There is an allure to fishing that’s unexplainable.
The thrill of the chase. The tug of a line. The countless series of hope to land “the one.” These are universal feelings every angler experiences on the water.
Both for its innumerable health benefits and because it's just plain fun, fishing remains a pastime sought out by people who want an escape from technology. Of those who have been lured into fishing, an astonishing number of participants are now female.
A newly-released report from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation found that 49.1 million Americans went fishing in 2017—that’s 1.9 million more than in 2016. Of the new participants who went fishing in 2017, 35.8 percent were women—the fastest growing demographic going fishing. In terms of overall participants, women account for 34.8 percent of those who went fishing in 2017. Of those considering fishing, 45.9 percent were females and 44.2 percent were young females. And more women are taking their kids fishing.
Inspired by this trend, in May of this year, RBFF unveiled a new women’s initiative called “Making Waves” to build momentum for increasing female participation in the sport. I recently caught up with several of the women anglers.
Empowering women to fish
Stephanie West Vatalaro, vice president of communications at RBFF, says her organization’s efforts to reach more women are gaining momentum.
“Research over the past few years” shows that “women are increasingly participating in the sport,” Vatalaro explains.
“More striking than that, women make up almost 50 percent of newcomers each year. However, they are dropping out of the sport at a really high rate,” she added.
The reason for that, she says, “is that only 19 percent see themselves in the sport so they don’t feel like they belong. They are going to buy tackle, and they don’t see women in the graphics. They’re going to buy clothing and gear, and it’s a lot of men. So they don’t feel like they belong.”The goal of “Making Waves” is “to empower women and make them feel like they do belong, and encourage them to take their kids, girlfriends.”
Prolific outdoor writer and freshwater fishing guide Debbie Hanson is also passionate about getting women out on the water.
"Due to the fact that fishing has been traditionally viewed as a male-dominated outdoor activity, it's important for women to be able to relate by seeing more women, women just like themselves, out on the water,” Hanson said. Hanson’s writing in publications like USA Today Hunt & Fish,Game and Fish Magazine, TakeMeFishing.org, and BoatUS Magazine has helped make that visibility a reality.
Women who spend time out on the water, Hanson says, experience “the feeling of empowerment.”
Hanson explains, “With each opportunity to reel in a catch, to tie a knot, to untangle a snag . . . comes a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. So get out there and hit the water ladies . . . you've got this!"
Fishing reconnects us with ourselves
Columbia Sportswear athlete Cindy “Sid” Nguyen, an emerging influencer in the fishing industry, says “the best memories I’ve had in my life” involve fishing, noting that her parents kept her and her siblings outside, whether it was “fishing or hanging out on the beach.” She added, “As much as we love social media for the things that we do,” she explained, “for me, that is the biggest Cache-22 kind of thing for us.”
TIDE + TALE blogger Alycia Page, an up-and-coming outdoor writer and communicator, agrees that it’s in our nature to get outside in spite of the dominance of digital technology today.
“I believe that our hyper-connectedness is awakening a primal desire to get back to nature, challenge ourselves at something tangible, and get dirt under our nails,” says Page. “Every day, there are a million things begging for our attention. On the water, it's just about you and that fish.”
She noted fishing may be a “male-dominated culture” but that isn’t stopping women from making a name for themselves in the industry.
“Now more than ever, women are breaking the mold by becoming certified captains, teaching their kids, and making a living in this industry,” Page said. “It's not just about growing the sport; it's about recruiting passionate individuals who care about the resources, too.”
Whether fly rod or baitcaster, saltwater or freshwater, urban or rural—the future of fishing is certainly female, and a future worth celebrating.
Tight lines, ladies!