Jeff Prest shares the views of women anglers and how the sport can encourage their participation
Slightly thrown by Orvis’ “charge for gender equality on the bank ”, I’ve decided to throw this month’s column open to the experts...
MY immediate reaction to Orvis’ 50-50 campaign (5050 onthewater.orvis.com) to “lead the charge for gender equality on thebank” was to wonder if that charge would be with or without fixed bayonets. To paraphrase the late Irish comedian Frank Carson’s catchphrase, it’s the way you tell ‘em. Tell fly anglers that they could use more women in fishing and I’m sure mine would be one of a big majority of nodding heads. Even aside from the boost that equal representation would bring to fly-fishing’s economy, I know what it is to spend a day in the pavilion at Lord’s cricket ground when it was men-only. After a life-changing eight hours in the exclusive company of crusty old geezers, no-one has to sell me on the benefits of mixed participation. Yet I can’t remember a single fishery I’ve visited where women seemed to be treated as anything other than part of the furniture, just like the men. So, when you go all gung-ho and tell me you’ re“leading a charge for gender equality ”, you must excuse me for being a little confused. You’re not storming the fortified ramparts of Hollywood or the BBC here. This is fly-fishing; as far as I can see, the drawbridge is down and the kettle’s on. How can we help?
It’s a question I’ve addressed to a number of women anglers. Orvis is keen to encourage “women-centric story telling” as part of its campaign, so I asked these anglers to tell me theirs. Remembering that male attempts to open up any traditionally male preserve are sometimes inadvertently woeful, I asked the women in question to name those ideas for getting more women into fly-fishing which they feel work, and those that don’t. My thanks to those who responded and apologies that I cannot quote all of you. Gilly Bate, director of Fly Odyssey UK and a chalk-stream guide and instructor, got the ball rolling in an optimistic direction when she described “a significant rise in women on the water” in the last 18 months, which she attributes to more mainstream media coverage of women fishing, although she would like more of this to involve television. “Simply‘ normalise’ women going out fishing ,” she added. “Coverage of women equal ling what theme na redoing would make it more approach able and les sofa big deal .” Fishpal’s Marketing Director, Anne Woodcock, wants to see women empowered to look beyond the comfort zone of women-only fishing days and Bate understands their reluctance. “Women still feel intimidated when men are learning at the same time ,” she explained .“The most important thing is getting across that fly-fishing is not about strength but about‘ feeling’ the cast ... It’ s a really simple sport and accessible to everyone, regardless of gender .” To avoid that intimidation factor, guide/instructor and Atlantic Salmon Trust ambassador Marina Gibson said that it is important that coaches running beginners’ events involving men and women make sure that everyone is at a similar ability level. As for ideas that don’t work, one peeve predominates – the gulf between women anglers and tackle manufacturers. ‘Respecting difference’, I was told repeatedly, means making clothing sympathetic to the female shape, NOT producing reels in pretty colours or rods ‘specially designed for women’... “Shallow-and-ill-informed,” is what Canada’s April Vokey calls the latter approach. One of the most recognisable faces in women’s angling worldwide, she slammed “gear thoughtlessly painted pink, or crafted for smaller hands. Men and women both have hands of all shape sand sizes .” To counter such fudging, Anne Woodcock said events aimed at women should offer the opportunity to be taught by the best instructors, while Orvis’ European Account Manager Rachael Brady made the point that only when women have access to the latest gear can they be expected to reach their full potential. (And so, by extension, inspire other women). Irish international Maddy Kelly has identified that being single parents impacts on the me-time that many women have available, so she makes some of her tuition days parent-and-child affairs. A little lateral thinking also saw her tap into the experience of those tackling another male bastion – at a seminar on getting more women into angling clubs, she invited speakers from the Irish Football Association to discuss the challenges involved in developing women’s football. Even as I wrote of my own positive experiences, observing women in fishing over 11 years, I knew there was a chance I might unwittingly be looking back through a prism of ‘male privilege’, and sure enough, Marina Gibson noted that there remain some fisheries out there where it’s still 1973. “I’ ve had my fair share of back handed sexist comments on and off the water as have many of my fishing girl friends; this needs to stop ,” she said .“Everyone ... needs to inspire and motivate others ... we need the sport to flourish, grow and be successful for the future of our fisheries .” Other respondents were equally forthright. Rachael Brady spoke of fly-fishing being a “dying-sport” in need of tapping into the other half of its potential customer base, and Jane Young, who works with Southwest Fishing for Life, a charity introducing fishing to women with breast cancer, offered a timely reminder that the over-arching question is not how we treat those women already on the inside, important as that is, but how we reach those on the outside. “… there is no real encouragement from the fishing community to bring more women into this sport ,” she said. “Sadly, it feels like amen-only club which excludes females! “There needs to be a concerted effort from everyone involved in this sport–water companies, fisheries and clubs –to actively encourage and nurture women into this wonderful-sport.”
“After eight hours in the exclusive company of crusty old geezers, no-one has to sell me on the benefits of mixed participation...”
A rare example of male under-representation in fishing. But it’s no laughing matter for a sport struggling for numbers...