More women drawn to fly fishing

More women than ever casting lines

CRAIG COUNTY, Va. –  A group of about 15 anglers casts into a series of spring-fed ponds in rural Craig County.  No good ol’ boys club here.  All of these fishers are women.

“We are far past the women wearing their husband’s shirt,” laughed Jackie Kutzer a full-time catalog designer for the Orvis company, which is a giant in the fly fishing industry.  Kutzer, who teaches fly fishing to women part-time, is excited that the landscape is changing for the fairer sex, on riverbanks across the country.  

“We would hear that kind of struggle of women being kind of glazed over in the fly shops and hearing … statements like ‘Women can't fish.’ or ‘Are you here with your husband?’ or something like that.  And I think that we have far surpassed those moments’” Kutzer said.

Kutzer took up fly fishing six years ago, after taking a class similar to the one she now teaches.

For the most part, the students are first time fly fishers.  All of them work at Orvis operations in Roanoke, where the company’s warehouse ships goods ordered online and from their catalog.  The company’s retail stores around the world are also stocked from the Roanoke site.  A host of other company operations is also handled from the facility located in Roanoke’s Centre for Industry and Technology.

Orvis wants employees – in particular women - to learn more about the sport around which the company is focused. 

Kutzer demonstrated everything from the ground up, explaining how to set up the rod and reel, how to tie basic knots, which flies to use and how to cast.

The class itself is part of Orvis’ 50/50 on the Water campaign designed to increase the ratio of women in fly fishing until there are as many women as men.

“It's absolutely doable, Kutzer said.   “I think in the last five years we've seen women exponentially grow in fly fishing. You see them at trade shows. You see them on the water.”

Kutzer said company research shows the percentage has increased from 12-18 percent five years ago to 34 percent in 2017. 

“It's breaking that paradigm of a male-dominated or a gentleman’s club,” said Kelly Buchta, a volunteer with Trout Unlimited, who helped teach the class.
Both Buchta and Kutzer see a huge upside for the environment if more women pursue a passion for fishing and the outdoors. 

“It's guaranteeing that the more people who fish and love the outdoors are going to be there to protect the water and become advocates for the environment, which seems to be under attack almost on a daily basis and threatened,” Buchta said.

“We're really trying to promote women in conservation and celebrate women's interest in leading into the conservation and really forge leadership so that they can really bring conservation efforts to all parts of the five fishing world,” added Kutzer

Catherine Tice was among those learning the ropes.  For her, getting outside means an occasional hike, “but mostly just running errands.”

 “Fishing is way out of my realm of comfort,” she said. “So Orvis is really encouraging me to step out and try something new.  I personally saw it as a man's sport. Even though I worked at a fly fishing company. It was just very intimidating.”

Tice came away a believer after catching one of the first fish of the day.

“Oh my gosh. It was insane. The adrenaline just started racing through me. I could feel it at the other end of the fly. And of course, I thought I had this huge monster that was bigger than me!” Tice said.

Whether it’s gaining more customers, a larger voice for conservation efforts, or just an opportunity to encourage women to get away from it all as men have for decades, there is little doubt we’ll be seeing more and more women on our streams and rivers. 

“I'm more open-minded to it.  More practice, but I could definitely see myself doing it again,” said a smiling Tice.

Click here for more information on fly fishing at the Go Outside Festival in Roanoke.

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