Maddie Brenneman with a whopper! Photo by Nick Kelley

Fishing Needs More Women: This Is Why

Fishing has traditionally been a boys’ club. But more women are challenging norms and carving out our own space at the fishing hole. This is why it’s a great thing.

Kara Tripp, fly fishing guide, Damsel Fly Fishing founder

Only 35 percent of anglers are female. We need more women on the water.

And there’s definitely a market. In response to women’s evident enthusiasm for angling, some big brands have hopped on board, recently releasing women’s-specific gear. This should be good for the bottom line, as according to the 2017 special report published by the Outdoor Industry Association and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, women are now the fastest-growing demographic in fishing.

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“I’ve noticed that [women] will enter into the activity only after they … commit to caring for the resource in the same way they do their families, friends, home, and work,” said fly fishing guide Hilary Hutcheson. “They’re not going to overlook conservation education.”

More women anglers will lead to more product sales, opportunities for guides, and diversity in the sport. Women’s increased involvement unites communities and invigorates conservation initiatives, ultimately leading to sustainability of angling and healthier ecosystems. Best of all, the result is a sport that is increasingly accessible to all.

Fortunately, it’s happening now.

Female Anglers: Stepping Up and Speaking Out

Women might be a minority in the sport of fishing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be more involved, or that we haven’t put major effort into being taken seriously.

Artemis, an advocacy group for sportswomen founded by 10 women in June 2017, aims to have 1 million members by 2020. And it seems Trout Unlimited got the memo before everyone else did. In 2011, its National Leadership Council introduced a Women Initiative Workgroup, growing the organization’s diversity and engaging more female leaders nationwide.

Jackie Kutzer; photo by Jess McGlothlin

Also in 2017, Orvis launched 50/50 on the Water, a program to create gender parity in the sport.

“Orvis strives to help empower women to build equality and parity in fly fishing because it’s the right thing to do,” said Jackie Kutzer, fly fish instructor and co-founder of 50/50 on the Water. “Interests of women … had grown exponentially over the last few years … [and] some of those women have certain barriers that inhibit them from participating.”

50/50 on the Water: Supporting Female Anglers

Two years of research, development, and input from more than 120 industry professionals define 50/50 on the Water’s three pillars:

Change the industry’s perception of women. The initiative hopes to achieve this by reflecting diversity across physique, age, ethnicity, and skill level. The idea is that if everyone is seen, everyone is heard.

Remove barriers for women in fishing. 50/50 on the Water provides free women’s-only clinics and schools for fly fishing. This is meant to educate women on choosing from the overwhelmingly large array of fishing gear, as well as to mitigate any intimidation felt when entering the sometimes-exclusionary environment of the male-dominated sport.

Celebrate women in conservation. As mentioned above, women are already particularly interested in conserving our natural resources and lands. Celebrating this will bring women to the forefront and further highlight the need for participation in this noble endeavor.

Despite the forecast being positive, the cast won’t be easy.

From the Sport: Why Fishing Needs Women

Only 35 percent of anglers in the U.S. are females ages 6 and up, according to the OIA’s Special Report on Fishing. Women make up an even lower number in fly fishing – 31 percent. And they are more likely than men to drop out of the sport, be it saltwater, freshwater, or fly.

But to hear them say it, the industry’s top guides, lodge owners, philanthropists, instructors, conservationists, and storytellers are up for the challenge.

According to those leaders, communities and waterways across the U.S. will benefit from a more female-balanced network of anglers. This is what they said.

Hilary Hutcheson, Guide

Hilary Hutcheson, Flathead River, MT; photo by Lee Cohen

“Many women identify as natural nurturers and caregivers. I’ve noticed that they’ll enter into the activity only after they’ve adopted the notion that they must commit to caring for the resource in the same way they do their families, friends, home, and work. If it’s going to be a part of their lives, they’re going to be prepared going in, and they’re not going to overlook conservation education. This certainly isn’t to say that men care any less than women, but in observation at my fly shop, I’ve seen more women take extra steps early on to learn about the resource even before learning to cast.” – Hilary Hutcheson, fly fishing guide, Lary’s Fly & Supply shop owner, @outsidehilary

