There’s something almost magical about standing hip-deep in a river, a fly rod rhythmically counting beats like a slender metronome; the cast like a crescendo in a piece of music, the fish (or lack thereof), the finale. It’s a sight that compels walkers to pause on bridges and onlookers to stop on the banks of the Eagle River. But before you call out, “Hey mister, catching anything?” you’d better take a closer look.
You might need to revise that to, “Hey lady, catching anything?”
More and more women are getting into fly-fishing, learning the peace of the river and the satisfaction in landing a fat brown trout. While the data is inconclusive — studies are outdated and most shops don’t collect gender data on their customers — anecdotal data is clear. You can see it in the expanding options of women’s fly-fishing gear sold, on social media, in films and even in national competitions such as the GoPro Mountain Games.
WOMEN ON THE WATER
“Fly-fishing is a woman’s game,” said Rick Messmer, director of fishing for the Costa 2 Fly Extreme, an event at the GoPro Mountain Games. “It’s better suited for women than for men.”
The reason? Messmer listed several. Timing, for one: women have a better sense of the timing of their bodies and control their fly rods better. Then there’s finesse, which women are able to apply, while most guys try to force things, Messmer continued. Then there’s the ability to learn:
“In all my years of guiding, teaching women is so much better than men,” Messmer said. “It’s a bravado thing. Women are willing to learn whatever they can.”
Dave Budniakiewicz, general manager at Minturn Anglers, agreed.
“I go out there and I fish with my girlfriend and she out-fishes me 10-to-one, every time we go out,” he said.
Now, there are more opportunities for women to learn from other women, too. Mandy Hertzfeld, a guide with Minturn Anglers, started fishing with her dad and uncle when she was 8 years old, learning to tie flies before she ever picked up a fly rod. She’s been guiding with Minturn Anglers for three years, teaching both men and women on the river.
“We recruited her (Mandy) to come out here,” Budniakiewicz said. “She’s awesome, and you need women guides on staff. Some women just feel more comfortable (with someone they can relate to).”
Budniakiewicz said that the industry seems to be more inviting now that it has been in the past, citing the fact that fishing industry leaders such as Sage and Redington are making more women’s specific gear.
“Trout don’t live in ugly places,” he said. “Everyone likes to be out on the river, whether you’re rafting or floating. It’s not a manly thing — you don’t have to have manly strength or a big beard to catch a fish.”
And while some women may initially get into fly-fishing to participate in a sport that their boyfriend, husband or family enjoys, it soon turns into a sport they that love.
“Women are attracted by being out in nature, spending time with loved ones, catching and releasing,” said Maddie Brenneman, a Colorado- and Montana-based fly-fishing guide who is competing in the GoPro Mountain Games. “They love being with wildlife; a conservation-based sport is attractive to women.”
The conservation aspect — protecting the rivers, streams and trout that make fly-fishing possible, is one that Brenneman said is attractive to women; the more people who are protecting the habitat for the sport, the better, she said.
Whatever the reason that women are getting into waders — better gear, seeing more women participate through circles of friends, the outdoors aspect or the more inviting nature of the industry, it’s clear that more and more women are getting on the water to fly-fish.
“Ladies are starting to see the barrier break down,” Hertzfeld said. “I’ve helped just as many females get into fishing as I have males.”
During the GoPro Mountain Games, spectators had a first hand glimpse of fly-fishing professionals in action and witness a first: This is the first year that the women have their own prize purse.
While women have been competing in the fly-fishing competition since 2007 (a separate category for females was created in 2011), there was just one prize purse to compete for, with both men and women angling for it. However, this year, if 20 women signed up for the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream, then they’d be competing for their own prize money: a total purse of $1,750.
The women’s slots filled up in record time.
“This is a sport for all ages of women,” Messmer said. “I have an age range (of competitors) of 18-69. That’s so cool. I love it.”
Twenty women will participate in the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream, a two-part competition that starts with challenges testing casting distances and accuracy. Qualifiers move on to the second round of casting challenges on Gore Creek near the International Bridge. The top eight men and top two women will then compete on local (undisclosed) water, trying to catch as many fish as they can, using only two fly patterns. Cash prizes will go to the first-, second- and third-place finishers for both men and women.
“I have never competed in fly-fishing before,” Brenneman said. “I’m a little nervous. It’s not something I do — it’s not why I fish.”
Though it’s not the reason she gets on the river, Brenneman agreed to participate in the GoPro Mountain Games: “I want to be there and represent women,” she said.
And she likes to see women getting into the game.
“I think, completely, it’s a positive thing,” Brenneman said. “Women getting into the sport should be seen as positive. Whether it’s trendy or not, it’s a good thing.”
For spectators who want to catch the fly-fishing action, head over to the International Bridge today for the second qualifying round, Messmer said. There, the top male and female anglers will be trying for the spots in the final round, casting in the Gore Creek at the Vail Whitewater Park.