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  • Writer's pictureTony Entwistle

Women on the Fly Comes to Nelson

Updated: Apr 22


Getting into fly-fishing isn’t always an easy gig. Being a ‘skill-based’ sport with a gradual ‘take-off curve’, success comes slowly for many and it takes a fair degree of determination from prospective anglers to first learn the mechanics of fly-casting, and then, develop over time,  the range of river skills and ‘trout tactics’ necessary for consistent success.


My earliest trout fishing excursions were with a spinning rod and a few mates from school. With a small river running through our hometown of Geraldine, the opportunity to go fishing was conveniently close, and safe. We’d explore the local river at every opportunity, most of the time never more than ‘about-a-mile’ away from home. We weren’t much of a threat to the local trout population, but we did learn the valuable skills of independence, exploration, and innovation.


It was my father who introduced me to fly-fishing. initially by teaching me how to land some of the trout he had hooked. I was hooked too! After a couple of seasons, my casting skills were sufficient to become reasonably independent again, but trips further afield with my father were always a highlight. His mentoring was key to my long-term engagement in the sport of fly-fishing.


Recently, I was privileged to be involved in helping host a social evening here in Nelson, catering

for ladies wanting to connect with like-minded women who shared an interest in the outdoors and the joy of fly-fishing. Getting started in fly-fishing these days is a bit more complicated than my introduction years ago … and even more so for women.


On the evening of April 4th, an amazing group of 25 ladies, (from Nelson, Blenheim, Kaikoura, and even two Te Anau residents), met at the Nelson Marlborough Fish & Game rooms. The Nelson Trout Fishing Club generously provided sponsorship to enable Leigh Johnson, the ‘heart’ of Women on the Fly NZ, to speak on the opportunities and difficulties faced by women wanting to get started in fly-fishing. We were also joined by Corina Jordan, CEO of Fish & Game NZ who made a special effort and flew in to participate and address the attendees.




Most of the women who attended were beginners or novices, with the others rating themselves as having intermediate experience.  Leigh kicked off the evening with an introduction and background talk on WoTF, after which the ladies then broke up into smaller groups to discuss three key questions:

1)      What has prevented you from getting into (more) fly-fishing?

2)      What would assist you to grow your fishing knowledge, confidence, and experience?

3)      What can you do to help expand opportunities for women in fly-fishing?


Led by Leigh and Corina, a lively discussion on the key outcomes from the groups followed. At face value, some of the obstacles and difficulties facing women wanting to get started in fly-fishing had levels of commonality with many of their male counterparts … like access to resources, cost of equipment, mentoring, finding compatible fishing buddies, sharing transport and opportunities to develop skills.



However, it was clear that women also face some unique difficulties and barriers to participation. Issues like personal safety, finding affordable equipment suitable for women (especially waders), limited time opportunities, and feelings of guilt when taking time away from family responsibilities, are all major challenges.

 


Women tend to find it more difficult to join and integrate comfortably into fishing clubs, which have generally evolved to be male dominated domains. In many respects, a lot more courage is demanded from women to find mentors, join clubs, or even ask landowners permission for access.


When considering the resources and opportunities that would help women progress in fly-fishing, finding suitable, safe mentoring environments was at the top of the list. In this space, professional trout fishing guides, teachers, regular fishing buddies and more female mentors all have a valuable future role to play, in catering to an expanding population of female anglers. There is a clear opportunity for fishing clubs to play a bigger role in helping improve female participation with learning opportunities such as introductory courses, lessons, and workshops. This could be a major area of cooperation going forward, between fishing clubs and regional Fish & Game councils.



Course participants identified that the creation of a local ‘Top of the South’ social media network, specifically for women, would be a valuable resource. The creation of a Trout Fishing App, catering to women, was also brokered as a useful tool.


Looking to the future, the ladies saw an opportunity for more women to share information and to ultimately pay it forward, by teaching others as their fishing skills and knowledge developed. The group agreed to work-on an online channel for women from the Top of the South, to connect so they can find fishing buddies, arrange meetups, and develop their skills and confidence. Leigh and Corina both affirmed they will help support them to do this. So, ladies, watch this space! 


Thank you to all the ladies who attended and made it such a fun and stimulating evening. It is clear there is plenty of work to be done, in moving opportunities in fly-fishing, forward for you.

Again, special thanks to the Nelson Trout Fishing Club, whose generous sponsorship made this evening possible and hopefully, many of the ladies who attended will see value in joining the club in the future.


Thank you also to Nelson-Marlborough Fish & Game and NZ Fish & Game for their logistical support in contacting as many local female licence holders as possible. Generous support was also received from Wairau River Wines - Marlborough Winery & Cellar Door and Waimea Estates, providing some welcome refreshments on the night.


Women on the Fly NZ is New Zealand’s biggest female anglers’ network, connecting female anglers using a range of communication channels, social media and email.  It is an off shoot of the Kapiti Fly Fishing Club, which has seen female membership grow from 2 to 13 over the past 3 years. The nearby Wellington, Manawatu, and Hutt Valley clubs have also benefited from an increase of new members.


WoTF has also identified female mentors from around the country who are available to assist at events, and they have Fish & Game NZ’s full support to help spread the word, so that more women will be aware of the opportunities provided by fly-fishing and its proven positive effect on mental, physical, and social well-being.



FOOTNOTE:


I found it interesting to compare the ladies’ comments and recommendations from the Nelson evening, to a 2023 survey from the University of Otago – “Women Anglers in New Zealand: Understanding women’s participation in, and perspectives of, freshwater fishing“, which found that:

· Around a quarter of women anglers have had to contend with gender stereotypes whilst fishing.

· Well over a third of women anglers believe that fishing continues to be moulded after men and, relatedly, many call for better representation in marketing material and within FGNZ governance structures.

· Almost all women anglers wish they could fish more often, but are constrained by a host of factors, most notably a lack of time and family/work commitments. Some constraints, such a lack of confidence, are more gender specific. Certain constraints, such as the cost of fishing or a perceived lack of skill, can be partially addressed with the support of FGNZ.

· Around one-third of women anglers feel that there are inadequate FGNZ initiatives aimed at fostering women’s involvement in freshwater fishing.

· Despite wishing to see better representation of women within FGNZ, half of all women anglers feel that standing for a FG council is currently a daunting prospect, and one-third of women anglers feel that their opinions and ideas would currently not be heard.


Six key recommendations emerging from the Otago University research were:

· Develop workshops, educational materials, and events tailored to the needs of women anglers.

· Provide support for the development and strengthening of new and existing networks of women anglers.

· Work to increase the visibility of women anglers within FGNZ promotional materials and publications.

· Work to increase representation of women within Fish and Game councils.

·  Work to improve feedback mechanisms for existing women anglers to communicate with FGNZ management.

· Evaluate the family licence with a view to loosening existing restrictions.


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