Charles Post, Ecologist & Filmmaker

Charles Post and fiancée Rachel Pohl; photo by Vincent-Colliard

“The increased participation of women in fly fishing will only inspire the sport to grow and evolve in all the best ways. Not to mention, rivers and fish need advocates now more than ever. The more people invested in fly fishing, the better! Famous UC Berkeley anthropologist, Dr. Caroline Merchant, coined the notion that women were truly the first stewards following European settlement of America, because it was the women who raised the children, tended to the herb garden, knew the wild medicines and where they grew, and were intimately connected to the relationship between the health of the natural world and the health of family. Merchant proposed that it was in fact women who have this intrinsic tendency of stewardship engrained in their essence, because of the aforementioned reasons. I would agree with her! I think history would, too.” – Charles Post

Jackie Kutzer, Orvis Outdoor Designer

Jackie Kutzer; photo by Morgan Tilton

“As we introduce women – or anyone – to fly fishing, we’re also building conservationists. It is our responsibility to protect the natural resources around us so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy it one day as we have. There are simple ways that people can take action. On the way home from fishing a river fill [your] nets with trash. Use a water canteen and avoid drinking from plastic water bottles. Join [your] local Trout Unlimited chapter and be a part of grassroots efforts to protect [your] coldwater fisheries. Advocate in other ways at a State or National level. Everyone can do something to make a difference.” – Jackie Kutzer

Oliver White, Guide, Co-Founder of Indifly, Abaco Lodge, and Bair’s Lodge

Oliver White, guide, co-founder of Indifly, Abaco Lodge, and Bair’s Lodge
Oliver White

“The women’s segment is growing – and faster than the rest of the industry. We see more and more women participating here in the Bahamas. No longer is it the tag along partner or spouse. Women are engaged and interested in the pursuit themselves. It’s a wonderful thing to see. One of the most encouraging aspects are that people are bringing their children – all of them, not just the boys. Ultimately, it opens the door to almost double the size of the industry. As a business owner, that’s a good thing from an economic perspective. But more importantly I’m a firm believer that people protect what they love. I want to see more people participating in the things I love as I think that will directly grow good conservation and involvement.” – Oliver White

Maddie Brenneman, Fly Fishing Guide

Maddie Brenneman, Fly Fishing Guide
Maddie Brenneman; photo by Nick Kelley

“In the past, there was a stereotype around fly fishing that said, ‘It’s a sport for rich, old white men.’ As a community, we have been successful in moving away from this stereotype over the last five years. We must be careful to not create a new stereotype – such as one that says, ‘fly fishing is for young, white people.’ One of the best parts about this sport is that it’s loved by every generation and individuals from all different backgrounds. That reality is a good one! Support for women in the sport can take place at all levels. Ads, sponsorships, and promotions should feature women of all ages and ethnicities.” – Maddie Brenneman

David Mangum, Shallow Water Expeditions Owner, Fly Fishing Guide

David Mangum, Shallow Water Expeditions Owner, Fly Fishing Guide
David Mangum and daughter with a whopper on the hook

“I have never differentiated the two genders – anglers are anglers to me – though I love seeing gals step on the boat! It’s much easier to guide for the most part. There’s a long list of reasons that this is true: they are better listeners, not overpowering the rod, no machismo, and no power struggle. The most stressful part for women is the worry about peeing off the boat. If most women knew that it’s no big deal, I bet more would come out on the water. I’d love to see the 50/50 on the Water movement help influence social media and the female image within the industry. I want my daughter, now 9, to see fishing as another sport she can participate in and conquer if she so desires.”
David Mangum

Kara Tripp, Fly Fishing Guide, Damsel Fly Fishing Founder

A post shared by Kara Tripp (@karatripp82) on

“The potential impact of reaching gender parity across all types of fishing would be that our future generations would understand the importance of clean water. No life on earth can be sustained without clean water. When we fight against proposed mines at the headwaters of our streams and rivers it’s an effort to protect our most basic needs. I don’t care what sport makes conservation popular, as long as it informs and motivates people to protect and restore our watersheds.” – Kara Tripp

–Orvis will launch a 50/50 on the Water blog featuring stories of women in fly fishing in spring 2018. The brand also introduced an annual women’s only fly-fishing trip in Belize, Paradise on the Fly.