Most people would never imagine that something regarded as a casual sport of enjoyment could be deeply rooted in politics, but if you are an angler who is involved in the industry, you know it can be a tightrope. I was recently told by a leading women’s fly fishing media outlet that our line, the first and only line of fishing and wading gear made exclusively for women, could not be featured because they already support a larger brand. I know this to be a brand owned and created by men. The statement left me feeling slightly jaded. A media outlet, run by women, for women, featuring women anglers and their stories of achievements could not recognize our efforts, programs or products because they are supporting a male owned brand. I lost faith for a moment. For a moment I thought, it’s all a show, a money making business and not only do we have to the swim upstream to fight against many men, we also have to swim against our own, what I like to call, sister anglers.
After spending several days obsessing over this haunting reality, I realized that these women are also swimming upstream. They are fighting to be accepted and find success in the fishing Industry. They are battling the same currents I am and doing what they have to do to earn a place in the industry. For a moment I fell into the competitive trap by allowing myself to feel jaded by the rejection of a few peers. I know those women are amazing women, leaders and supporters of women anglers. They are fighting to create a new path and doing a helluva job. I, of all people, should understand that sometimes to achieve that level you have to play the game. I don’t like the game. I don’t like working against anyone as I am the happiest when I am supporting and encouraging others. Unfortunately, this is the reality women face when breaking down male dominated barriers.
Let me start by stating, we don’t hate men, or at least most of us do not. I personally have a great deal of respect for the men who grew the industry into what it is today. They have much to teach. Contrary to the egotistical men you will read about in the next paragraph, there is an abundance of supportive men who represent the majority. These men posses a deep passion for the sport, its growth and for the sustainability of the industry. They help teach, encourage and promote women’s fishing. Not only do they welcome women, they go out of their way to encourage them. For these men it’s not about the ego or the tall fish-tale stories they can brag about. For them its about the love and respect of the sport and everyone in it. You will find these men happily wading the waters with their wives, girlfriends and daughters. I have had the privilege to meet many, many supportive men who often go out of their way to help me gain traction in the fishing industry and succeed in our mission. These men represent the majority and I would like to take note and say thank you.
So what is it like being a women in a previously male dominated industry? Well, it’s great when we are casting on a serene stream but, off the water, it can be a challenge. There are still some men who just do not accept women anglers, particularly fly anglers. In fact, it puts a knife through their ego as they have spent a lifetime claiming the sport as their own woman free zone. Why? We could speculate, maybe it was their one escape from their wives? Maybe they liked having an activity that was all their own and the woman could not critique? Maybe they enjoyed the male comradery? Whatever the reason, I can tell you that the common link between these men is a deep ego. They have spent a life time convincing themselves that women could never do what they do. We could never rig a line, read the waters and hatches. We would never touch a fish or have the skill to catch one. This is a sport that they alone could own. They were able to come home and tell heroic stories as the king of the fish and fulfill their egos with all the needed strokes. Messing with a mans ego can be very ugly, and well, women are working very hard to break through that egotistical barrier. I have heard stories of women being harassed, called names, chased out of rivers and even spit on. I personally have had a few annoying encounters of my own, but none so severe. These men try to intimidate or find some sort of weakness in the women’s skill or knowledge. Sometimes they kindly educate the women when uninvited on how to fish even when she may have master skills. There is a strong need for this male to convey his self proclaimed ownership of the sport. These are the male mindsets that women often battle in the fishing industry. The higher up you go as a woman, the more these males protest against you. These men are the heads of organizations, conservation and fishing groups, tackle shop owners, manufacturers, and simple fishermen. They are everywhere, even if they are few.
If being challenged by men isn’t bad enough, why would women challenge each other? Obviously, women have been underestimated for far too long. WE know there is strength in numbers. as history has proven. WE are creating organizations, opening tackle shops, manufacturing gear, heading conservation and fishing groups. WE are growing large women’s initiative groups and teaching fishing clinics. Women anglers are a force to be reckoned with and are growing at an incredible rate. In 2018, 32% of all anglers are women. WE total 9.8 million and are the fastest growing demographic in the outdoor industry. However, women can still be our own worst enemy. Women can be judgmental, envious, jealous and competitive. Often women behave this way because they are competing for a higher place on the ladder, whether it be for a man, a job or just more respect in the world. Learning to love and support each other gains the greatest strength. When women as a whole succeed, the individual woman succeeds also. Because of this, I say to you, do not be discouraged. Continue to support each other even if someone is your competition so that together we can break down those barriers that the past placed upon us. Focus on the good of the whole, not the individual. So many great women have created the path that lead the way for the rest of us lady anglers. I have so much respect for them as I can’t imagine the challenges they faced. Don’t spend your time being envious, instead join together and help etch your own section of path for the generations to come after you.