Gender Clarity in Fly Fishing

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By: Alice Tesar

It’s not a secret that women fly fish. They’ve been fishing for as long as men. If you’re shocked by this, you may need to fish more.

With this said, there are many campaigns and organizations encouraging more women to get into the sport. From increased visibility in fishing publications to women specific gear (not just pink and shrink) companies are pumping more funds into making women feel included in the fishing industry.

One of these campaigns is Orvis 50/50 on the Water: Creating Gender Parity in Fly Fishing. What seems to be Orvis’s primary ad for the campaign is a montage of some baller female anglers with voiceover of a man who hates women. He says things such as, “women should learn that they are not so spectacular.” While part of me wants to strangle this piece of sexist, insecure shit a much stronger part of me just wants to fish. This has always been the stronger voice in my head. I don’t have time for the haters and I think Orvis shouldn’t give them their time either. If you look at comments below the video on YouTube and other message boards, you will see a similar sentiment. 

Why does this video feel like a war cry? Why is Orvis stooping to the level of this aggressive man in the video? Why does this commercial vilify men? Vilify anyone? Is Orvis fueling this man’s anger and those that are like him and is that constructive to the larger community?

DSC_1237If Orvis wants us to “lead more fulfilling lives through a deep personal connection to the adventure and wonders of the natural world,” as their mission statement reads, why do I feel like I need to be afraid of this “guy” when I’m on the river now?

As I was sucked into the vortex of comments below the video I stumbled upon a response from Orvis. It was the Orvis messaging I wanted from the beginning of the campaign:

We did a lot of listening, and many women described barriers to entry that we weren’t fully aware of. Not all such barriers are aggressive or obvious: No one was telling women that they couldn’t fish. Instead we heard about a lack of peer groups, about how intimidating it can be to join a male-dominated community as a novice angler, and about how many women felt they would learn better in an atmosphere where they didn’t feel under scrutiny.”

I don’t feel like they are trying to turn anyone against me. I am not under pressure to buy from their women’s line. It feels genuine and relatable. This same messaging is present on their 50/50 On the Water website and is evident through those using the hashtag on other social platforms. I was turned off initially by the abrasive tone of the video but as I’ve been further exposed to their mission I hope that we can get more people on the water. No one should be afraid to try new things.

As an angler I am glad that more fishing companies have joined up with existing non-profits like SheJumps and Able Women to motivate girls in the outdoors. Or fly shops like ours that have been putting on all women’s intro to fly fishing schools providing a women-centric experience. We want to give women not just the tools to get out there but an opportunity to meet other anglers that they can get out on the river with. I hope too that the community can also prioritize the representation of people of color and people with disabilities on the water. It’s not just about specific gear or removing intimidation factors in fly shops, it is about treating everyone and everything with respect. 

Alice Tesar

Gink & Gasoline
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19 thoughts on “Gender Clarity in Fly Fishing

  1. I’m the guy everyone loves to hate.
    I don’t curry favors for one group; I don’t promote anyone over another.
    I don’t shame one group of people to bolster another.
    If that’s what’s required, I wish everyone would stay home – and leave the place to me.

    • You do all of these things, you are a human. Even if you don’t mean to intentionally, you do them; we all do. Understanding these nuanced things takes empathy and intelligence. Those skills take practice and most can’t be bothered.

  2. My experience fly fishing with my wife in Montana is that the fly shops and guides went out of their way to help her have a good experience on the water. The entire experience was very welcoming and my wife, who is not really a fisher-person, has always enjoyed her interactions with the shop and trip folks.

    A guy who treats women poorly will not stop doing so because he likes to fly fish. I am not sure why Orvis or anyone else thinks a fly fishing “campaign” can redeem a dirt-bag who speaks ill of women.

  3. LOVE -IT …Orvis’s 50/50 campaign that is! Loooong overdue. In a male dominated sport such a fly-fishing a counter balance was a needed initiative and was long overdue. Thank you Orvis for being such a forward and inclusive thinking company!

