Written by: Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips
in 2017, 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.
In this month’s instalment, we pose our 11 questions to the two women from Orvis who are leading the charge. Behind every corporate initiative are hard-working employees who make it happen. Jackie Kutzer and Christine Atkins are the faces of 50/50 on the Water, and are doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the project. These amazing women are shaping the program and are responsible for moving it into the next phase. They are too humble to take credit for the success that the program has enjoyed so far, but rest assured that they are helping to drive the industry into recognizing that the time is now to make sure that women have a very important place at the table.
1. How, when and who got you started in fly fishing?
Jackie: Despite the fact that I’ve been working for Orvis since 2006, I started fly fishing in 2011. I had just met my (now) husband, Peter Kutzer, a wingshooting and fly-fishing instructor for Orvis. When I saw how excited he and his friends got over sharing fishing stories, tying flies, and talking about gear, I was immediately more curious about fly fishing than I had ever been before. Pete took me out on a few trips on the river before I took a women-only two-day course at the Orvis Fly-Fishing School in Manchester, Vermont that spring. Once I learned the basics of the cast and felt the camaraderie of the fellow women students, I fell in love with the sport. I loved the form of the cast, the fact that there are different casting techniques, and that you are always engaged in what you’re doing.
Christine: My husband, Tyler Atkins, taught me to fly fish 11 years ago. He was working at an Orvis Outlet store on weekends throughout college, and after watching him cast in the parking lot one day, I asked him to teach me. I’m a little stubborn (and can be a bit of a perfectionist), so I didn’t always take his instruction well. Luckily, he didn’t give up on me, and we now get out on the water together as often as we can! I’ve also been fortunate to learn from some amazing instructors at the Orvis Fly Fishing School.
2. Tell me about the Orvis 50/50 initiative. What are Orvis and you doing to achieve this monumental goal?
Jackie: 50/50 on the Water is an Orvis-led, industry-wide campaign to increase gender parity in fly fishing. The focus of this campaign is to make it easy for women to fly fish, celebrate women in conservation, and to change perception by showcasing authentic imagery and stories of women fly fishing. We are also challenging the rest of the industry to try one of four things in the next year: Host a women-centric event, offer women-only classes, host a women-only trip, and mentor an up-and-coming woman in the field—whether she’s a guide, fly shop employee, or industry professional.
I am part of a team at Orvis who are working to develop and expand our gear, apparel, trips, schools, programs, and storytelling aimed towards helping women who would like to start or continue their journey in fly fishing.
Christine: We’ve also formed a Northeast chapter of Braided (which was created by Kami Swingle in Durango, Colorado) to help bring women together to learn, travel, and fish. The chapter was formed last fall, and we now have more than 100 members across the Northeast!
3. Why has it taken so long to get women involved in fly fishing at this level? What is the biggest factor in the fast growth of women in the sport now? (Social media, companies, magazines, etc.)
Jackie: I think it’s important to remember that women have been a part of fly fishing since the VERY beginning, and there have been so many amazing women who have been paving the way for others to get involved in fly fishing for so many years. In the last five years, however, we’ve seen an exponential growth of women getting into the sport, and I think there are many reasons for that. Women are seeing other women fly fishing, whether it’s in person or through social media, and they want to try it, too. Those women will do the research, go to their local fly shops, get the gear, and find their adventure–and usually bring a friend! There are more and more women’s fishing clubs and groups where a woman can meet other like-minded women and go fishing with them. It’s great because they learn so much from each other. Also, young families are realizing that they don’t have to hang up their waders! They are finding ways to bring their little ones fishing with them, even if their outings are a bit shorter.
Christine: Women have been fly fishing forever, but I think participation is growing by leaps and bounds now thanks to a combination of easier access to education/resources and community-building through women’s groups and social media. I’m so thankful for the pioneers , since we wouldn’t be where we are now without them paving the way!
4. What’s a life lesson you have learned from fly fishing?
Jackie: You can’t take yourself too seriously. Fishing should be FUN. I love fly fishing because not only are you always learning, but it’s also quite humbling. When I was first learning, there were so many occasions when I went to fish a spot, and I would have a master plan, my game face was on, and I was so serious about it because I wanted to catch that fish so badly. The river would always school me. Always. I learned that you have to go with the flow (literally) of the river, and I learned to enjoy nature and being outside. Now I take time to notice where I am, breathe in the fresh air, appreciate that I learned about controlling my drift that day or improved my cast somehow. Catching that fish is just the icing on the cake. Fly fishing is more than fun; it’s an amazing experience every single time you go out.
