How Should We Treat Women Who Fly Fish?

Cinda Howard is a former Fishing Manager of Orvis Scottsdale and a fly-casting champion.
Photo courtesy Cinda Howard

One of the big changes from the old to this new, redesigned site is that we did away with the Women in Fly Fishing blog and simply rolled those posts over here into Fly Fishing. This decision was based mostly on feedback that we had received from female anglers, many of whom appreciated that we were trying to call out their participation in the sport but who ultimately felt that the best way to show acceptance and respect is to treat them no differently than we do men. “Women in Fly Fishing” is now a tag we use at the bottom of relevant posts, so if someone does want to see a gender-specific feed, they can just click on the tag.

I bring this up because several fly-fishing blogs have recently taken up the issue of women in the sport this week, and they offer varying perspectives. On Sunday, Fontinalis Rising posted “Chicks with Fly Rods,” in which he takes issue with some women who seem to be engaging in social-media self-promotion based solely on the fact that they are female and they fish:

This gal is one out of a dozen or more that have come through my social media outlets in the last year that all seem to have the same message- “Look at me, I’m a girl who fly fishes.” They offer nothing else, except perhaps lots of pictures of themselves posing with fish in smooching, pouting or even suggestive poses. This rant of mine is not against women in general, but only against this kind of shameless self-promotion that centers simply around the fact that they are female and fly fish. I fly fish all the time, so trust me, it’s no great accomplishment. Do you have opposable thumbs and a frontal cortex? Then you too can fly fish. It’s not men’s rugby after all. It requires skill and finesse, but not some sort of manly strength that any woman couldn’t handle. Promoting oneself as “a girl who fishes” can easily be reduced to the sexist “look, even GIRLS can do it.”

He then goes on to reel off the names of women such as Joan Wulff, writer Erin Block, fly shop manager Katie Ferner, and Midwest entomology expert Ann Miller as a way to show that there are already tons of women making an impact on the sport.

Jackie Jordan, an assistant art director here at Orvis, is relatively new to the sport but is already addicted.
Photo by Pete Kutzer

In response to the Fontinalis Rising post, writer Dan Nelson offered a different view on his blog, Adventures Northwest, in a post called “Women Fish!” He begins by pointing out that there is still tons of sexism in the angling world, in the generally dismissive attitude many anglers display toward women to the sexist language in the angling press. His reading of the Fontinalis Rising post is critical:

While the blogger refrains from directly discouraging woman from fishing, he suggests they should stop expressing their woman’s point of view on the sport. “Please – keep fishing, keep sharing your pictures and story. Just take the emphasis off your gender.” I think that’s wrong. Not the part about the fishing and sharing of pictures and stories. No, what’s wrong is the idea that gender should be ignored.

He concludes by arguing that the opportunity to read “about the experiences, joys and triumphs of other women” may make the sport seem less intimidating to women who would like to get involved.

I have been very fortunate in my career to have spent a lot of time around remarkable female anglers, many of whom are better anglers than I am. I would not want to make an on-stream bet with the likes of Cathy Beck, Lori-Ann Murphy, or Rachel Finn. And it’s not even close when it comes to salt water: Diana Rudolph or Sarah Gardner would kick my ass. Really, if I start counting all of the expert female anglers I know, i run out of fingers and toes pretty damn fast.

However, it is important to remember that not all women are the same. The question that seems to be posed by these competing views above is: Is there a right way and a wrong way to go about presenting yourself as a female fly fisher? If so, why?

What do you think?

25 thoughts on “How Should We Treat Women Who Fly Fish?”

  1. Clearly, a copy editor did not proof this piece before it published. The headline in and of itself is exclusionary. “How Should *We* Treat Women Who Fly Fish?” We, the men? From the beginning this piece divides the two genders. Disappointed, Orvis. Way to not be inclusive of all anglers.

