The Female Angle

Kami Swingle celebrates women in fly fishing

Sasquatch. White whales. Unicorns. Women fly fishers. They were once considered mythic creatures, whispered about longingly by starry-eyed young men or found punctuating the short end of a joke by an old timer. Many anglers have known for a long time that women can fish. From Joan Wulff dominating casting competitions to Meredith McCord bagging IGFA world records, strong female anglers have been an integral part of fly fishing for decades. Recently the fly fishing industry has made a push with initiatives and campaigns, along with women-specific apparel and gear. Women represent an appealing growth segment. As a creative that depends on fly fishing for a portion of my livelihood and who works with a number of its brands, I support these efforts. But my beliefs go deeper than dollars. I believe because I am one. As the industry ramped up a few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of corporate women’s fly fishing initiatives. Being in the same room with the other ladies was inspiring; intimidating even. A mix of professionals and amateurs, these women had amazing stories. They had travelled the world over. Their connections to the sport were varied and deep. Some learned the sport through fathers, relatives, or cute boys they wanted to date. A few were taught by women. Nearly all of us shared a common theme – we loved fly fishing for more than catching fish. Coming out of those initiatives, I felt challenged. I decided to do my part by starting a women-focused fly fishing community called Braided, in Colorado. After all, it was the relationships and the sharing of experiences that I loved the most about the sport. I quickly found I was not the only one. Braided grew to over 300 members in the first six months and opened a second chapter in the Northeast. Emphasising education and conservation, Braided is first and foremost about having fun with the sport of fly fishing and making friends in your local area. In a sense, fly fishing is no different than mountain biking or yoga or wine tasting. We all want fun. We want to be active and outdoors. We want community. And yet as a longtime niche sport, fly fishing remains for many women an untapped, unexplored opportunity to connect with others and the world around them. Braided (and fly fishing for that matter) is not only for women. Many of our events are co-ed. Many are multigenerational as well. Fly fishing is phenomenal in that it can be done from a young age all the way through our silver-haired years. Male, female, young and old – through relationships comes the real substance of fly fishing to be more than a sport. I have seen husbands and wives grow closer through fishing together. I have seen daughters connect in new ways to their fathers and brothers. I have seen social lives switch from dinner and a movie to getting a group together out on the water. I have seen jobs become passions. I have seen the environment become personal. Besides community and its relationships, I love variety. On any given day, I feel like fly fishing can adapt to my needs. Feeling competitive? I can go throw dry flies to picky sippers on a tailwater. Need to relax? I can take a longer turn on the oars while a friend fishes out of the bow, looking for that great blue heron that we are following down the river. Have an itch to travel? Fishing has taken me to places and people I would have never otherwise met. A group of gals from Braided recently joined me on a trip to Spain to fish for trout amidst the Pyrenees. But it was so much more than fishing. We saw 13th-century monasteries and churches. We visited one of the most beautiful villages in the world, built into the side of a cliff. We talked about careers, and families, and new babies. We ate fantastic food until it hurt. We drank wine in our robes until the wee hours. We laughed. And, sure, most of us caught the largest fish of our lives. When it comes to fly fishing, women come for the fish but they stay for the people and the experiences. Skiing and surfing are two easily comparable sports further along in their maturation. To get from niche to mainstream, those two industries have figured it out – from overcoming barriers to entry to marketing and awareness to generating stylish apparel that women want to wear outside of the sport. Most importantly, they have grown to the point of no longer talking about women. Lindsay Vonn isn’t a top female skier. She’s a top skier. Stephanie Gilmore isn’t an amazing female surfer. She’s an amazing surfer. I love that the fly fishing industry is taking notice and supporting us ladies. I applaud it. I am excited to be a part of it. And at the same time, I’m cheering for when we’re all just anglers, sharing, protecting, and enjoying the water together.

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