Christine: Communication is so incredibly important. My husband and I were fortunate to spend four days fishing with Dave and Amelia Jensen on the South Island of New Zealand this past January, and our new relationship goal is to communicate and fish as a team like they do! Your success in New Zealand is often dependent on your partner. You’re spotting for each other, helping to land each other’s fish, and it really is an incredible dance. Dave and Amelia have a system down that works for them, and they make it look so easy (and it’s definitely not).
5. What’s your favorite place to fish 300 miles from your home?
Jackie: I love spending time on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard fly-fishing for striped bass. It’s amazing to me that I can catch stripers off the same beaches I vacationed on as a kid. I never knew what striped bass were, let alone that they were swimming in some of the same flats I was swimming in!
Christine: I don’t know if I can pick just one. New Zealand is now high on the list, although I have a soft spot for saltwater fishing. I’m itching to get back to The Bahamas for bonefish and South Carolina for tailing reds!
6. Why is Fly Fishing a great sport for women?
Jackie: I think fly fishing is a great sport for everyone because it has the ability to reconnect people with nature, to disconnect from their busy lives, and help them appreciate the outdoor world around them.
Fly fishing can also help heal. With programs like Casting for Recovery for women with or recovering from breast cancer, and Project Healing Waters for disabled veterans, fly fishing can help with physical and emotional rehabilitation. Programs like these have really changed and saved people’s lives.
Christine: There’s nothing like leaving the stress of work or your personal life behind and immersing yourself in nature with a fly rod in hand. It doesn’t take brute strength – it’s all about paying attention to your surroundings, letting the rod do the work, and when one thing isn’t working, being willing to switch it up and try something else.
7. What is your favorite fish and why?
Jackie: After stripers, it would definitely be steelhead. I’ve been to both sides of the country swinging for steelhead and have only landed one since I started fly fishing. I’m okay with that because the adventures I’ve had trying to catch them are some of the best memories I have.
Christine: I am a victim of the permit shakes. The quickest way to get my casting to fall apart is put a school of permit in front of me. They’re both challenging and beautiful!
8. What are your personal goals in fly fishing?
Jackie: There have been so many amazing people who have shared their knowledge of fly fishing with me over the years. My aim is to pay it forward and continue to teach people what I know about the sport.
Christine: To share fly-fishing with others. It’s too incredible to keep to myself!
9. What was your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
Jackie: On the last leg of our honeymoon, Pete and I were exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Just the hike through the woods took my breath away. The moss in the trees, the shades of green, the sparkle of the morning dew, the silence until we heard the river, then emerging to the blue-green color of the Sol Duc. I left a piece of my heart on that river and have been dreaming of our return.
Christine: For our last fishing day in New Zealand, we returned to the place where we fished first with Dave and Amelia. It was incredible to see how far we’d come with learning how to fish as a team. The water was higher and the fish were a little harder to spot than they had been three weeks prior, but we managed to connect with a few of them and I remember our smiles being the biggest on this day.
10. What are your thoughts on the industry’s response to women’s growth?
Jackie: I think it’s a really exciting time for fly fishing. We’re seeing a rise in women participants, and the Industry is really leaning in and excited about it.
Christine: I think it’s awesome. This has been a long time coming, but finally it feels like all of the pieces are in place. All of the major fly-fishing brands are on board, and I look forward to seeing what 2018 brings.
11. What is the future and what do you see as the next step/hurdle for the 50/50 initiative?
Jackie: Eventually we will reach gender parity in fly fishing. With our next steps, we aim to build on our classes, trips, and programs to help break down barriers for women entering the sport, as well as connecting people with each other through our growing network and highlighting their personal stories through the #5050onthewater hashtag in social media.
Christine: The future of the sport is an equal percentage of men and women fly fishing. Success will be when we no longer require an initiative to remind folks to highlight authentic women in fly fishing or to develop great, feature-rich women’s gear.