated, large numbers of women are discovering the joys of tempting fish with flies and showing up on calendars and magazine covers. Of course that isn’t much of a reason to take up the sport, but it does change the picture for women who might not otherwise give it a try.
So what are the real reasons women are drawn to fly-fishing? And what are some of the reasons it hasn’t caught on with even more women? Since men and women are more alike than they are different, it’s no surprise that many of these reasons are the same for women as they are for men. For instance, one of the most common reasons heard over and over again in fly-fishing shops (which are the very best source of answers on getting started) is that people are too occupied with family and job responsibilities. It is difficult for them to imagine finding the time to spend even one day taking a class or going fishing with a guide.
There are some powerful responses to that common complaint. The most important one is that life is short. Who on their deathbed would say they wished they had spent more time working and less time playing? Another important response comes very early from those determined workaholics who do try it and discover its tremendous therapeutic benefit. Going fly-fishing for a day or even for a few hours has a way of changing their perspective on the value of so much stress in their lives.
From a family viewpoint, it is hard to imagine a more enduring gift to youngsters than introducing them to this sport. While it’s beyond the abilities of most 7-year-olds, older kids can learn it easily from a good instructor. What better way for a family to spend a day or a weekend together than out on a beautiful trout stream, learning more about the fish and the fascinating aquatic environment where they live? Rather than detracting from family time, fly-fishing can actually add to it.
Fly-fishing isn’t so different from many other outdoor sports in its power to soothe the soul. Just being outdoors in beautiful natural surroundings – away from ringing phones, hungry kids, meeting schedules, traffic and all those other pressures on busy people – helps relieve the stress.
But fly-fishing also has something no other outdoor sport can offer. It provides endless intellectual challenge as well. People who have fly-fished for decades are still learning new things from the sport. The volumes of literature, instructional, entertainment and destination guides, the how, why and where of fly-fishing, began with Dame Juliana Berners’ 15th century Treatise on Fishing With an Angle. Today the tradition extends through thousands of volumes. No other sport can boast such a treasury for a lifetime of exploring.
So with all those reasons to fly-fish, why aren’t more women doing it? Some surveys show as much as 25 percent of U.S. fly-fishers are women. But over half of the population is women. What gives?
Who knows how the image thing started. Probably a cultural snowball – men were supposed to be the hunters and providers, and early fishing certainly was a subsistence in many places. After Dame Juliana, there were few women writers about the sport until quite recently. Today traditional roles for women (and men) have much less influence on who does what. Certainly women’s horizons are wider, giving them more freedom of choice in both work and play. And as more women take up fly-fishing, there are lots more female role models and mentors for other women. More women fly-fishers appear in advertisements, on fishing shows, in calendars and other visible media. More women write about fly-fishing.
More men sit on the sidelines. During a pale morning dun hatching on the lower flats of the San Juan River, two husbands asked to join their wives during their class. The fishing was so remarkable that by the day’s end the men waited on the bank but couldn’t get the women out of the water.
Not all women are comfortable heading into the outdoors on their own. To overcome this obstacle, women’s fly-fishing groups have sprung up all over the country. An umbrella group, International Women Fly-Fishers, is working to link them together to make it easier for interested women to find information and fishing buddies all across the United States and around the world.
In reality, more cases of harassment and violence against women happen in cities than in the fly-fisher’s outdoors. For the more solitary minded, and fly-fishing is for many a very solitary sport, a large well-behaved dog makes a good fishing companion and an effective deterrent to unwanted attention.
Letting someone know where you’re going and when you plan to be back is always wise, though only best fishing buddies or non-anglers can be trusted to keep that favorite spot a secret.
It’s not too late! You still have time to give fly-fishing a try. Fly-fishing shops, web sites, schools, libraries, videotapes, other women fly-fishers (and men), and fly-fishing clubs are all available to help you get started. She Fishes, a New Mexico women’s fly-fishing group, was formed when three avid women anglers wanted to network with other women. It branched out to offer a chance for newcomers to the sport to learn.
– Jan Crawford has been fly-fishing for more thn 35 years in the Rockies, in Minnesota where she grew up and in many of the world’s most famous places: Patagonia, New Zealand, Belize. She owned and operated Santa Fe’s High Desert Angler for 15 years. She has taught hundreds of women to fly-fish. She is a board member of the local Trout Unlimited and Sangre de Cristo Fly-fishers and one of the founders of International Women Fly Fishers.
High Country 2001