As an outdoor sport, fly fishing has traditionally been dominated by men. That’s changing though, as more and more women are hitting the streams across America.
The fascination with this sport for Kim Brannock began when she saw the movie, “A River Runs Through It.” She will readily admit that Brad Pitt’s not hard on the eyes, but the cast—the flick of the wrist—was what really peaked her interest.
Brannock is just one of the women who now make up “31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly fish, according to the most recent study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. In 2016, more than two million women participated in the sport, an increase of about 142,000 from the previous year.”
To support this fast-growing demographic, equipment and apparel company Orvis, in partnership with Simms, Costa, and Yeti, has initiated a program that has as one of its objectives achieving an “even gender split in fly fishing by 2020.” The program will eventually grow to “offer outreach events to educate women on gear choices, selection, and function; plan classes to build skills and confidence on the water; and arrange mentoring opportunities for future female guides, shop employees, and industry leaders.”
So what makes fly fishing so attractive to women? According to Jess McGlothlin, a female instructor and photographer from Bozeman, Montana, there are various reasons that generate interest. “Many women I teach to fish are in it less for the fishing itself, and more for the excuse to be outside,” McGlothlin said. “Many liken it to yoga; a quiet, meditative getaway from daily stressors.”
Another look at the landscape reveals that there are more women guides now being hired by women for their services. In the case of Camille Egdorf, a guide with Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures in Bozeman, Montana, she said these kinds of trips can be rewarding, and often amusing. Camille recalled one trip that included a veteran angler husband and his novice wife. Egdorf gave tips on how to best fish the river. The husband ignored her. The wife listened attentively. The wife caught five fish to her husband’s one. A rough day for hubby. Said Egdorf, “It happens all the time: The wife outfishes the husband, and it drives the husband nuts!”
The growth of women in fly fishing has caused “manufacturers and suppliers to tailor equipment to them.” Bart Bonime, Patagonia’s fishing director, sought out Brannock to assist in a redesign of his company’s wading jackets for appealing to women. This led to help in designing waders for women. Finally, Patagonia introduced a full line for women in 2015.
Having the right gear is one thing. Finding the right place to buy it is another. The problem most often is the men working in fly shops. Women don’t want to be pandered to, nor do they like being intimidated. Part of the solution, Patagonia’s Bonime said, is to make sure that women anglers are greeted warmly. Keep the bathrooms clean. Install full length mirrors. Be accommodating.
Gear that doesn’t work is one thing, but gender issues “in fly-fishing go deeper than ill-fitting waders.” For example, using social media wisely (or unwisely) could determine the kind of company you keep. More than one female fishing star has become a bikini-clad YouTube sensation. Guide April Vokey calls them “cupcakes in waders” or “fly fishing Barbie dolls.” Showing a lot of skin just sends the wrong message in the eyes of many female anglers.