    1. I think your interpretation of “we” could be considered biased. Depends on how you look at it. “We” could easily be “flyfishers”. Actually, that was my interpretation.

      What word would you like in place of “we” in order to avoid being excluse rather than inclusive? I think this is actually an example of the gender bias that still exists. You chose to interpret the “we” pronoun in an exclusionary manner.

    2. Hi Lo,

      Thanks for your comment.

      As a rule, when I quote words from other sources, I do not edit the quotation. As for the title, all I can say is that I did not see “we” as male, but representing the fly-fishing community. In hindsight, the title was not my best work because, when divorced from the article, it seems to suggest things to others that I did not intend.

      That said, if you read the whole article, you must have noticed that it is, in fact, inclusive of all anglers and makes the point that gender has nothing to do with angling skill. At issue here is whether or not the ways women present themselves online and in social media are important. That is the question that the two quotation took opposite sides on. I, on the other hand, did not express an opinion on this because I was interested to see what the general community had to say.

    3. I do not agree with you because if you took the time to learn about Orvis and their amazing company you would know that they are doing a lot to change the industry of fly fishing.

  2. In general, if we all acted as though Mother was looking over our shoulder most of these problems would go away.

  3. Dudes make overly masculine gestures when being photographed, so why pass judgement on women for doing things their way? Fish. Have fun. Participate in conservation. The rest is of no consequence to me.

    1. I completely agree with you! To each his/her own- a woman does not have to sacrifice/conceal being a woman to enjoy or participate in fly fishing or other traditionally-male-dominated sports. What does it matter when it’s all about the fishing anyway?

  4. I am a woman. I fly fish. I am a registered nurse. Anything that is usually the domain of one sex or another, that suddenly sees the influx of the “other” gender, can cause a stir. Once the dust settles, if this “opposite” gender continues to be a regular participant, the change will become the norm, and things will settle down on their own. If it was just a fad, it will go away. The women in the sport should behave as is the expectation of the sport, not the gender. The men should behave accordingly. it is OK. As you would respect Joan Wulff on the stream, and you would feel comfortable with a male nurse acting professionally, you will get over it.

    1. Excellent point, Janice! Change and adaptation do not come easily to the human species, however we [fly anglers] represent an incredible variety of people. Let’s celebrate those differences and allow our perspectives to not be narrowed by our intense focus on gender. Rather, as someone who is out fly fishing the Texas waterways daily, I find that the more people I see appreciating and conserving nature for our sport the better. Whether they be male or female, respecting nature and our sport should be the focus, not how someone poses with their fish before releasing it.

  5. This has been discussed heavily over the last year or so by Kathryn Maroun of “What a Catch”
    Kathryn has been subject to all manner of harassment and prejudice for being a woman who makes her living as a fly Fisher. Much of this poor treatment has come from North American men.
    For Fontanalis to suggest there are lots of women making a difference by naming a couple of Women is really lame and perhaps he is thinking nobody knows any better. I bet you can name six men who have made a difference much quicker than six Women.
    The truth is that while fly fishing is starting to attract more and more Ladies, they still often feel a little conspicuous because they are still well under represented and there are still guys out there who feel threatened by them.
    Fontanalis wants Women to stop pointing out their gender as they fish, well there are lots of men who think they are some kind of star in the fly fishing population, ” watch this and buy that” because I like it so it must be good.
    Ever body has an ego. Fly fishing related businesses often use Ladies in skimpy swimwear to sell their services or products, where does that put men? Obviously they are the target and women are subjugated to that end is it any wonder some women feel odd about entering the sport? Manufacturers are selling pink fly rods to attract women to buy them, while not all Ladies find this offensive but many do.
    How do we get more women out on the water AND help them feel welcome? Treat them like you would your sister. Your Mom or the woman you most care about. Say “hi” when you meet them on the water, I know most guys are pretty good people but as we all know it is easier to promote a little negativity.How should Orvis treat Women in the sport? Same way you would want to treat everyone else.

