11 Questions with Two of the Orvis Women Behind 50/50 on the Water

Written by: Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips

Christine Atkins (left) and Jackie Kutzer are the faces of the new Orvis-led initiative, and they’re responsible for much of the heavy lifting, as well.
Photo by Kami Swingle, TwoFisted Heart Productions, via orvis.com

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.

Chrissy shows off a glorious rainbow from New Zealand’s South Island.
Photo by Tyler Atkins

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!

Fly-fishing for stripers off Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard connects Jackie’s passion to the beaches of her childhood.
Photo by Pete Kutzer

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!

Chrissy stalks tarpon in the Everglades, while Pete Kutzer looks on.
Photo by Jackie Kutzer

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!

Jackie landed this buttery beauty on Black Friday.
Photo by Pete Kutzer

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.

Click here for more information about 50/50 on the Water.

Kip Vieth is a former Orvis Trout Bum of the Week who owns Wildwood Float Trips, in Monticello, Minnesota. Check out his excellent “10 Tips for Catching a Musky on a Fly.”

21 thoughts on “11 Questions with Two of the Orvis Women Behind 50/50 on the Water”

  1. Thanks for sharing, ladies. I hope to add some of those adventures to my bucket list! I made the trip down under years ago, before I discovered fly fishing. Talk about a missed opportunity! I look forward to doing my part helping to bring more women into the sport. I have one gal on the line right now. I’ve encouraged her to start her journey with Orvis classes, online info and of course Tom’s pod casts. I can’t wait to meet up with her on the water. Thanks for all you do and See you out there!

  2. Christine and Jackie are the real deal. And we could not ask for better industry ambassadors. Proud to call them friends.

  3. what is the best way to get into fly fishing? I am an avid fisher but have yet to learn to fly fish.

  4. I to flyfish..but Ifish exclusively Tenkara, the Traditional Japanese fixed line fly fishing! I love it! i fo not javr the funds for trips abroad or anywhere. So I fish local. I started fishong with my husband who fishes western traditional fly fishing. He has FTD (frontal temporal lobe degeneration) a disease that hits younger in life. He and I are in our late 50s. Being he can’t fish alone I started taking him and sitting and reading and watching. Then I discovered tenkara! I have lupus and fibromyalgia and a few other problems. But Tenkara is light weight and easy on me. I can fish all day! I fell in love and found my sanity. I fish the Colorado streams lake and rivers all year round. I still take my husband when he can for as long as he can. Being on the river is very therapeutic for him as well. I’ve also started introducing fly fishing to our grand children. Oh we all tie flies as well.

  5. Oh by the way I hate my keyboard and autocorrect!

  6. 50/50 on the Water is the exactly the initiative we needed ! I got into fly fishing quite by accident – my husband had been asking me to go with him for years and one season I was a filler in a boat for a guy who had cancelled at the last minute ! From the first tug on the line I was hooked ! Everything about the sport is fantastic ! From being outdoors, on the river to the constant interaction between the right fly , what fish want that day and the the casting technique – the whole experience is wonderful. But here in NH there aren’t a lot of women doing it ! I want to change to that ! I need retailers have to give women the same expansive options in gear and clothing that men have ! I don’t want cutesy things ! I would go with my husband and see things available to him and ask where the womens exact same items were and retailers wouldn’t have them – oh and the prices and sales have to be 50/50 too ! I have a guide and an Orivis fly shop near my home in the White Mountains – I want to run weekends for women this season – would love to talk to Christine and Jackie about how best to do this ! Thanks ladies for doing what we have all thought was necessary!

  7. Please interview April Archer, CEO of SaraBella Fishing, and Kelli Jackson, CEO of Anglher. These are two kick-ass Colorado women who are changing the old rules and ushering women into the fly-fishing community.

    1. Kelli, is fishing with me this summer and I plan on interviewing her then. I’m very excited to show her our Waters.

  8. Where are these barriers I keep hearing about? I have fished with women my whole life (my mother, sisters, girl friends, life partner, nieces, and now step granddaughters, and never have I seen one instance of a barrier to women fishing, any kind of fishing. In fact it is the opposite, most guys will fall over each other trying to help the ladies. This made up crisis is simply a sick advertising ploy put forth by Orvis to increase revenue for the company. Your little fairy tale princess world were everything is 50/50 cannot and will never exist, it is not the way it should be either. you just want to guilt trip a bunch of women into buying your gear even though they don’t want to and probably never will make a serious effort to fly fish.

    1. Hi Ted,

      Here’s an explanation from a woman who left a comment on our Facebook page:

      “There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding that while, of course, no one “prevents” me from fishing (and in fact, many of my male family members encourage me to do it), it’s still a predominantly male hobby and it’s intimidating to feel like you’re crashing the boy’s club. Even if you’re someone (like me) who has crashed the boy’s club many times in her life. Anyhow, my husband showed me your 50/50 video this morning, and you know what? It inspired me to get out there and try fly fishing.”

      No one is blaming men, and no one is asking women to buy gear they don’t need. We’re just trying to create a situation in which women don’t feel intimidated or feel that they don’t have a peer group that they are comfortable with.

