I’m learning about saltwater fisheries in Galveston, Texas. It’s a manly affair. This stands to reason since I’m an outdoor journalist in an industry dominated by men. I’m here to learn about red snapper and I’m concentrating on harvest statistics when my phone buzzes. My husband herds our kids solo when I’m on the road so I rarely ignore a buzz from home. You never know what our wild ones are doing. The screen lights up and all fishing facts leave my head.
It’s a picture of me in a role I rarely see. I look like a mom instead of a reporter. Friend Windy Davis snapped this photo while my husband held our drift boat upstream. We fished our home water right before I left for Texas and my son really wanted to touch a trout. Our friend, and fisheries biologist, Greg Schoby hooked a rainbow. The only one of the day. Early spring water on Idaho’s Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is painfully numbing in seconds so on my back my son went.
Davis calls the photo ‘Super Mom.’ I call it ‘Super Real.’ I keep the picture on my phone so whether I’m covering saltwater troubles in Texas or trout country in Colorado, I can look at my momly state any time the manly side of my job overwhelms me.
“When I see that photo I think of all the ways women are not only participating in outdoor activities, but also empowering and sharing those experiences with their children,” Davis says. “If more mothers are willing to take some risks themselves, learn new skills and share those skills with their kids, they can really set their kids up to be confident and ready for other challenges in life. Mom becomes the teacher and sometimes the hero.”
I don’t feel like the hero. I feel like the minority. I see few women on the water when I’m out, but I’ll admit, I do see more now than I did a decade ago. I sense the current rolling in a new direction as more women wade into the outdoors. Many of those women have children and if mom is going, the kids are going. Shirley Card is one of those women. Her daughter Truly turns 4 in June. Truly is chasing a bunny in the red rock range of Utah’s Green River while Card and I compare parenting notes.
“Kids today demand to be entertained at all times. They want screen time and Pinterest worthy play dates,” Card says. “I see a huge difference when our daughter plays with other kids who aren't as fortunate to just play outdoors. She is at home in the dirt and water. She loves to fish, camp, chase bunnies, hunt crawdads and just plain old get dirty. If we had to stay indoors all day every day, we'd both go insane.”
I know the feeling. When the sun is out, I can’t stay in even though hauling kids to the river isn’t easy. It requires just as many snacks as it does dry clothes, but we go anyway. My truck is full of bones, sticks and rocks. The kind of boy-scavenged treasures that hold more value than an iPad because they come from time spent outside and time spent with family.
“There’s a notion of more families being on the water,” says Rich Hohne, Simms brand communicator director. “That’s a quality of life that’s being passed down from generation to generation.”
About half of the employees on the Simms development team are women. Those women fish and their outdoor experiences translate into the products Simms sells. In 2011, Simms had 11 women-specific products. This year, Simms has 37.
“The women on our team are anglers and they know what they’re doing,” Hohne says. “That bleeds over into better products and more women identifying with what we sell. It’s not a pink and shrink deal anymore. Now it’s women specific goals first and it’s made such a difference in our sales and in the experience for outdoor women anglers.”
Idaho Department of Fish and Game sees a difference too. The department is largely funded by license sales. The number of women buying a fishing license has increased steadily in recent years.
“It’s important not just from a funding standpoint, but I think it’s also important for those connections we have with nature,” says Jennifer Jackson, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional conservation educator. “We, as a society, don’t want to lose those connections.”
Wise adults talk of getting kids outside, but sending them outside without you doesn’t count. If you want them out, you have to go out too. That’s what outdoor moms do. Sure it means more stuff to pack and less fish to catch, but as your children grow, the outdoor habit grows with them. I’m already banking on our boys rowing me down the river when they’re bigger. I’ll make up for lost fish then. For now, my son on my back is a load I’ll happily carry if it means my boys develop a healthy respect for their mother and Mother Nature.