Our Man In Canada
August 14th, 2000

Reel Women

By Brenda J. Sharpe

Kathy Surrette at the Reel Women Booth
At the Canadian Fly Fishing Forum in Brampton, Ontario in April 2000, a last blast of winter causes the unheated exhibition hall to become uncomfortably cold for attendees and exhibitors alike. Industrial heaters are brought in to warm the crowds.

At a booth at the back of the hall, a large bowl of goldfish crackers attracts visitors. Several women are standing behind the counter, shivering but still smiling despite the cold. They are representatives from the Reel Women Fly Fishing Club of Ontario. Pat Robinson, the president of the club, and booth-mates Kathi Surette and Janice Collis are cheerful, welcoming, and eager to confirm to visitors that women can participate fully in the sport.

Warming her hands as best she can on a styrofoam cup of tea, Robinson also warms to the subject of the Reel Women club and their enjoyment of fly fishing.

Kathi Surrette, Pat McMahon, Pat Robinson, Mary Lou Roxborough

Confronted with the death of her younger sister in 1996, Robinson, now president of a freight brokerage firm, began to list things she wanted to do but hadn't done yet. She had fished before and was aware of fly fishing, but had not yet tried it, so she entered it on her list. An impulsive visit to Grindstone Angling in Waterdown, Ontario was all it took. A few lessons, some fishing trips later, and she knew she had found a sport she loved.

Almost immediately she began to think about sharing the sport with other women. Grindstone Angling staff offered the use of their shop for a meeting, and Robinson created a flyer to advertise the event. Seven women turned out for that gathering. Kathi Surette was one of those seven. A former resident of South Carolina, she now serves as vice president. She has created business cards and brochures for the group. Enlarged photos of her with some very impressive catches grace the Reel Women's Forum display.

The group soon drafted bylaws, a charter and a mission statement. The businesslike approach helped establish credibility and provide a platform for future growth. Membership has grown steadily: at the time of the Forum the group was 34 members strong and had outgrown their original meeting space. They meet at least once a month in addition to fishing outings and special events.

The club has an educational mandate. Sessions include information on equipment, knots, basic fly tying, and other beginner information, often presented in the form of handouts and kits.

Kathi Surrette, Jill Neelands, Mary Lou Roxborough, Pat Robinson Asked about the challenges of starting a women's club in what is still largely a men's sport Robinson says, "In some ways it's almost easier. Women are born organizers. We're used to juggling work, husband, families; many things at once." As may not always be the case with established, male-dominated clubs, there is a special emphasis on making new members feel immediately welcome and comfortable. Meetings begin with introductions, anecdotes, and a chance for visitors to tell about their level of experience in fly fishing and what they hope to learn.

The club has actively sought donations from the community although outfitting some members for their first fishing trip has occasionally proved challenging. Somehow, though, it works out. "Wealthy or struggling, the passion for the sport is the equalizer," insists Robinson.

Women's Fly Fishing Organizations

"Causes and projects escalate the club," she adds. The group involved itself in local conservation efforts right from the start. One activity of the club is particularly near to Robinson's heart.

She spent time with breast cancer patients prior to her sister's death from the disease, and remembered these women once she began to fly fish. After some research she found that others had made a similar connection, notably Gwenn Perkins of Orvis, who originated the Casting for Recovery program in Vermont. The Women's Fly Fishing Association of Alberta held Canada's first fly fishing retreat for women in 1997, now a regular event called Casting for Life.

Current Issue Canadian Fly Fisher

The Reel Women are hosting the Cathy Taylor-Varlow Memorial Fishing Derby for Women in September, in memory of Pat Robinson's sister. For more information about this event, contact them at reelwomenflyfishers@ hotmail.com or by telephone: (905) 336-9061 (Pat Robinson) or (905) 543-9648 (Kathi Surette). ~ Brenda J. Sharpe

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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