      1. If that’s true then all you need clubs and trips run for women by women. You might think about starting a ladies only fly group on facebook if there isn’t one.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree with you Ted. I am a woman. I knew years ago that I wanted to fly fish. So I borrowed a rod (from a man) and practiced asked men for help and guess what!!!!! They helped me. and Parity in fly fishing? Are you kidding me? If you want to fly fish, then go fly fishing!!! Do all the things I did. Join FFing clubs, ask for help, they guys will be so willing to help. Here’s what this is…….. Increase sales…. hire millennial girls to come up with a plan. They produce the this formula Create a Victim (stupid women) Then Create a Villain (mean men) and draw attention to something beautiful by creating a conflict (worthy of a little kid). Hey ladies (out there), fly fishing is great. Try it. Don’t try it. It’s United States. It’s a free country. And to the women who came up with this idea, you suck. Women who do not fly fish DO NOT DO SO BECAUSE OF MEN. What is wrong with you! Oh and Orvis Corporate leaders… yeah, you…. you let this happen? Here, let me translate for you…… sell more products by INSULTING and dragging through the mud, over HALF your customers. You idiots. Stop listening to millenials. Seek wisdom in experience. Don’t hire professional complainers who learned “victim-hood” in colleges. Here is their take on the world… everything is someone else’s fault and I need to get everything I want. Here’s the worst part Orvis. I have been your loyal customer for 20 years. You just aligned yourself with the Victim culture of today’s liberals. I am gone forever. Me, with my debt free, excellent credit score, prime earning years 50+ year old woman. You are fools.

      1. Hi Fox,

        That’s awesome that you have had good experiences in your journey to becoming a fly fisher, but I don’t think that you can generalize from a single experience. We spent two years talking to women–of all ages–around the country about how we could best make fly fishing a more inclusive sport.

        This initiative is not about blaming men at all, nor is it about “victimhood.” In fact, the word “men” appears exactly once in the 2,000-word post above.

        Instead, it’s about inspiring women to participate in this sport we love.And it’s also not just about Orvis. You’ll note that the 50/50 logo doesn’t have a brand name on it. We hope that this becomes an industry-wide campaign.

      2. Over the past 10+ years I have enjoyed fly fishing, I didn’t need an initiative to start or enjoy it. But I have learned that not as many women are that outgoing.
        As I offer to teach more I hear from so many women that they always wanted to learn but didn’t want to be the only woman.
        The support and camaraderie that the 50/50 initiative offers is a wonderful way to bring awareness and encourage women to learn the sport.

        Keep up the good work Chrissy, Jackie and Orvis!

  9. This campaign really should have come from TU or some other conservation institution. Wherever a company attempts such tactics to increase its sales, I roll my eyes and say you aren’t fooling anyone. As for the question, if women belong in fly fishing, I believe Joan Wulff answered that question long ago.

    1. I don’t think anyone is asking the question, “Do women belong in fly fishing?” We are emphatically saying that women do belong in fly fishing, in greater numbers. And, yes, we do sell women’s gear. But at its heart, this isn’t so much a sales pitch as a call to action. We have invited every company in fly fishing to join us in promoting 50/50 on the Water, in the same way that Costa has shared its “Kick Plastic” campaign. That’s why the 50/50 campaign logo doesn’t have the Orvis name on it.

  10. Girls Scouts are very much into outdoor activities as well as biology and environmental sciences. I think there might be wonderful opportunities for the 50/50 Club to partner with Girl Scout Councils to introduce fly fishing to the older girls. Many TU chapters offer experiences for Boy Scouts, including merit badges but I have not seen Girl Scouts mentioned. When we polled our girls about what camping experiences they would like to see expanded, fishing was near the top.

  11. You claim this 50/50 advertising ploy is not meant to be sexist yet you want women-only clubs, women-only organizations, lessons etc etc. Are there are men-only group or clubs in the sport of fly fishing or is this another case of some women blaming men when they feel left out of something even if they are not interested or even know or care aboutit? No, I get it! You want to get women customers so you tell them that men say there is no place for women in the sport of fly fishing. This will, you hope, encourage them to stand up for “women rights”, take up fly fishing and buy their equipment from you. Well I hope you get a lot of new customers because you lost my grandson and his friends, male and female. The girls were highly insulted and the boys resented being labeled as misogynists. This whole scenario is quite sad, well actually disgusting. Shame on you two women and Orvis for aiding and abetting the furthering of the division between men and women, especially among young people.

  12. I applaud the effort to get more women fly fishing (if they want to) but I don’t understand why you chose to have an negative undercurrent (pun intended) about men. They are often the ones who get women into fly fishing, including the two founders of the 50/50 initiative. If you are going to bring men into this conversation at all, why not highlight the positive relationships of women enjoying fly fishing with their fathers/brothers/male friends instead of one random upset male caller?
    Also, the concept of “parity in fly fishing” and “50/50 on the Water” is totally misguided. Equal access does NOT mean equal numbers. If so, please make “50/50 in the Zumba/bar/palites class” your next initiative so we can get more men into those classes. Intentional or not, the tone this initiative takes is that there has been some misjustice toward women on behalf of men, and that is wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *