A recent post, over at Field & Stream, suggested that fly fishing is “suffering” because it is too manly, meaning not enough women are involved. The reason given for this is a lack of gear designed specifically for women, and the author suggests “we must kill the boys club mentality before it kills the sport.”
A lively discussion ensues, much of it revolving around marketing and economics, suggesting it is not the health of our sport that is in great peril; it is the Industry surrounding our sport, the folks who bring us all the latest doodads, geegaws and improved modulus ratings who have the troubles. More people must buy more stuff or our sport will die is the message.
Is targeting women the answer? Owl Jones brought up some interesting points in his post Fly Fishing is Too What?, especially “you either ARE an angler or you ARE NOT an angler”. Most gear on the market right now can be used by both men and women, just like the gear of the past, but if I have learned one thing from reading these discussions it is that a small fortune awaits the person who designs waders that don’t make butts look big.
The Fly Fishing Industry can not sustain unlimited growth; the resource certainly wouldn’t allow it, even if every man, woman, and child could somehow be persuaded to buy a rod, get off their ass and go fishing. The Fly Fishing Industry is not fly fishing and if fly fishing needs more of a less “manly” feel it is not because there is money to be made by targeting an underserved demographic.
With the question(s) of why/if fly fishing needs more women in mind, it seemed appropriate today to make a run over the mountain, to Manchester, for another viewing of A Graceful Rise: Women in Fly Fishing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow at the American Museum of Fly Fishing.
I found my new camera does not do well in museums so there is no photo of the copy of Dame Juliana Berners book “A Treatyse Of Fysshynge Wyth An Angle,” written in 1496, but the reproductions of her flies came out okay, I guess.
Hometown girl Mary Orvis Marbury is featured, along with illustrations and a photo of her fly tying crew from the late 1800s. Hinged display cases, made for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, are filled with her flies and photos relating to their histories and hang in one corner of the room.
One of my favorite fly fishing personalities is Cornelia Thurza Crosby, better known as “Fly Rod”. She posed with plenty of dead fish in her time but became an early advocate of catch and release. She was issued Maine Guide License #1 in recognition of her tireless efforts in promoting the outdoor sporting life in the State of Maine and encouraging sporting ethics, and maybe a little bit because the licensing of guides was her idea in the first place.
Fly Rod Crosby didn’t have to worry about waders making her butt look big. She did a lot of her fishing in a long skirt and petticoats, although her skirts created a bit of a scandal in New York City because they showed her ankles.
Julia Fairchild carried a “priest” over a foot long and I have a feeling she didn’t mess around when using it.
Joan Wulff was outcasting pretty much everyone, way back when, and looking good doing it.
She’s still outcasting pretty much everyone and still looks good doing it. (A friend of mine saw her last summer and says she is, indeed, surrounded by bright light. I’m afraid that most of what you see here is the reflection of bulbs hung from a ceiling.)
A Graceful Rise pays tribute not just to individuals. Groups, like Casting for Recovery are also featured.
Every one of the women in this exhibit was or is multi-talented, bringing a wide range of experiences and sensibilities to our sport. Our modern age allows travel and the transfer of ideas like never before, and the scope of their influence is truly global.
Flies, rods, and even exceptionally nice casts are sometimes referred to as art, and all of those things are on display in A Graceful Rise. There are also oil paintings, watercolors, sculpture and fabric art, all beautiful expressions of our sport and what it means.
Maybe, instead of trying to make fly fishing less manly, we should work on making it (and everything else) more human.
If asked, I could not give one good reason why we need more women in fly fishing, so here are 52 of them, all featured in this outstanding exhibit: Susan Balch, Dotty Ballantyne, Cathy Beck, Elizabeth Benjamin, Dame Juliana Berners, Megan Boyd, Peggy Brenner, Kay Brodney, Casting for Recovery, Elsie Darbee, Cornelia Crosby, Kristi Denton Cohen, Winnie Dette, Selene Dumaine, Debbie Elmer, Julia Fairchild, Rachel Finn, Lyla Foggia, Carrie Frost, Hallie Galaise, Karen Graham, Barbara Klutnis, Fannie Krieger, Mari Lyons, Sylvie Malo-Clark, Mary Orvis Marbury, Kathryn Maroun, Mimi Matsuda, Sara Jane McBride, Ellen McCaleb, Annette McLean, Diane Michelin, Margaret Merriman, Montana Fly Shops, Lori-Ann Murphy, Judith O’Keefe, Margo Page, Diana Rudolph, Annette Lilly Russ, Kathy Scott, Molly Semenik, Helen Shaw, Sisters on the Fly, Carrie Stevens, Joan Wulff, Rhea Topping, and Nancy Zakon. We could also throw in a few celebrities like Ginger Rogers, Rosalyn Carter, Heather Thomas and yes, even Oprah, if we have to, I guess.
Women have been involved with fly fishing from the very beginning and they are still involved today. The Industry may be going through some rough times but the Sport is in good hands, thanks to the thousands of women participating at all levels.
A Graceful Rise: Women in Fly Fishing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is on display at The American Museum of Fly Fishing through April, 2012.