Woman in a "Man's" Sport

Published on 06/15/2021 · 10 min readFly fishing isn't just for the guys. Expert Jesi Scott shares her story of getting into the sport and some of the reasons she thinks more women should try it, too.
Jesi Scott, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Jesi Scott

Photo by Adam Shick

The main reason I got into fly fishing was because I desperately needed a summer pastime while we waited for the snow to return. I’m a snow baby, and I dreaded summer to my core until the boys and I decided to give fly fishing a try. Another reason why I loved it so much initially was because it is perceived as a “man’s sport” - yet despite that, I still manage to be a pretty decent angler, if I do say so myself.

Later, however, I learned that women had been influencing fly fishing since the late 15th century when Dame Juliana Berners published A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle. Although, that wasn’t represented hardly at all on the water. The more I learn about the history of female anglers and how they have shaped and defined the sport, it is honestly pretty difficult to see it as a man’s sport. All of the female guides, fly tiers, contest casters, writers, shop owners, wives-turned-better-anglers - in our own way, professionally and recreationally, we are influencing this sport and redefining it.

My Journey

I started fishing because I needed a hobby outside of snowboarding. I tried backpacking and various other things but nothing ever filled that void of snowboarding - until I discovered fly fishing. Fly fishing brought me the same element of progression that snowboarding brings (which is comparable to my yoga practice as well). In each of these passions of mine the common denominator is that there is always, ALWAYS more that you can learn and ways you can improve. From casting technique to being knowledgeable about bugs to showing the boys up on the river, there’s always more that we can be progressing at. Always.

Photo by Adam Shick

Yeah, yeah… fly fishing is supposed to be all zen but at the end of the day, I am super competitive. I am often with fellas and fly fishing, unlike snowboarding, actually offers quite an even playing field for men and women. The times I feel physically held back is when the water is deep and the current is strong. In those cases, some of the bros can wade more confidently or go places I might not feel comfortable going but in most fly fishing situations, it does not matter if you are male or female. Even when we factor in wading ability, I am just as likely to catch the biggest fish of the trip or the most fish of the trip … or even get skunked! It is not about your size or strength. It comes down to your fly fishing skills, your patience, your determination, your attitude, about 9 million factors that are out of your control, and most importantly, how you whisper (or scream) sweet nothings (desperate pleas and exaggerated thank yous) to the fish.

When I first was learning to spey cast, I was told that men often feel the need to prove something when fishing, which actually tends to make their casting worse. Gotta love that good ol’ testosterone. Women, on the other hand, typically don’t have that same drive to “out-cast” the person next to them, which often means they will focus on technique instead of power. Unsurprisingly, the combination of these factors results in women commonly casting better than men, given the same experience level. After all, we all know that muscle isn’t what makes a great cast.

There is nothing about fly fishing that is overly masculine, and that is often why women tend to move through a learning curve quicker. We (generally speaking) have a little more patience and empathy and can bring that into the practice of fly fishing.

Yeah, I can also cast 75+ feet of line out there, but if that is not where I think the fish are then I am not going to get all that line out just to show you that I can handle it. I am going to fish the distance I think I need to fish to connect with a fish - some of y’all’s high testosterone might get in the way of that.

At the end of the day fly fishing skills require more finesse than brawns - so women, we might actually be to an advantage here. Hmmm…

Photo by Jesi Scott

Fly Fishing Idols

As I mentioned above, there have been women involved in fly fishing seemingly since the inception of the sport, but because I am not a history major nor is this a history paper, I am only going to highlight one particular female angler that I idolize.

The female industry leader who resonates with me most is Joan Salvato Wulff, “The First Lady of Fly Fishing” - a true legend in the sport - whether we are talking about men or women. She grew up surrounded by the fly-fishing industry, and around age 10 (without permission) picked up her father’s fly rod and never looked back. At a time when women’s rights were limited and most odds were stacked against her, Joan became known as one of the best fly casters in the world after winning the National Fisherman’s Distance Fly Championship with a cast of 136 feet. And yes, she was the only female competitor.

One surprising fact is that she was winning contests by 1937, but records note that she didn’t catch her first trout on a fly until 1939. Joan seemed to be captivated by the skill and art behind casting before she got hooked on the tug. Still today, at nearly 90 years young, Joan is still influencing the sport.

