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4 Priorities For Advancing the Participation of Women in Fishing

By: Andrea Dyer + Save to a List

Growing up in a blue collar city where one in five families lives beneath the poverty line meant childhood adventures – for me – were more modest than epic. My family did not go anywhere that had to be accessed by plane, so we went everywhere that could be gotten to via four wheels and a motorboat. Amongst our destination of choice was always North Bay and its adjacent Lake Nipissing: the third-largest lake located entirely in Ontario. Its dark waters are not only home to Muskie, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Bass, but also to my first memories of fishing with my dad; of seeing bobbers bob, and of pulling up Perch with the excitement that adults reserve for trophy fish.

It was always thrilling.

But it wouldn’t be unfair to think that as my legs grew longer and my attention span shorter, fishing would become nothing more than a source of nostalgia. Indeed, as teenagers and young adults progress through the years, they tend to lose track of their first loves. But I didn’t. In fact, the more saturated my world became with to-do lists and sources of instant gratification, the more I craved the pursuit of water and that symphony of spinner spoons jangling in the breeze. On the lake is the only place the world seems to stop and I’m forced to grapple with patience in such a visceral way. Neither the water nor the fish care about what I hope to have happen while I’m out there, and it’s the precise reason I love them.

…It’s a distinct kind of bliss I want everyone to experience, if only once. And yet, when I cast a gaze across the water, the ratio of men compared to women who are fishing still appears staggering. In fact, a report by Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirms it: less than 21% of recreational anglers in Canada identify as female – and while there are some great outfitters and organizations out there working to make the sport more inclusive – in my opinion, there are a few priorities anglers need to pursue to advance the participation of women in fishing.

We need more representation

The representation of women in fishing publications, on television, and in trade shows and tackle shops plays an essential role in inviting them into the sport – because when women see themselves reflected in the places they go and the media they consume, they’re able to reinforce positive views of themselves and what they can achieve. In the context of fishing, they’re able to transcend curiosity and commit to contact with the sport more confidently, knowing they’re not alone and women like them are already doing it.

It’s a surprisingly simple concept to begin implementing. In media and advertisements, even a basic scan of imagery and perspectives prior to publication will do. Women of different ages, abilities, ethnicities, and physiques should be reflected in equal balance to men, and advertisements need to be served where female-identifying audiences tend to dwell – including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

In tackle shops and at trade shows, diverse women need to be present on the sales floor. They provide a uniquely comfortable forum for other women to ask their questions, and help mitigate the issue of women feeling like pariahs entering into a male-dominated world.

Lastly, industry professionals – including guides, pros, and outfitters – need to be intentional about celebrating and amplifying the voices of women in the sport, whether on social media, in podcasts, or otherwise. It all matters.

We need to develop strategies to reduce barriers to access

Fishing poles and tackle alone can be costly. Factor in the expense of renting or purchasing a boat, fuel, and hotel stays for those who don’t have proximity to water, and fishing can become completely unattainable – perhaps more so for BIPOC women who already experience wage gaps when compared to their white counterparts.

This is where the sharing economy proves its value. By virtue of its core principles, the sharing economy mitigates some barriers by providing affordable access to resources. And although the sharing economy is still growing within the context of angling, we’re already seeing some wonderful programs emerge: Tackleshare, for example, allows new anglers to borrow rods, reels, and tackle for free from over 140 loaner sites throughout Ontario, while Fat Llama offers some (paid) fishing equipment rentals in Ottawa and the surrounding area.

So perhaps the next time you’re downsizing or upgrading your gear, you consider donating it to a local fishing program or putting it to good use in an online marketplace where it can bring the joy of fishing to people who might otherwise be unable to experience it.

We need to see an increase in women-led classes, trips, and education

If you’ve ever tried something new, you already know: it can be an overwhelming experience where the last thing anyone wants to worry about is feeling intimidated or uncomfortable to ask questions and make mistakes. This shared reality between males and females illuminates a need for women-led fishing trips, education, and classes in which women who are new to fishing (and/or seeking to enhance their skills) are able to learn in the shelter of their own community and from the perspective of someone who looks like them. We need to see a swell of more educational organizations like Brown Girl Outdoor World, Ontario Women Anglers, and the Canadian Sportswomen Society if we’re to see an uptick of women in fishing.

We need to cultivate a sense of belonging

If bringing women into fishing is one challenge, keeping them in it is another all its own – which can be remedied in part by cultivating a sense of community and belonging. For many women, this means getting invited to go on fishing trips, and being left unbothered and uninterrupted by men once they get there. I say this not because the feedback and guidance of well-intended men doesn’t have its place – it does. But only when it’s asked for. Otherwise it teeters dangerously on the edge of condescension and, in some cases, a threatening encroachment.

It’s also time for the abolishment of a gross and widely held belief that I’ve seen perpetuated by men and women alike: that is, that women must appear a certain way to be worthy of participation in fishing. Whether in flip flops and cutoffs or head to toe mossy oak; bare faced and bed headed or dolled up and blow dried, allowing women to show up to the boat, dock, or shoreline authentically and exactly as they are only strengthens the concept of inclusion and mirrors the very diversity we witness and love in the wild. It’s beyond time to trade the idea of conformity for comfort (as the lovely Noël Russell urges) and to challenge the stereotypes that edge women out of fishing before they even wet a line.

All in all, advancing the participation of women in fishing hosts many benefits – it unlocks new sales opportunities for retailers, outfitters, and guides, and invigorates conservation efforts and the preservation of the natural world.

After all, people tend to protect what they’ve come to love.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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