Fly fishing women

Women have a historic and future role fly fishing, as depicted in a woodcutting from a nun’s book in the 1400s to a 1880-era Currier and Ives calendar print to my wife Joy’s birthday success on Spinney Reservoir.

For the five decades I’ve been traipsing around with a fly rod in my hands, one question that always comes up is “Why don’t more women get hooked on this sport?”

While I can only speak from an observational point of view, the experience of teaching my wife and multiple friends and guiding/instructing hundreds of gals over the years has served to deepen my conviction.

That women are better, quicker learners with a natural talent for the intricacies of the sport. As of 2018, about 35 percent of the fly fishing community was female.

On an optimistic note, that number is on the increase, with women the fastest growing portion of the angling population.

Gear manufacturers are taking notice and expanding their offerings to better fit and work for female preferences.

While all of this is good, it can help to have an understanding of the legacy women have in fly fishing.

Rewind the tape, back to the mid-15th century in England. Leisure time was being rediscovered, the Renaissance era in full flower. Amongst the many new books written in the era is “A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle”.

Angle is the Olde English word for hook and where the term angler comes from.

You can find the text complete with woodcut illustrations online and if you adapt to the old English spelling, it is a fascinating read.

Considered the first real evidence of fly fishing as a sport, this definitive text covers everything from how to build a rod and line to fly patterns to recipes for the fish caught, most notably brown trout.

The punchline is the book was written by a woman, a British nun named Dame Julianna Berners. Thus began a long relationship between women and the art of angling.

In the 20th century, there are legends like Joan Wulff, Helen Shaw and Annette Lily who shine as inspirations for those who would chase fish with a fly.

Today, it is names like Millie Paini, Maddie Brenneman and Jen Ripple, editor in chief of Dun Magazine, that are the voices for participation and excellence.

While these individuals are sources of inspiration for many, too often there is a dismissal with “Yeah, sure. But I could never do that, I’ve never even caught a fish….” or “My (fill in the blank) loves doing that, but I just don’t think I’ve got the patience…”

Ladies, please! Here is one of the best sources of therapeutic recreation you can enjoy and you are perfectly suited to excel at it.

Now, with a good grasp of the legacy, I like to base my opinions on personal experience and observations.

What I’ve most closely observed guiding couples and solo female or male anglers, both beginners and longtime fly fishers, is the majority of my time guiding is spent trying to help guys overcome the lingering effects of testosterone.

While usually successful, it is a daunting challenge compared to the fast progression most women go through. Whether learning to cast the gear, tie knots or observe what is going on before plunging into the river; women have an attention to detail, curiosity for new information and patience that puts you way ahead of the curve.

The only place I see a difficulty is in reaction to a strike, but it comes quickly with a little practice.

At the end of the catching experience is the chance to release the fish to live and fight another day, hopefully a little wiser for both contestants.

In recent years, I observe more and more women out on the waters. With increasing frequency, it is the women teaching their husbands or boyfriends, not the other way around as many might expect.

The amazing ladies who’ve discovered more of their excellence on a river with a fly rod are forces of nature.

I’ve had a chance to experience this first hand. After spending the hours to share this sport with my wife, the inevitable happened – that day when she is more in-tune than I am with the river – the fish has come, more than once. She out fishes me on those days.

Despite my fragile, legendary ego, I view this with immense joy and respond with, “Atta girl! You do that every time!” and then make dinner.

For some of you reading this, perhaps a question has come to mind. “Sounds like this could be fun to try and do, where am I to get a start?”

All around us are the opportunities to delve into fly fishing, sample the rewards before deciding to purchase gear or get in deep.

Locally, Trout Unlimited has an outstanding women’s group, the Fly Gals, where kindred spirits forge friendships and share their knowledge in workshops and events.

ArkAnglers, the company I guide for, has a Fly Fishing 101 class every other weekend starting in late March. It is a one-day immersion in the sport, aimed at giving the information needed for a good start. Check out for dates and more.

Online, there are bountiful tutorials and resources. Friends are often willing to teach, but I would suggest hiring a guide/instructor for a more objective experience.

Most of us find that worth every penny, greatly shortening the arc of learning.

On the other side of the learning curve are days out in nature, either in solitude or participation with spouse, partner or friends.

It’s a hypnotic activity where cares, troubles and human concerns are allowed to settle into the shadows for a few well-earned hours of renewal.

Give fly fishing a try in 2019, you’ll find the rewards are immediate, durable and deeply rewarding.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.