Something else that I find worth noting is that she was able to make a name for herself in her own right despite being married to, and sharing a last name with, one of the most well-known and influential anglers in the sport still to this day. They were the ultimate power couple in fly fishing who were at the forefront of tying the synonymous relationship of fly fishing and conservation together. Just a few months ago I bought one of the Royal Wulff Ambush Triangle Taper Fly Lines that she recently worked to develop and it is an absolute game changer. Historically, Wulff was revered for her knowledge and skills in the professional realm of fly fishing and her passion for the sport is still evident in the industry today. It seems Joan was, early on, able to break the barrier and perception of a male dominated recreational sport and a professional industry. A true living legend!

If you’re looking for some modern-day inspiration, make sure to check out Instagram and other social media sites. There can be immense value in seeing people of the same gender accomplish something that makes ya think “well alright, I can definitely do that too!” So if filling your feed with fishy chicks gets you stoked to be on the water - do it!! Scroll away, girl!!

Photo by Adam Shick

Building a Community

Each year the sport of fly fishing experiences a growth in participation from women. We see more and more female anglers wadered up and lining the river banks.

Traditionally, fly fishing gear was created with a male consumer in mind. However, some companies are now developing gear that is specifically targeting women. From fly rods to waders to sun shirts, there are a lot of products now available that are intentionally designed for the female anglers out there. (I will save the discussion about which gear is legitimately designed to be more functional for women or if it’s simply a marketing gimmick for another time.) Slowly but surely, with the rise in numbers of female anglers, the future of fly fishing may no longer be viewed as a men’s hobby but just a hobby that all are capable of learning and gaining fulfillment from - no matter their gender or age!

There is also an increase in female anglers who have created a career for themselves within the fly fishing industry. Whether they are fly fishing guides or record-holding casters, these dedicated women are helping others break way into the industry both recreationally as well as professionally. Many companies are sponsoring more women and have female ambassador’s representing their fly fishing brand. From a sports psychology perspective, this is another effective way to build confidence in other ladies looking to get into the sport or trying to take the sport to the next level.

A great way to build confidence and feel welcomed on the water is to join a women’s group centered around fly fishing or women in the outdoors. There are many women’s groups popping up that are focused around bringing female anglers together and also encouraging other ladies to get started in the sport of fly fishing. From young girls to vets, there are many programs sprouting up to foster female participation in fly fishing. If you are interested, it is worth searching for groups near your home waters to see what the local ladies might be up to.

I personally don’t get in on too many of the fishing gatherings (mainly because that’s just too many people on the water for me), but I do participate in river cleanups and awareness outreach and oftentimes groups like this will provide outlets and awareness for both, and so much more! If you are intimidated, need a fishing partner, or don’t want to learn from your man,these lady angler groups would be a really awesome space for you. If there isn’t one in your community yet, maybe this is your opportunity to influence your fly fishing community and start one yourself!

Disclaimer: just like snowboarding or any sport really - let’s avoid teaching your significant other if possible - we want you to connect over fly fishing not break up over it - ya hear?

Photo by Adam Shick

Final Thoughts

The river might just be my new happy place. It is without a doubt where I want to be if I cannot be in the mountains. The long days from sunrise to golden hour - filled with vulgar jokes,heckles and high fives to keep the morale high all while probably skipping every meal yet somehow being totally content - are 100% of the time worth it. Oh, and catching fish isn’t so bad either, but let’s be real - is that really why any of us are doing this?

One of the most obvious appeals to fly fishing is being in nature. Before I fished I was already outdoorsy so I didn't anticipate it having such a profound impact on my relationship with wilderness. Nowadays, I can't drive by a river without looking for possibilities. I flip over rocks looking for bugs and I let heaps of salmon flies crawl all over me. I gained a new awareness and am now active around water conservation, restoring and maintaining fish populations and public land preservation.

If you are already a lady angler - hell yeah! If you are a fella who supports and encourages ladies getting on the water - hell yeah! If you are a woman or have a woman in your life considering getting into fly fishing, I would be stoked to connect! Ladies, I want you to feel confident and empowered enough to redefine fly fishing to look like whatever the hell YOU want it to look like. As long as, ya know, you respect the fish, water, fellow-anglers, and all that jazz. If you want to find the perfect gear to get you out on the water, reach out to a Fly Fishing expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.

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