  6. If a person (any gender) enjoys a sport, they should be allowed to post whatever pics they want. They are having fun. If they”re not hurting anyone, who really cares?

    Regarding how the industry speaks to women in the fly fishing world, I think men and women should be treated the same and I can appreciate the decision to roll them into one category. However, fly-fishing products and messaging has been traditionally aimed at men, so I think many women feel like they are swimming up current (pun intended!) when they try to enter the sport. It”s nice to see companies starting to develop more women”s products.

  7. One thing that we should not forget is the many charities out there that use fly fishing as part of the healing process. Casting for Recovery and Project Healing Waters to name a few. There are many men out there that have given countless hours to volunteer and help the women in these groups. There will always be a few men out there that can show bias to women in this sport. But I think there are more men out there that support women in the sport then there are that show a bias. I am a female fly fisher and enjoy the sport very much. I have always run into men on the stream that have been very welcoming to me and others on the water and I appreciate that.

    1. Quality of presentation determines the quality of your catch.

      How we present ourselves is no different.

  8. Quality of presentation determines the quality of your catch.

    How we present ourselves is no different.

  9. I took up flyfishing about 12 years ago. Since then, my husband & I have traveled & fished a lot of places, and more often than not, I am the only female client @ the lodge/camp. That said, I let my angling speak for me, because I am there to FISH. Personally, I have yet to encounter any kind of problem because of my gender. Ladies–fish hard, fish often!

  10. I like pink, I like fly fishing… I like pink fly rods. Until you’ve walked a mile in my pink pumps and entered certain fly shops for the first time you can’t begin to understand the realization of gender prejudice and how it can potentially keep women off the water. I’m certain my site would be one Fontinalis would decry and while I hadn’t heard of him until this moment, nothing could make me happier. I believe genders aren’t truly equal until we embrace our innate differences and celebrate them. I believe this to be true in my day job when I walk into a board room of men and likewise when I walk into a river. I embrace the old-school ideal that God made us different and striving to be epicene doesn’t serve anyone. My way when I take a fishing trip is to have a lot of fun on the water, hopefully look cute or even sexy (gasp) in my photos/videos, spend money in the shops, and encourage other women to do the same. More women on the water is a good thing for all of “We”. I can understand how some women will be more comfortable adjusting to fit in with the boys and more power to them – but that’s not me. Presently I’m designing waders that don’t make my butt look big so my photos/videos will be even cuter and sexier. True strength comes from celebrating who we are not sacrificing our tendencies to fit in. Leaders in the industry who get the differences between the sexes get my business and get my respect.


  12. I think the term angler for me is the appropriate way to refer to those of us who fly fish. If I am not mistaken the term angling came from one who establishes an angle with the rod and line while striking a fish. In my experience both genders can accomplish that fairly well most of the time. Because of biases and the affliction we all suffer from… just being human I have had ugly experiences with both genders. When asked how to mitigate that I usually tell individuals to strive to have the best skills possible and an above reproach etiquette on the water. This elevates the sport of fly fishing that we all love so much no matter our gender. Oh by the way as I was getting ready to release a fish one time it whispered to me, it was nice meeting you my worthy adversary but can I go home now? Fish do not care can we get to that place please? I saw recently where men over estimate their looks and abilities and women just the opposite. Female anglers are in my opinion under represented in most media, magazines and the like. Maybe attempting to call attention to themselves on a stream is a direct reaction to that. If we hope to beget to the younger generation the responsibility of caring for our cold, clean waters and to cherish the sport we love so much we must put forth role models. It is hard for young female anglers to invision themselves doing any of the above mentioned if there are few female anglers depicted doing so. In closing I know or have fished with most of the individuals mentioned in the posts they all know their way around a fly rod, parts is parts and the fish do not care……

  13. To Fontinalis Rising:
    “Sometimes, people try to expose what’s wrong with you, because they can’t handle what’s right about you.”

