Casting the net wide for female anglers
How the ‘50/50 on the Water’ campaign is encouraging a growing number of women to take up fly-fishing
FLY-FISHING is a game of stalking, accuracy and passion. Historically, the industry has always seen a male dominance, although a woman, Georgina Ballantine, holds the UK record for a salmon caught on rod and line, weighing in at 64lb.
The record for the biggest spring salmon is held by Doreen Davey’s 591/2 pounder, which was caught in March 1923 from the River Wye. The biggest salmon caught on the fly (the others were caught with spinners) was also caught by a woman, Clementina Morison. Her 61lb salmon was taken from the River Deveron in October 1924, in less than half-an-hour. However, even in today’s society, a 50/50 gender split on the water is still yet to surface.
Progressively, this is changing. In recent years, a collection of fishing brands have taken on passionate female ambassadors, giving them a voice through social media and events, to inspire more women to join them. Fly-fishing and outdoor lifestyle brand Orvis recently launched a campaign, ‘50/50 on the Water’, to encourage and empower women to participate in the sport, looking to narrow the gender gap, which the industry still faces. However, this is far larger than just one company’s initiative, and Orvis UK are aiming to bring the industry together on this as a community. The campaign, which aims to inspire and celebrate women in the sport, embodies three main goals: making it easy for women to participate in the sport; celebrating the unique connection between women and conservation; and showcasing authentic experiences of real women fly-fishing.
‘50/50 on the Water’ seeks to support women in the industry, and by doing so, Orvis’s female fishing ambassadors have begun to nurture a growing community of women in the sport, as well as celebrate those already enjoying the industry. With sites such as Instagram offering a huge platform to showcase their work, more and more interest from women is cropping up through such social media platforms, blogs and the increase in publicity from fly-fishing magazines.
In the last two years, we have witnessed a growing number of women embracing the fishing lifestyle. They did, however, have some strong role models to follow, both male and female, carving a unique niche for themselves in the world of fly-fishing.
Rachael Brady, Sporting Coordinator at Orvis UK, talks passionately about the campaign and the fly-fishing ‘family’ that is so welcoming as a community. “I would definitely say that more women are getting into the sport. With strong female ambassadors such as Marina Gibson, Anne Woodcock and Gilly Bate, to name but three, this sport will keep on attracting women to the water’s edge. Fishing is getting more and more accessible. It is all about removing those barriers of it being a male-dominated, expensive sport. Some of my best days’ fishing has been spent on a £10 river permit, which gave me access to miles upon miles of water. It definitely doesn’t break the bank.
When talking with other women, I always try to show just how easy it is to get into fly-fishing, and how welcoming everyone is within the fishing ‘family’. I only started fishing a few years ago. Through the help of the community, I fished in the Commonwealth Fly-Fishing Competition in Northern Ireland last September. The England Ladies team are now looking for members for 2020, when the competition will be held in New Zealand.
‘Even though it’s still seen as a male-dominated sport, there is evidence to show that more women are showing an interest’ – Marina Gibson
“The main thing I tell other potential anglers is that anything is possible. Get out on the water and see what happens. Sometimes you will have a mare of a day, and nothing will go right. You will leave the water feeling dejected and maybe a tad embarrassed. But I promise you, those days get forgotten about so quickly; when your dry gets risen to, or you see your indicator plunge down. Then the adrenaline hits again and being by the water is the most magical place to be. Anyone can fish, that’s the main thing! Orvis’s campaign can only be seen as a positive move in my eyes. Any push to make fishing more accessible to women is only going to strengthen the numbers in this sport. Orvis is helping to break down barriers when it comes to women in fishing; to make it less intimidating and show that everyone here is just willing each other to succeed.”
Fly Odyssey is a specialised travel company providing fly-fishing holidays to anglers around the world. According to fly-fishing legend Gilly Bate: “Fly Odyssey actively encourage women to take up fly-fishing by arranging ladies’ days throughout the summer months, as well as private lessons throughout the year, where women can try out fly-fishing without the watchful eyes of more experienced anglers.
“The last two years has seen a significant increase in women taking up fly-fishing as a serious pastime. Historically, female fishing was generally at the request of their partners or family members, who thought they might like to join them on a day out. The new generation of fly-fishers is seeking out fly-fishing in the same way that they might take up yoga or join a gym.
“I believe that in order to encourage more women to take up fly-fishing, you need to change the perception that it is a man’s domain. Fly-fishing is easily accessible for all women, regardless of age or strength. Gone are the days when a woman walking into a tackle shop was treated as a novelty, or that for her to be there, she must be buying something for her partner. Ladies’ days and female casting instructors can make all the difference in that first step towards fly-fishing, to gain confidence and help them realise that they are on an equal footing.”
Marina Gibson, Orvis Ambassador and promising fishing icon, spoke to us about how she encourages fellow women to take up the sport: “Even though it’s still seen as a male-dominated sport, there is evidence to show that more women are showing an interest – whether that be attending ladies’ courses, weekend getaways, fly-tying sessions, creating a fishing profile online or training to become a guide.
“We can now showcase our outdoor experiences, passions and hobbies to the world through our social media platforms, displaying just how accessible fly-fishing is, and not forgetting how fun it is, too. The world is shrinking and opening endless possibilities for people. Once a lady tries her hand at fly-fishing and discovers that it is nothing to do with strength and hardcore fitness, but rather technique, finesse and well-being, then the rest is history.”