Steven Dally reports on the increasing participation of women in fly fishing.
Step into a stream, speed across sandy flats or head to the hot blue offshore currents anywhere in North American waters and chances are increasing that the fly fisher tied into that trophy fish is a woman. American women are seizing on outdoor pursuits for their own pleasure like never before, no longer joining in just to get more time with their partner, and fly fishing is part of that wave. Manufacturers of outdoor and fly fishing equipment are developing and selling gear designed for and by women, and increasing numbers of women are making careers in the sharp end of the fly fishing tackle and travel industry.
Idaho all-women guide service operator Lori-Anne Murphy has become one of the public figureheads through publicity over her ‘Reel Women’ outfitting service. Lori-Anne set up Reel Women seven years ago, on the Snake River at Jackson Hole in Wyoming, after five years guiding experience. The service has expanded remarkably offering women-only fly fishing trips, fly casting lessons and even guide-schools for women.
“It is just nice that women in general are getting out and doing things; they are riding bikes, climbing mountains and fly fishing and it has been really rewarding to be part of that.
“I think it has just happened in the last 10 years, because when I started guiding there weren’t a lot of women out on the water at all, there certainly weren’t any other women guides. It has just exploded in our country in the last 10 years,” she said.
“I think it is part of women becoming more adventurous and I think we are seeing that ripple in the fly fishing industry.”
Yvonne Graham, who runs ‘Baja On The Fly’ outfitters with her husband Gary, says that US men are becoming accustomed to women taking advantage of the new outdoors experiences.
“I think we have more support from the men now too, they have become adjusted to women doing anything and everything. There are fewer clubs that object to women joining and there are more and more wilderness clubs and organisations that really encourage women to try and stretch their abilities and not just stay shut up in a house,” said Yvonne.
Yvonne is also president of the International Women Fly Fishers federation, a 300-member organization, to promote women’s fly fishing. The IWFF sprang from a forum organized by Fanny Krieger, the wife of guide and author Mel, and the women of the Golden West Fly Fisher’s Club near San Francisco in the mid-9Os. Yvonne was one of the first hundred-odd women to attend what was a one off event. But they demanded a second, which was held at the Grahams’ Baja Peninsula base.
The IWFF has around 300 members, mostly in North America, but also in the UK and Japan, along with the odd Aussie and Kiwi.
“We have a wide variety of expertise at our festivals. One lady came to Florida this year and said she had never had a fly rod in her hand before, and then we have guides, and women like Joan Wulff who’ve been in the spotlight back to 1945.
“But the nice thing about the women is the camaraderie that goes on at these festivals. Women don’t seem to have any shyness about asking to be shown how to do something or interacting in any way. Often women will take a backseat and let men run the show if it is a mixed group but when it is an event with other women I think they do take a more active part.”
Fishing is a major component obviously, but the festivals offer fly fishing lessons, and sessions for women who want to be guides, to open their own tackle shops, write books or to try a range of other pursuits. And the IWFF wants more international members.
“We would love to have more Australians and New Zealanders join as individual members, and we also offer help in setting up a women’s club of their own if they wish.”
But first and foremost both Lori-Anne and Yvonne want to encourage and help more women to pick up a fly rod, and it is happening. Both are finding women button-holing them at fishing shows, writing emails, booking in to their women-only trips or attending the annual IWFF festivals.
Yvonne said that more and more women were not looking to a man to take them fishing: “It is something that they have decided they would like to take up and they do it with other women partners. I had a woman come to our festival in Vermont last year whose husband had just died, and he had been her fishing partner, and she came to find fishing partners so that she didn’t have to go alone.
“Through our newsletter you will see a lot of women’s trips and women guides and leaders, who take them to Belize and Alaska and all sorts of places.”
The IWFF is also playing a major role in the ‘Casting for Recovery’ program, which helps the physical and mental rehabilitation of women after breast cancer surgery through fly fishing. In 2001 the organization has adopted the ‘Aquatics in the Classroom’ program to develop classroom packages for IWFF clubs to encourage schoolchildren to participate in cleaning up waterways and to try to replenish depleted fisheries.
Lori-Anne has an advisor’s role with giant US manufacturer Orvis, which was one of the first companies to manufacture women’s gear, while the IWFF has been a conduit for information on women’s needs.
“I think also the major manufacturers coming out and making equipment specifically for women is really nice; they can fit into waders instead of walking around in those big, baggy things.”
There is now a wide range of fly fishing clothing, rods, vests, boots and other gear coming onto the market from manufacturers as diverse as Orvis, Simms, Patagonia, Columbia, Winston and L.L. Bean.
“We are shaped differently for one thing. When you take a man’s suit and try to cut it down for a woman it doesn’t have the curves it needs to fit,” Yvonne said. “Even just the handle on a rod needs to be different. It has to be smaller and some have gone for an indent for the thumb to better suit women’s hands. It can be very awkward if the pockets and so forth on a vest are not placed strategically for women.”
Yvonne, no slouch with a rod and line herself, having established an outstanding conventional light-tackle record with several remarkable billfish world records, is adamant that women are well suited to fly fishing.
“Women are generally less competitive, more willing to enjoy the sport and get every ounce of fun out of it whereas men focus more on the catching of fish and are disappointed if they come home without catching any. We found this in Baja . . . during the slow part of the day the women would say stop the boat and let us swim. The men wanted the next fish but the women were going to seize the moment and do whatever they wanted to do.”
She also believes that women possess “an innate sensitivity,” which allows for a greater feel through the lighter fly tackle.
“One of the things that I think women have, that men don’t come
by naturally, is a feel for the fish and what the fish is doing. We don’t try to force the fish to come in, we try to finesse the fish.”
For Lori-Anne fly fishing offers a great invitation, a special place in nature.
“Just finding that peace and quietness, watching the birds come down and eat the mayflies, and the fish coming up to eat the mayflies. You just get so keyed into what you are witnessing.
“I think what happens is when you start focusing your attention on the fishing, you start noticing everything that is alive and happening and all the creatures around you. You aren’t thinking about your personal problems, you are thinking, is there a fish behind that log?
“I found it was the only place I was really at peace. And I like being addicted to that zone.”
LINKS & CONTACTS
International Women Fly Fishers
Reel Women Fly Fishing Outfitters
Baja On The Fly