Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

October 6, 1997

In Defense of Men

Britannia may have ruled the waves, but men rule the fly fishing waters. And for the most part the whole fly fishing industry, from concept, design, manufacture and sales.

Let's face it, men do not look at women as having attributes they lack. Rather, men look at women as lacking physical attributes they possess. As far as fly fishing is concerned it is not viva le differance!

Someone asked me recently if I wasn't intimidated by fishing with men. Good grief. Mostly I am honored they will fish with me. If the candy bars out there claiming to be fly "fisherpersons" would be honest enough to take a good look at themselves they might see how ridiculous they look and sound. They may be "wantabees," but they are not fly fishers.

Back in the time when "we" were hunter-gathers, men did the hunting. It is a gene thing. Maybe women hunted saber tooth tigers, who can say for sure. None of them seemed to survive. The whole hunting arena from day one has been male. Early history and art all picture men as hunters. Occasionally a woman was mentioned, usually as an oddity. I just finished reading a piece by John McDonald on Dame Juliana Berners in Fisherman's Bounty. McDonald explains, in detail, the myth of Dame Juliana. He claims it is likely she never existed, yet homage is paid to the myth.

Let's make some comparisons. If a man thinks fly fishing might be interesting, what does he do? He talks to friends who fish. He might read a book or two on fly fishing, pick up a fly fishing magazine, or rent a video. He might borrow a fly rod, and ask a friend to take him along the next time he goes fishing, make a visit to the local fly shop just to look around, or find out if there is a fly fishing club in town. He might even go to a meeting. Who knows, someone might tell him where to fish.

What does a woman do? She sees the film "A River Runs Through It," and falls in love with fly fishing. It looks so graceful. Since she is a woman, she decides she will take a casting class - for women - or book a trip where they also teach - women only.

A man seeing the same film will wonder where they are fishing, what fly they really used, who made the rod and where did he learn to cast like that - a totally different thought process.

Many men see fly fishing as a hunting expedition. Women see fly fishing as a wonderful way to commune with nature. After all they love the outdoors and fly fishing is something else to do while outdoors. This goes back to the theory that men would prefer to watch something blow up, while women would rather watch a sunset - at least most of them.

What ever happened to real life? If women want to fly fish, fine. Go fish! I have no problem with that. Years ago another lady who really fishes mentioned how awful waders were. To the effect that the old Hodgeman type made a woman look pregnant. My reply was, "They made everybody look pregnant." Maybe I missed the class on what to wear. Sorry.

What women don't yet understand is that they can't change fly fishing. Who wears what depends on how much marketing hype a person buys into. Rods, reels, lines and flies are tools, not adornments. You don't buy a rod because you like the color. Tools which have been chosen by an individual are based on personal preference, knowledge and experience. The fish don't care. In fact, they really don't seem to be very impressionable at all. Fish are simply attempting to survive in their world.

Fish do not take note as to which gender is fishing. They don't take a fly because a man cast it, nor refuse it because a woman did. You already know my take on *special* women's classification for IGFA records too - don't you? Yes, fish are selective, but not about who the fisher is.

Fly fishing for many fishermen is also their attempt to survive in their world. Those who understand that are willing to give a little privacy space on the stream or lake to the other fishermen. It may just be a quiet evening spinner fall - or a trip of a lifetime, but the fly fishing experience is feeding of soul - more important than food or comfort at that point.

For the greatest part of my life, I have been proud to say that fly fishermen are the cream of civilized society. And I don't mean the richest, although it can happen too. Fly fishermen, in at least what I call the now past Golden Age, treasured their rods, meticulously cleaned and dried lines, shared their knowledge, and had a comradeship that is mostly lacking today. Great discoveries in fly fishing happened then. Advances in fly tying occurred and fireside discussions of a particular hatch were popular topics.

Maybe the world was more civilized then. Perhaps the micro-speed of our present world has driven manners, courtesy, ethics, and morals out of existence. You know you are in trouble when folks teaching casting classes also feel the need to include stream etiquette. Seems today's fishermen have missed common courtesy in their education.

If you want to be a fisherman, go fish. So you don't catch anything at first, who's keeping score? Fly fishing is not about catching fish, it is the total experience. It seems what is lost here, and not just to women, is that fly fishing is an ongoing string of learning experiences. We learn something each time we go, if we are paying attention. Sometimes the experience is the knowledge that you just made the same mistake - again. Some people spend a whole lifetime in their fishing journey, and it still isn't enough. This is not instant gratification; rather a stream of satisfying instants.

For most, just being there is enough. Everything else is icing on the cake. For the naiveté, it is just an exercise.

If I've hit a hot button you can't fault me for honesty. There are enough problems in the fly fishing world. Degradation of watersheds, down-sizing of fish, over-harvest, pollution, hazardous waste, whirling disease, clear cutting, irrigation, loss of insect life and more important things to worry about.

A divided sport, - read that women only - is not a strong sport able to address any of the problems. Instead of folks working together, it becomes "Me" first. Everyone is so involved with their own selfish agenda that they are not willing to commit to doing anything together. If the shoe fits . . . ~ The LadyFisher

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