Here’s a bit of streamside conversation from 40 years ago. I might have made it up, but it makes the point:
A fly fisher – we’ll call him Bill – is sitting by a trout stream waiting for his buddy Tom to arrive. Looking up, Bill sees another fly fisher moving down the path toward the water.
“Is that Tom?” Bill asks, but as the person moves closer, he sees that it is not Tom at all.
“That ain’t Tom,” Bill mutters to himself. “That’s a girl! What’s a girl doin’ here?”
It’s not hard to imagine such a scene years ago, when women were relatively rare in the fly fishing world; but today, the waters have changed. Today, it’s more unusual not to see women fly fishing on streams and rivers far and wide. Women have discovered that fly fishing offers a rewarding way to enjoy the outdoors, to share time with others and to have a great deal of fun along the way.
But before you can enjoy it, you’ve got to first get started.
How do women get started in fly fishing?
In many cases, it happens after a husband or boyfriend takes up the sport. That’s how it was for Jennifer Gilbert, who has been fly fishing now for about four years.
Gilbert discovered fly fishing not long after her husband Jeff’s best friend taught him to fly fish. Her husband quickly took to the sport, she says, and he was soon fishing regularly.
At that point, as Gilbert puts it, she had no choice.
“How else was I going to see my husband?” she says with a laugh.
These days, Jennifer and Jeff are out on the water about three weekends out of four. They have fished all over the Southeast, as well as in Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Mexico, sharing the joy of travel and the excitement of time on the water with a fly rod in hand.
How does it play out when a couple fishes together?
“That depends on the couple,” Gilbert says, adding that in her case, she and her husband are a great pairing.
“It gives us something in common to do,” though she says that for some couples, fishing together might become competitive and could thus cause what she calls “a little bit of turmoil.”
Chris Scalley, founder of River Through Atlanta Guide Service (which offers guided fly fishing trips for trout on the Chattahoochee River), says that he books more and more couples for fly fishing trips.
“I’m seeing more couples turning to fly fishing, as they try to find things they can do together,” Scalley says. “Fly fishing provides that common activity.”
While Gilbert discovered fly fishing through her husband, other women come to the sport on their own. One of them is Amanda Hoppers.
“I actually got into fly fishing by accident,” Hoppers recalls. It happened while she was in graduate school and working part-time in the college’s outdoor recreation program. One weekend, she found herself driving a van full of college students to a beginner’s fly fishing course.
“I had never fly fished before,” she says, “but being an experienced angler, I figured why not try something new?”
So she did. Her first fish on a fly rod was a species that she had caught hundreds of times before: a bluegill.
“But there was just something about the way the fish came up to take my foam spider that absolutely fascinated me,” she says. After that trip, she found herself “fairly addicted” to the sport. In the years since, she has fished all over the country, from Georgia and North Carolina to Montana and Washington “and lots of great places in between.”
As the number of female fly fishers has increased in recent years, the
“business” side of fly fishing has responded accordingly. That’s particularly evident in fly shops, long the traditional stronghold of male fly fishing enthusiasts.
“There is a pervasive anxiety among some of my female friends that they will not be taken seriously if they go to a fly shop asking for advice on materials or
equipment,” Hoppers says. But of all the fly shops she has visited around the country, she says, “I can only think of one time that a guy provided less-than-stellar service. Overwhelmingly, the folks working in those shops are friendly and want you to go out and catch fish.”
That’s certainly the case at Alpharetta Outfitters, a local fly shop where many of the customers are female and where women are frequent participants in fly fishing classes and workshops.
“It’s great to see more women getting into the sport,” says Jeff Wright, manager of the shop. He points to the increasing number of women who participate in the shop’s many introductory and advanced fly fishing and fly tying clinics. Some attend with husbands or boyfriends, while others come with their kids. Still others come on their own.
So should you give fly fishing a try?
Hoppers offers a word of advice to any woman who’s thinking about testing the waters of fly fishing.
“You definitely should try it,” she says. “I’m so glad that I did.
“I do think it’s very important when learning something new to find a good mentor,” she says, adding there are many great resources these days. “My suggestion is to check out local fly shops and clubs which have introductory classes.”
“You’re never going to completely master it,” Gilbert adds. “It will always keep you engaged.”