Girls on the water

Brands, conservation organizations and others are diligently working to increase fly fishing diversity
women fly fishing
Photo: Justin Miller

In the fly-fishing industry, men have called the shots for a long time. While there have certainly been women of note in the craft—Joan Wulff was certainly a pioneering woman and proof that the long rod didn’t care about the gender of the individual casting it—the vast majority of fly-fishing “celebrities” have been men.

Things are changing, thankfully. Companies in the space are actively campaigning to women, trying to get them into the craft using excellent examples of women in the sport as proof that everyone can, and does, belong.

But fly fishing is about so much more than the actual act of casting to and catching fish. For many anglers, the discipline goes hand-in-hand with conservation … with the effort to protect and restore the waters that do so much for our souls, regardless of our gender.

The conservation community, not unlike the fly-fishing industry, recognizes the need to bring women into the fold, to become more diverse and more impactful, both on the ground, where conservation projects happen, and in the halls of government, where more and more women are seeking public office.

As an example, Trout Unlimited is working tirelessly to bring more women into the fold and working to ensure TU’s workforce at least mirrors the diverse demographics of the fishing world.

“In the natural world, diversity creates resilience. For example, grasslands with a greater variety of native plants are more resistant to drought. They also bounce back faster from disturbance caused by insect infestations and fire,” wrote TU’s Chris Wood in a recent blog post. “Diversity also makes organizations more resilient. And relevant, too. The more connections to people with different backgrounds that we share, the more resonant our mission.”

That TU is not only trying to bring women into the fold, but other diverse communities, too, is proof that growth and relevance must be achieved by ensuring everyone is welcomed, and also that everyone is encouraged to become a part of groups like TU.

And women have long been discouraged, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math—all of which are vital to understanding natural systems and the processes involved in restoring and protecting watersheds.

TU’s STREAM Girls program is a unique effort that started in 2015 with a pilot project in Wisconsin and now thrives in Michigan, the birthplace of TU, and now in Pennsylvania. It brings Girl Scout-aged students a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-based curriculum, but adds in two additional disciplines: art and recreation.

The logic was simple. Only a quarter of today’s workforce in STEM disciplines is made up of women. The culprit? School-aged girls simply aren’t encouraged to study science and technology. TU’s diversification efforts are valuable, but by actively encouraging school-aged girls to get involved in science, there can be a long-term impact on not only the demographic make-up of TU, but perhaps, if others pick up the ball and run with it, in other conservation groups and, ulimately, on the nation’s workforce.

STREAM Girls is more of an enhanced STEM program—not only does it offer participating girls the opportunity to get involved in the science of their local watersheds, but it allows them to consider science and conservation through the eyes of an angler. TU isn’t just encouraging young women to consider a STEM-based career path, but it’s getting them involved in the ever-pressing effort to protect and restore our country’s watersheds.

STREAM girls program
Trout Unlimited's STREAM Girls program gets Scout-aged girls on the water for experiential training across many disciplines, including science, art and recreation (photo: Trout Unlimited).

And, perhaps just as importantly, it’s putting fly rods into the hands of girls who can benefit from watching other girls and women excelling in the craft.

“It’s incredibly important to us to for the girls to meet different women in the fly-fishing community,” said Trout Unlimited’s Jamie Vaughan, coordinator for the organization’s Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative. “The girls can get a glimpse of what they can be and achieve if they stay committed to the sport. The Flygirls of Michigan (one of the STREAM Girls sponsors) is the perfect group of role models and teachers that we want the STREAM Girls to learn from. They are always infatuated watching the women as they cast or show off all of their cool gear.”

I remember, years ago, when I was first teaching my daughter to fly fish. Having no experience in teaching or coaching, I made the mistake of doing everything for her. I tied the knots, picked the fly and walked her through the cast … I mowed down all the early obstacles, each of which would have offered her a chance to learn and grow.

When her first question was, “Why are you using that fly, Daddy?” I recognized the error of my ways. We spent that entire first day “fishing” turning over rocks, identifying different insects and worms and gaining an appreciation for how fly fishing works within the natural world. She was fascinated

I wasn’t talking to her like a man to a girl, or even a father to a daughter. We were learning together. That’s what STREAM Girls does. Girls learn together with and from other girls and women.

STREAM girls program
Photo: Trout Unlimited

And they do it in a safe place, away from some of the obtuse and intimidating behavior that boys and men have long displayed, intentionally or not — something that oppresses curiosity, impedes progress or makes girls feel in any way inferior.

It’s a good model for others to follow, and I’m always excited to hear the results of STREAM Girls efforts from Jamie in Michigan. I remember when my daughter was the same age as the young women going through the STREAM Girls program. I remember her captivation with everything that made rivers tick. She’s a better angler because of her interest in the science of fishing, not because she’s a woman.

And, thanks to efforts like STREAM Girls, more dads like me will be able to go fishing with their daughters.

Comments

My wife is an excellent fisherman. Catches larger and more fish than I which is just fine. This sport is open for all with no limits.

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