Written by: Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips
Last year, The Orvis Company launched 50/50 on the Water, an aggressive initiative to introduce more women to the sport we love and to promote those already making a mark in the fly-fishing world. As the father of a fly-fishing daughter, I enthusiastically support the mission, and I always enjoy having women clients in my boat. Over the next few months, I will profile some of the most influential people in fly fishing who are trying to get women involved in the sport.
I first met Geri Meyer in 2006, when she and her husband, Matt Wagner, opened a fly shop in Viroqua, Wisconsin, in the heart of the Driftless Area. The shop, Driftless Angler, is right in the middle of some of the finest spring-creek fishing in the world. Over the years, I have become good friends with Geri and Mat. In 2015, Geri saw a need in the industry and opened Athena and Artemis, an online fly shop exclusively for women, and it has been a huge success.
Geri’s drive and vision have been a force for women in fly fishing. She continues to partner with fly-fishing groups, manufacturers, and conservation groups throughout the country to drive the growth of women in this wonderful sport. She is one of the great ambassadors who will insure a place for women and kids in fly fishing for decades to come.
1. How did you get started in fly fishing?
I was given a fly-casting lesson in 1996 while on a family camping trip at Wallowa Lake in
Oregon. I have a very fishy older brother who was a steelheader, so I had been
around the sport for years.
2. How has being a fly-shop owner changed and what do you see for the
Being the co-owner of a shop is awesome! Of course it has it challenges–and being a female in a
male-dominated sport can be tricky–but it’s so worth every minute. For every person who walks in the shop and asks to talk to one of the guys (even if the guys have far less experience than I), there are ten others who are great. I love that with more and more women entering the sport and industry, the gender of your fly shop worker/owner is becoming a non-issue. My hope is that, with continued diversification (gender, socioeconomic, etc.) in the sport, we’ll start to see some strengthening bonds in the effort to protect our resources.
3. What makes the Driftless Region so special?
There are so many things that make the Driftless special. I grew up in eastern Washington, then spent my early fly-fishing life in Northern New Mexico, so the Wisconsin Driftess region is worlds apart from the fishing I was used to. The thing that I like the most is the pace–gentle meandering spring creeks, beautiful green and lush scenery–along with the fairly technical fishing. It’s a perfect combination for a stressed-out scattered mind. And Wisconsinites are pretty nice people!
4.Tell me about a memorable day that you had on the water with clients.
My absolute favorite day was a trip that I took with a ten-year-old girl and her father. The dad
didn’t want to fish much; he just wanted to watch and take pictures of his daughter learning to
fish. It was especially good because the dad wasn’t a sideline coach, and the little girl was
completely enthralled for the entire trip. She asked about bugs, about the anatomy of fish, and
she was “all about it” the entire trip. We finished the trip off with her casting to, hooking, and
landing a beautiful 12-inch brook trout all by herself. The dad was brought to tears as he was
proudly clicking pictures of his beautiful little girl. It was a perfect day.
5. What are your thoughts on the industry’s response to the growth in women’s growth ininvolvement?
I LOVE that the industry is responding to the growing female demographic in the sport (as well as in the industry). I would say that Orvis is leading the way with the 50/50 on the Water initiative, but TU is very present in the movement, as well. The majority of the major companies are definitely
making women in fly fishing a bigger priority.
6. Tell me about the move to the Driftless and how you and Mat made the decision.
Mat and I were in Taos, New Mexico–I had been there 11 years and Mat 6–and we were feeling stir-crazy and ready for a move, but we didn’t know where to go. Mat’s buddy mentioned the Driftless
Area, so we looked on a map and found this little town called Viroqua. We got on a plane and
visited and decided that it seemed like a pretty cool place to raise our family and open a fly
7. Why is fly fishing a great sport for women?
Fly fishing is a fitness sport. The reason that it’s so much easier to teach most women to fly
fish is because it’s easier to teach them to cast. Women tend to have a better sense of timing
and meter, plus women tend to use less muscle until directed to do so. This isn’t always the
case, but it tends to be true. Fly fishing is also a very experiential sport, which I think that a lot of women appreciate. It’s a sport that offers you so much more than just the action of fly fishing.
8. What are your thoughts on social media? Has it helped or hurt?
I believe that social media is mostly responsible for the increase in numbers of women in the
sport. I can say from personal experience that prior to social media, I had no idea that there
were SO many female fly anglers. I mean, I knew about the big name women in the sport, but
I didn’t know that there was a large population of women in the sport. I would see a woman
on a fly-fishing magazine maybe once or twice a year, and maybe I would see a woman on the
stream about as often, but I had no connection with other women. Once I started becoming
active on social media, it was SO surprising and wonderful to start being connected with other
female anglers. I think that connection is a HUGE part of not only introducing women into the
sport, but I think it’s the primary reason that women stay in the sport.
10. What is your favorite piece of fly fishing equipment and why?
It’s a pretty boring answer, but my boots are my favorite/most important piece of equipment.
There’s not anything exciting or jazzy about boots, but if they don’t fit properly or it they
hurt, I just don’t want to stay on the water. And I get cranky if I can’t be on the water often.
11. What future hurdles do you see and what are positives for kids and women in the sport?
The hurdles for all anglers, especially kids, are the threats to our resources. My hope is that
with more women and kids in the sport, there will be more voices and more advocates to
protect our waters. Getting kids involved at a really young age, even if it’s just looking at
bugs and throwing sticks, will hopefully increase future participation. TU is definitely leading
the way with Trout In The Classroom and various other initiatives for kids. It’s imperative that we as leaders in the industry continue to encourage diversity in this sport. More people equal more voices, more working bodies, more votes, more money, more protection, and hopefully more healthy clean water for fish to thrive in.