  4. It has nothing to do with gender inequalities. It has everything to do with selfish fishermen. I was a teenager when I first started fly fishing but I had no mentor. When I sought help from shops, people I knew that were fly fishermen, and my local TU, no one would give me the time of day. Everyone said I didn’t have the resources to get started and were blatant about not sharing locations. In fishing many people are so stuck on what they are getting from an interaction they won’t teach and help self sacrificially. It’s not just women, I just pushed through it in the face of opposition and became successful on my own.

  5. I am amazed at how gullible Americans have become to an emotional marketing campaign.

    Does anyone remember the 2017 Audi Superbowl ad? “Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” Very touching ad from Audi. Alas, one look at the Audi Board of Directors…all white male. I’m sure those white males felt really good about their ad’s message to the rest of us males but apparently not good enough about their own message to have women on their BOD.

    Likewise, here is the Orvis BOD.

    Leigh H. Perkins. …
    Thomas M. Belk Jr. …
    Sean M. McAvoy. …
    Joel T. Murphy. …
    Michael C. Ruettgers. …
    Marka Hansen.
    Roger Farah.

    Don’t believe what people say, believe how they act and what they actually do. Seriously, less smarmy campaigns, more women in positions of influence.

    • As a woman-angler who has been fishing her entire life of four-plus decades and fly only for the last decade+, i appreciate the campaign but find it ironic given the actual culture of Orvis! Orvis is a notoriously horrible place for women to work (at headquarters in VT). thats what is funny about this campaign. my co-workers wife worked there, and i’ve read their employee reviews. her husband told me this btw. I think a smart company needs to clean up their internal issues before running a campaign like this else it just reeks of marketing for $$$. I don’t doubt there are some good people at orvis, i know fishing managers in PDX, and VT.. but it sure doesn’t seem to be run very well. i’ll give my hard-earned $$ to companies with a better rep when possible or at least buy through a shop and not directly from them.

  6. My club,, welcomes ladies unconditionally. In my ten years of casting and fly tying instruction, I have found that women learn casting faster and as a group, they learn tying infinitely faster and better. Also, they don’t insist on learning to double haul in the first five minutes of casting instruction.

  7. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    Hard words to live by, for sure. But, worth the effort to try and apply them to all aspects of life. At one level or another, we all tend to want an easy path to success, happiness, belonging, etc.. But, overcoming challenges/being self-determined, even in fly fishing, (no matter your gender), can be a very sweet reward.

    Btw, Eleanor Roosevelt would have been an awesome fly-fisher!

  8. Let’s be realistic, Orvis is a for profit company, men are only half of the population they can target for their merchandise, why not encourage a larger market share? Advertising will work out the best approach eventually, and if more women show up on the streams, lakes etc. merchandise sellers will be happy, and the end users will have to make room. I don’t see where all of the gender issues come from unless someone likes to take advantage of it for personal gain.

  9. I hate it that everything today has to come down to an issue of prejudice. If you want to get people’s attention scream prejudice. Orvis should not be using that in an advertising campaign and we should not have to talk about it. Just everyone shut up and get along. My wife was my fishing partner 50 years ago and I was happy with that. Women are welcome. Our TU chapter has a large membership of women and it’s time just to let it go.

  10. All that fishing gear should be modified so women can use it. And Congress should outlaw all those men-only fishing streams. And all those fish that will only bite on a hook if there’s a man at the other end of the line should be told to swim elsewhere.

  11. I support generate equality, but honestly don’t see any barriers in the sport for female anglers. Of course there will always be a couple a$$holes, but that’s just the state of people today. Nobody is stopping you from picking up a rod and catching a bunch of trout! Get out there!

  12. It is all rather depressing. Fact: the very reason we are expected to explain why or what we are doing “here” should cue you in. One thing is for sure, women enjoy fishing as much as the next person. We are here to stay.

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