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home : sports & recreation : sports & recreation October 21, 2018

1/16/2018 1:23:00 PM
Closing the gender gap on the water
Mary Ann Dozer is a fly fishing guide and one of the growing cadre of women in the sport of fly-fishing. photo provided
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Mary Ann Dozer is a fly fishing guide and one of the growing cadre of women in the sport of fly-fishing. photo provided

By Katy Yoder

Women have been closing the gender gap in all kinds of sports. Fly-fishing is no exception.

Women have been casting since the sport began. In the 1400s, an English nun, Dame Juliana Berners, wrote the first book on fly-fishing. Fast-forward to the 1940s and it was a woman, Joan Wulff, who influenced generations of anglers.

At 16 years old, Wulff took top honors in the national dry fly accuracy championship. By the 1950s after winning the National Fisherman's Distance Fly Championship with a 136-foot cast, she was widely known as the world's best fly caster. She has had an immense impact on the sport and broke the gender barrier when she made fly-fishing her career.

Equipment manufacturers want more women to take up fly-fishing. Companies like Orvis have launched campaigns encouraging future female anglers by improving equipment design. Last year, Orvis declared its mission to increase the ratio of women in fly-fishing to 50/50 by the year 2020.

Are women really welcomed or accepted by their male counterparts?

Long-time local guide Mary Ann Dozer explored the dynamics that can occur as more men and women share the water. A guide with The Fly Fisher's Place, Dozer has found that her growing female clientele are in the 40-to-70 age range. "In Sisters, I've seen an increase in women anglers. That older age group has the resources to hire a guide and buy the equipment. There's a lot of us who moved here to retire, or in my case, just do what I love."

With more women on the water, there are bound to be misunderstandings along gender lines. Dozer's years of experience has taught her that sometimes what's perceived as disrespect could be misinterpretations. One of her favorite sayings is, "I don't know what I don't know."

Untoward comments or lack of fishing etiquette can appear aggressive when it's really just ignorance.

"We're entering a time where both men and women are learning how to manage the changing demographics of the sport," explained Dozer. "How does a 25-year-old male employee greet a 50-year-old woman entering a fly shop? Or how would he greet a 25-year-old woman?

"How a woman is greeted by shop employees will make or break a purchase and possibly create a loyal customer. It can be intimidating to walk into what feels like a man's world," said Dozer.

Dozer hopes the answer is they'd treat a man walking into the shop the same way as a woman. But that doesn't always happen.

There's the uncomfortable situation of a man fitting a woman for waders. Or handling the awkward circumstance of relieving yourself along the river in mixed company.

Jeff Perin, owner of The Fly Fisher's Place, has had female employees for many years.

"Above all, we treat everyone the same and don't make a big deal that they are women, but welcome them as anglers. Anyone who loves fishing, trout and the beautiful places trout live is a friend of ours," he said.

Dozer is still working on how to react when a man makes remarks about women fly-fishing.

"More times than not, I get positive comments from everybody," said Dozer. "I hear things like, 'Wow there's a woman on the oars or that was the best day I've had on the water.' 'You did a good job casting.' Then there's the comments like 'Oh my goodness, there's three women in a boat.'"

During a casting lesson she's heard "Isn't that cute, they're using her as a target?"

Mary Ann wasn't sure what was behind his comment.

"I wondered was it just a joke or just not understanding that I was the instructor and they were the students."

Dozer's found that overall women and men differ in what they want from their time on the water.

"Women and men have different social needs and behaviors. We are all equal but there are differences," she said. "Most women like to socialize - so it's not all about the fishing. The food and conversations are important, too."

Dozer has found that women make more noise when they land or miss a fish. "For men it tends to be more about the fishing and less about the conversation," she said.

Jeff's wife, Tina, took up fly-fishing in 2010. She loves the sport and enjoys fishing with men and women. Tina has found that often a guide will prioritize getting a husband hooked up on a fish instead of the wife.

She's put together a women's fly-fishing trip to Mexico this May and there's only two slots left. The all-female trip takes some of the pressure off of the women.

"We're going to Ascension Bay, and all our attendees are excited to go," she said.

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