  14. To: Fontinalis Rising
    “Sometimes, people try to expose what’s wrong with you, because they can’t handle what’s right about you.”

  15. I think this is an excellent issue to bring up and I have been reading a couple contrasting viewpoints from different bloggers. I 100% believe that the gender role issue cannot be ignored/brushed off- and bloggers that want women to quiet down about the fact that they are fishing females (or even female bloggers that want to be labeled as “fisherman”) are nursing a sad misconception. I understand why men can be uncomfortable with women integrating into traditionally masculine sports, but I don’t accept it. The male gender is already solidly associated with fly fishing, so obviously they don’t need to defend themselves or their gender in the sport because it’s already laid in place for them and ingrained to the point that the bulk of the market is completely male-centric. With women… I wish I could say we don’t have to remind people who we are, but unfortunately, we still do. I’m not saying toss your gender loudly in the face of the majority and expect new best friends, because there is a fine line between being obnoxious and making a strong statement (which goes for both men and women); I’m saying that there’s almost nothing a man can do that a women can’t in fly fishing, so there’s really no reason a woman should change or adapt male traits if that’s not true to who she is. I applaud the “tomboys” of the world and in no way find them to be traitors to the gender- they’re doing what they want, and that is really my bottom line!- but I do think their entry into the world of fly fishing will be a more smoothly-paved road. So that’s fortunate for them. But why should somebody more traditionally feminine with a passion for the sport be rejected or hushed because of, let’s say, how she photographs herself with her catch? She shouldn’t. I’ve read articles where male bloggers seem to be greatly affronted by that, when I think they should just be worrying about themselves and enjoying fishing as usual. What difference does it make to a male fishermen to see a feminine female fly fishing (whoa, quadruple alliteration), enjoying it, and being herself? You can’t always decode who’s truly passionate about the sport and who’s putting on for attention when lining up photographs alone, but my point is, the more feminine woman cannot and should not be written off as attention-craving or non-serious about the sport. You simply can’t tell by that alone, unless it’s accompanied by a caption that says “fishing is stupid but don’t I look adorbs!” That’s your evidence- not the feminine appearance.

    Personally (and this is just me), I don’t want to be a man, nor will I ever be. I choose not to compare myself to men specifically in whatever sports I choose to do (although I do enjoy gauging myself against the talent of the champions and renowned, which may be either men or women). I will do what I want to do, I respect male and female participants alike, and I am proud to remain my feminine self in the process. I’ve never actually taken a cute selfie while fishing (seems a bit cumbersome when you’re busy actually fishing, and I don’t always look cute out on the water either), but if I wanted to, why should anybody else care? Why should I have to hush up about the fact that I’m a woman to make a man more comfortable, especially when it doesn’t make a difference in the sport itself? My main issue with the mindset of women who want to be called “fishermen” or “one of the guys” is the fact that they simply don’t need to sacrifice their feminine identity to enjoy, succeed in, or just plain participate in their sport of interest. If you really are a woman wanting to be a fisherman, great! Be yourself, as masculine as you like. But if that’s not you, then you don’t need to become a guy to be good at fly fishing or enjoy it. It’s not a requirement for the sport. Women who adopt traditional male attitudes get a lot of support from otherwise intolerant male fly fishermen because it’s easier for those men to welcome a more male-like female into the sport, which seems like a step backwards to me for both genders. I support equal gender participation in fly fishing and other sports, whether women want to wear their hair down or just not care about their appearance at all. If you’re a tomboy, you’ll have a bit of an easier time (socially speaking), which is great- enjoy, I support you!- but I just hope that’s true to who you are as a woman and not a facade you’re adopting when fishing with a group of guys. I just don’t think you have to sacrifice being a woman to do whatever it is you’re doing, and if some men are uncomfortable being reminded about that, then they obviously have some growing up to do. The true-of-heart fly fishermen, male or female, would much rather be fishing than arguing about this, anyway.

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