Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chicks With Fly Rods

Authors Note: When I originally posted this I had no idea what the result would be, and the national attention it has received has been quite a shock. As originally posted I had a pinup photo of a gal in bikini and waders, which I lifted from Moldy Chum as a lead-in. I was trying to make a subtle if sly point. As you can see from the comments below half the folks focused on the pinup and not my message so I have removed the photo.

The response to this post has been overwhelming, both positive and negative. I'm not averse to a healthy debate, and so I'm sharing links to other posts that are for and against my viewpoint at the bottom of this post. In the end you the reader must decide how you feel about it.

I still stand by my opinion.

Jason Tucker
Fontinalis Rising

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I’ve been getting the same Facebook page suggestion all week, about some gal who fly fishes. After seeing enough of this I finally went over and checked her page out. Okay- she’s young, she fly fishes, but so what? Then I read the end of her tag line.

“I’m out to prove fly fishing is NOT just a man’s sport. . . and also that gals who fly fish kick ass.”

Really? How, may I ask? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that she fly fishes, but how does that make her any different from anyone else? I refrained from leaving a really snarky comment and simply echoed her tag line back to her out of a sense of irony.

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.”

I don’t know the statistics, but women are definitely the fastest growing demographic in fly fishing. This is a welcome development in my view. Fly fishing has too long been the province of old duffers and macho backwoods types, or worse- Brad Pitt wannabes. I don’t want to drive anyone away from the sport, including the gals I have in mind, I’m just asking that they change their approach, for their good and the good of the sport.  I’ll share examples of what I mean.

If you think you’re a pioneer opening the sport up for women think again. Joan Wulff began fly fishing in the 1930’s back when it was definitely a man’s sport. But Joan’s approach wasn’t to say “look at me, I’m a girl who fishes”. No, Joan mastered the art of fly tying and became an innovator; her original creations are still fished around the world. She also became an expert caster and casting instructor, and she has taught casting and fly fishing schools all of her life. She held the world distance casting record from 1943-1960 for BOTH sexes. She didn’t just show up on a stream and look cute in waders (for all I know she looked awful in waders), she brought a work ethic, pride and excellence. She had something to add to the sport, and she is justifiably famous.

If you think that this is a man’s sport that you’ve novelly infiltrated you’re wrong again. Dame Juliana Berners wrote her “Treatyse Of fysshing wyth an Angle” back in the 1500’s. Men just took over from there. We can be pushy like that.

Joan and Julia may be extreme examples. I’m no Izaak Walton. Here’s a short list of women in fly fishing that I admire.
Becca Schlaff layin' it OUT!

 Becca Schlaff is fairly new to the sport. She is an excellent artist whose abstract paintings capture the beauty and motion of the fish. I’ve fished with her and can tell you that she can cast.

Becca's art speaks volumes


Erin Block is an avid flyfisherman, and judging by all the fish pictures she shares on social media I’d say she’s pretty darn good at it. She also happens to be one of the best writers I know of in any genre.
Erin Block is a damn good fly angler- and a much better writer. Russ Schnitzer photo


Then there’s Ann Miller, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and an expert in angling entomology. Her book “Hatch Guide for Upper Midwest Streams” is a must read for anyone serious about dry fly fishing there. I’ve been to her seminar and was astounded by her knowledge of insects and how that should affect your fishing. Not because she is a woman. I was just plain astounded. Her presentation made me think about fly fishing in ways I never had before.

top that- ANYONE!!


 None of these gals put on waders and think they are special because of their gender. They all have something of value to share. This list isn’t definitive by the way, just a diverse few who come to mind. One of my favorite female anglers (who I’ve never fished with) is Katie Ferner. She has guided for a couple of seasons at the Naknek lodge in Alaska and currently manages the fly shop for Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti Michigan. Never once have I seen Katie make any noise about being a “girl who fishes”. She just goes out and does it. Perhaps it’s the fact that she has worked professionally in the field for several years, but she’s one person who has never tried to make me aware of her gender. I don’t think she has anything to prove, she just loves to fish.
Katie working the till. Sure she's not holding a fish, but this is the nuts and bolts.

