Because the art of fly fishing requires strategy and awareness of one’s surroundings, it had widely been considered a gentleman’s sport and the sport of kings. However it is these very reasons that make this is an ideal sport for women. Our general ability to focus and assess the small details of our surroundings gives us an advantage in this sport. This notion is confirmed throughout history.
The chronicles of women anglers run deep. An English woman of noble birth (and a nun) wrote what is most assuredly considered the first fishing book, The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, and was written sometime between 1421 and 1425 – that’s before Christopher Columbus was born!
Dame Juliana Berners methodically walks her readers through the often complicated steps of creating flies and lures out of materials such as fur, silk and feathers. She gave firm instructions as to when and how to use them. Berners felt angling was for well-meaning individuals who possessed the proper attitude and approach to the sport.
“And therefore, to all you that are virtuous, gentle and freeborn, I write and make this simple treatise which follows, by which you can have the whole art of angling to amuse you as you please, in order that your age may flourish the more and last the longer.” ~ Dame Juliana Berners
Since then there have been a number of other great woman anglers. One such was Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854 – 1946). She wrote a syndicated outdoor column called “Fly Rod’s Notebook”. She was also the first licensed guide for the state of Maine. Fly Rod, as Cornelia was to become known, traveled to a sportsman’s show at Madison Square Garden to promote the Maine outdoors. There she dazzled and amazed show goers with a log cabin she built herself and several stuffed deer, moose, and birds. Fly Rod demonstrated her skill at fly fishing by casting into a fish tank full of trout and salmon (shipped by train from Bangor); all while modeling a new lady’s hunting outfit with a shortened skirt that clearly shocked some observers.
Mary Orvis (1856-1914) was another great contributor to women and the art of fly fishing. After apprenticing under an expert hair dresser hired by her father, Mary took over the Orvis Company fly-production department at the age of 20 and help pioneer the mail-order business. Mary also published the book: Favorite Flies and Their Histories. This book was one of the earliest uses of chromolithography color plates. Mary undertook this formidable task of compiling over 300 different fly patterns and editing this book as a labor of love which endures to this day and is still in print.
“To create history, one should be a great general, an inventor, or an explorer, but to those of us who are not so fortunate as to be creators is permitted the more humble mission of recording what is accomplished by others.” ~ Mary Orvis
We would be remiss if we did not include at least some of the many other women who have contributed to this sport. Women have achieved national and internationally accolades in the fine art of creating the most beautiful and effective flies and lures. Among them are Sara McBride, Carrie Frost, Frances Stearns and Elsie Darbee.
These women are among many others being celebrated in a special exhibition called “A Graceful Rise” being held at The American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont (also home of The Orvis Company) beginning June 2011 and running until April 2012.
We have a long legacy of women who have not only participated but also documented for us the great art of fly fishing. Today we have a number of modern women who carry on this sporting tradition and who are equally as dedicated to teaching and supporting this noble sport as were our forebears. Many manufacturers are now starting to take notice and are supporting women by making equipment that better fit our body types – and it’s about time!
When thinking about creating a life of simplicity, you may want to include the art of fly fishing, if nothing more than for the sense of tranquility it brings. There are hundreds of clubs with chapters around the world, all of which offer lessons and some that offer access to private fishing waters. So hookup your small traveling home and claim your rich heritage. Deepen old friendships and create new ones or carve out some time for simple solitude, but whatever the reason – be ready for a fabulous adventure!
Here are a few recourses to check out:
- Fly Gal Venture
- Woman’s Fly Fishing
- Fly Fisher Girls
- International Women Fly Fishers
- Women Fishing
- Fishin Chix
Note: flies featured here are courtesy of Orvis