A Growing Number of Women Have Picked Up Fly Fishing

Originally published in the Greensboro News & Record May 28, 2000

With a short cast, the caddis fly landed gently on the surface of the water and followed a riffle downstream. A flash of silver, a swirl of water and the fly disappeared. Sharon Slade let out a short gasp, lifted her rod and felt the weight of her first trout on a fly rod.

“It was thrilling,” Slade said afterward. “It happened so quickly. I saw him come up, but I wasn’t sure if he took the fly until I raised the rod. I wanted to scream, but there were other people fishing near me, so I just screamed inside.”

Slade is one of a growing number of women who have picked up a fly rod for the first time recently. She was one of several pupils in a women’s fly-fishing class offered by Lorraine Rothrock of Nat Greene Flyfishers, the Greensboro chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers.

The two-day class provided classroom instruction and a field trip to the East Prong of the Roaring River in Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes County.

“I have offered the class for the past two years,” said Rothrock, who has been fly-fishing for nearly 10 years. “The class is an introduction for women who want to learn the basics of fly-fishing. We spend a day going over rods, knots, flies and casting. Then we get our feet wet with a day on the water.”

The field trip proved successful for each of the class participants, all of whom caught their first trout on a fly rod.

“Women often pick up fly-fishing more quickly than men,” Rothrock said. “Fly-fishing is more about finesse than power. Men sometimes try to overpower their cast when they begin.”

Although men have dominated the sport, more and more women are taking to the stream with fly rod in hand. One of fly-fishing’s most distinguished anglers today is a woman – Joan Wulff. She has taught many men and women the art of fly-casting and has written several books on the subject, including “Joan Wulff’s Fly Fishing: Expert Advice From a Woman’s Perspective.”

The wealth of books, clubs and classes such as Rothrock’s offer easy access to the basics of fly-fishing. Patti Edwards of Greensboro took the women’s fly-fishing class to enjoy trips with her husband.

“The first time I tried fly-fishing was on a windy day,” said Edwards, who fished with spinning tackle for years before trying a fly rod. “I cast into the wind, and all the line flew back in my face. I got untangled and cast again, and it flew back all around me. After I cast a third time with the same results, I picked up my spinning gear and started fishing. I took this class because I was ready to learn how to fly-fish. It is so much more exciting than fishing with spinning gear.”

Alex Bailey got her start in fly-fishing by doing some fishing on the Internet. When she moved to North Carolina from West Virginia, she searched for Web sites about fly-fishing in North Carolina. One of the sites she found was Nat Greene Flyfishers.

“I knew I wanted to join, so I wrote a check and sent it in before I ever attended a meeting,” she said. “This year I hope to leave my spinning gear behind and use nothing but a fly rod.”

Bailey now serves as the organization’s membership chairwoman and welcomes visitors and new members to the group.

The number of women taking up fly-fishing has not gone unnoticed by the major suppliers of fly-fishing equipment. Today, there are fly rods, vests, waders, wading boots, hats and other apparel designed specifically for women. Jeff Wilkins, manager of The Fly Line in Greensboro, has worked in fly shops for more than 10 years and has witnessed the growth firsthand.

“There are more choices for women than ever before,” Wilkins said. “When I first started, there were a few women fly-fishing. Most of them were the wives of men who fished. Now, more women are starting to fly-fish on their own, and some are even dragging their husbands and boyfriends into the sport with them.”

Kathy Young of Lexington is one such angler. She considers herself a fly-fishing addict, but her husband only accompanies her occasionally. Young recently returned from a trip to the Bahamas, where she opted for a fly rod rather than a beach towel. She has fished for everything from bonefish in the Bahamas to trout in Oregon, which may justify her membership in a group in Charlotte called Women on the Fly.

“A friend of mine took me fishing on the McKenzie River in Oregon about six years ago,” Young said. “I still remember my first trout. I caught a rainbow trout on a dry fly. After that I was hooked.”

That friend, Cathy Tronquet, moved to Charlotte and organized Women on the Fly more than a year ago to bring women together through a common love of fly-fishing. The group of about 40 meets monthly at Jesse Brown’s Outdoors in Charlotte to listen to guest speakers, offer technical instruction and take fishing trips.

Young believes the growing number of women in fly-fishing reflects a broader trend of more women enjoying outdoor sports.

“What I enjoy about fly-fishing is the big picture – being outside in nature,” she said. “It’s a beautiful sport, and it is very relaxing. When I’m fly-fishing, I find that everything else seems to disappear. I am totally removed from the day-to-day world. I don’t fly-fish just to catch fish; it is a much larger experience. Every time I go fishing, it is a new adventure, even when I go to the same river.

“The experience is grounding,” she said. “It helps return me to a sense of center within myself.”

Young’s only regret is that she did not begin fly-fishing earlier. She will turn 50 in February and is trying to make up for lost time.

“How often do I go?” she asked. “Not enough. I would be a very happy woman if I went fly-fishing once a week, but I try to at least fish twice a month. I am much happier in my waders than anything else.”

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