Like many male-dominated activities, fly fishing has been a flat-growth sport for many years. Trout Unlimited, a group affected by this lack of increase in participants, made the decision to change their support base by actively recruiting women.
Here in Maine, in 2014 the Sebago Chapter of TU handed this task to their newly elected Vice President, Evelyn King. It was a propitious choice. Evelyn is a tireless, creative force. With the help of a few other female TU members she set up a table at the annual meeting, and immediately began changing the population of the organization.
As of this writing the Maine Women Fly Fishers page on Facebook has 485 members, a number that increases on an almost daily basis! The non-profit group has no membership fees, and is dedicated to introducing and instructing women in the sport. During the winter there are monthly meetings, usually at a restaurant or bar that has enough space for 20 or so women to gather and talk. During the spring through fall seasons a variety of expeditions take place.
What has piqued this interest? What are these women seeking?
Women want companionship. “I just wanted to see who the other women who fish are,” was one response. “My husband and I used to fish all the time, but I have not gone since he passed away. I am looking forward to being able to fish with others, again,” was another. “This is something I have always wanted to try, but did not know how to go about learning. It is so nice to have this group to show me!” The group ranges in age from barely 20 to well over 70. While younger people are willing to go alone, as we grow older it seems not only more fun, but safer, to have others with us as we venture into the woods and water. MWFF is a way to find company and feel comfortable continuing with an activity we love.
Women want to know what they are doing. Meetings and classes have covered everything imaginable about this particular way of catching fish. There have been basic and advanced casting lessons and indoor demonstrations of how and why a rod and line work as they should. Fly tying lessons for the group and as part of The Gray Ghosts are available, as well as entomology lessons linking the bug, its life cycles and the flies that imitate them. We have had field trips to stores to examine and select appropriate clothing from top to toe, and what woman would forget about accessories?
After Nancy Taylor brought her “boat bag” that contains everything she needs for fishing, several women purchased heavy duty knives to prevent disasters if a canoe or other watercraft should get entangled. Everyone I know carries a whistle in her vest or pack. Many of us now carry stream thermometers. Rod McGarry taught us, among other things, that no matter what kind of vehicle we might own, if it carries our fishing basket, it is a truck. A rug or doormat makes it possible to get into waders behind the truck without damaging or dirtying them before boots are on.
One evening we filled out cards describing the fishing regulations for various ponds and streams. It took some time but we were able to make sense of the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fishing regulations. Evelyn encouraged us to do this homework before each trip and to keep all the cards in a plastic bag for future reference. With a catch list on the back, the packet makes an easily referenced memory book of the season.
Another meeting was devoted to maps and lists of good spots to fish. We have several handouts of nearby areas, including some urban fishing which is extremely cool. There is often parking. Other people are nearby going about normal activities of a town, but with the crashing of river over boulders or dam and concentration on one’s fly or indicator as it cruises along they can be forgotten.
Women want to be independent. When we fish with a male partner, be he husband, boyfriend, nephew, son or son-in-law, there is a tendency to rely on the male’s experience and possible expertise. He might not only suggest places to go, flies to use, waters to explore, he might also make the decision where to go, which fly to use, even tie on the fly. It is easy to neglect developing abilities if one has someone else who will be happy to do things.
When we fish with other women, it is quite different. It isn’t that the more experienced are not willing to share what they know. Women are eager to help each other. However, those who are good teachers are willing to help another be able to do it for themselves. They will do as much as you need, but they will not commandeer the task unless requested to do so.
When we fish with other women, it encourages us to do as much as we can. It takes away the bit of excuse we have for not doing things we find difficult or scary. It takes away our “girl” card.
My husband and I had been attending the annual TU dinner/meeting/auction for several years before the women’s program was introduced. We had bought trips through the auctions, and that year I bought myself a 4-piece “puddle” rod. However, I was reluctant to follow my husband’s suggestion to sign up for a trip with the new group. Why, I questioned, did I need to fish with other women when I had my own partner to go with? Why should I spend that much money for a guided trip? His counter was that he had gone on many similar trips, and this one was quite a bargain. I succumbed to the idea that I might be able to learn good spots from a professional that I would be able to share.
It happened exactly as planned, we caught lots of salmon, trout, and chub, and the guilt disappeared the weekend after the trip when I took Stan to the exact places, with very similar success. However, it had given me much more. It had given me a bit of independence. Other experienced fishing women have said the same thing.
Starting with that trip, I always choose something I need to learn. The first was to have a simpler go-to method of tying on flies while on the water; the second was to learn to connect the tippet to the leader. Number one was something I had done, although often with difficulty. Number two I had always left entirely to my husband.
By the end of the weekend, I could do both. A bonus came when we went fishing a few days later and I could tie on flies for both of us while he took care of other gear. On consequent trips, I have always learned at least one new trick. Some of those trips have been with my life-long partner who has much to teach because once we start doing things for ourselves, it is hard not to strive for that extra bit of pride of accomplishment that comes from being independent.
Author’s Note: This is a slightly edited version of my article, Take Me to the River, that appeared in Bangor Daily News Senior Living, Fall 2018.