Another woman who stands out to me is Kathy Scott. Kathy, a teacher by profession, also builds bamboo rods, makes furled leaders and fishes a lot. She has been instrumental in seeing that fly fishing has been introduced as an after school activity at her school. Kathy is a terrificwriter with several books to her credit about life and fishing in her beloved Maine woods. (Full disclosure: Kathy is a Northern Michigan native, so I may be a little partial.)
Kathy Scott- the Grande Dame of Cane

If you’re young and pretty and new to the sport then I’m sure you’ve gotten lots of attention. Enjoy it I guess. But playing that game can be a double edged sword. That kind of attention can be flattering at first, but it can also become annoying, intrusive, or even menacing. If you’re playing the gender card to get attention you’re setting the bar pretty low- fly fishing is a terribly nerdy sport. Playing the fly field is a little like Kate Upton attending a Trekkie convention. It’s far too easy. I’ve talked with my buddies about this in the past and we all agree that fly fishing is never a First Date conversation, it’s an Only Date conversation. For every gal who loves fly fishermen and fishing, there’s a thousand who envision endless droning about hatches, line size and mends, meaningless latin names like Hexagenia and Isonychia, and listening to pointless arguments with their buddies about gear and technique. Worse, they envision too many lonely evenings and weekends spent eating ice cream alone in front of the television while their boyfriend is out fishing. Then there’s all that money spent on gear that could have bought a pair of tickets to Hawaii. So when we do meet a gal who fly fishes, or at least isn’t opposed to it, we guys can get a little crazy. Strapping on waders and a fishing vest can elevate you to goddess status- what I’m admitting here is that we are part of the problem.

I don’t doubt any of these gals’ love of fishing by the way. No one is going to spend the time, money, effort and aggravation just for attention. I’m just asking that you change your approach. We can tell that you’re a girl from the pictures, there’s no reason to continually remind us (and if we can’t tell then there’s a problem). Keep in mind that if I stated that I’m “out to prove that men who fly fish kick ass” I’d be labeled a chauvinist pig. Saying the reverse just makes you a feminist pig.

So please- keep fishing, keep sharing your pictures and story. Just take the emphasis off your gender and go fishing. If you want or need some extra recognition (which I have no problem with) then do something worthy of it besides look cute in waders.


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This post kicked off a huge debate, far more than I had expected. Here's some links to other posts for and against. I find some irony in that the two posts I could find for my position are by women and and the two against are by men, but I think it's just coincidental. Or serendipity.

This gal contacted me thanking me for this post.

http://www.theflyfishingwoman.com/2013/04/03/flybox/

This is Erin Block's take on the matter from a couple of years ago. She still feels the same. We've talked.

http://mysteriesinternal.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-i-want-to-be.html

Here's a couple of opposing views.

This guy left a comment on my Facebook post that was longer than this post. I suggested that he write a blog post instead and he did. He waves his PhD in my face as if that will alter my opinion, then proceeds to shred me. His criticism of me is quite scathing. Enjoy it. What can I say? He refers to me as a "popular blogger". What's not to love? By the way, neither Katie Ferner nor Becca Schlaff are even remotely middle aged.

http://criticalangling.blogspot.com/2013/06/why-i-wont-shut-up-about-gender-in.html

This guy totally misreads what I've said here, but his opinion is still worth sharing, if just for the amusement factor.

http://www.adventuresnw.net/2013/06/gender-roles-in-the-river/

You can check out the comments on the Orvis blog post here if you like.

http://www.orvis.com/news/fly-fishing/how-should-we-treat-women-who-fly-fish/#.UcEDwflQHVY

Have you found a similar link or another post that responds to this one? Please email me at fontinalisrising.gmail.com

And as a final note- I won't continually respond to everyone who has an opinion on this subject. In the end I only care about the fishing. I only offered this as a passing opinion, not as a blanket judgement on women (as if they would care). What I really hope is that everyone will just get out on a river and enjoy themselves. Happy fishing!

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