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...

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents - Jef­frey Prest: The TF Fea­tures Editor on what’s caught his at­ten­tion this month. What ideas do you have in this re­spect? Email me at jef­frey. prest@bauer­me­dia.co.uk.

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?

Ques­tion

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...

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