Over the past few years as a fly fishing instructor, I have done some thinking about whether women approach learning about fly fishing differently than men and whether that matters in the types of educational experiences we offer to women. And because there are fewer women than men in the sport at the current time, I am sometimes asked about something called the “woman’s perspective” in learning about fly fishing.
I am not sure I can answer for all women because we are all so different in our past experiences and acquired competences. Individual women bring these things to the learning process in different ways. The conventional wisdom among fly fishing instructors is that women are easier to teach than men, because men come into fly-fishing with preconceived ideas about how to cast and fish. It is always hard to make broad generalizations about differences between the genders in the way they learn a new sport without wandering into a minefield, but here I go.
One thing I have noticed is that adult men and women’s motivations to learn are often different. Women who didn’t grow up around fishing and who come as adults to the sport, many after decades of caring for their families, at long last want to do something for themselves. They are not usually looking for a new pastime to fill in the odd spare hour between visits from the children or grandchildren or husbands returning from the stream. Huh-uh. They are adventurers looking for an opportunity to master an altogether different challenge and make use of their unique experiences.
Women who are attracted to fly-fishing are “doers.” Many are well organized, some are perfectionists driven to excel and all are accomplished multi-taskers.
I have also observed that in the interactions between men and women within mixed beginners fly fishing classes, men are the more active speakers and they like to delineate their opinions from the other guy’s opinions. Women relate their contributions when speaking to the previous contributions of other group members.
Men seem to be interested in detailed technical knowledge about how some- thing works, meaning that men lead the conversation about how to do things. Women ask how things work too, but in addition they persistently ask more “why “questions, i.e., why is this new thing like other things that I already know about?
Men tend to compete with one another for the longest cast or the most fish caught. Although women are decidedly not free of competitive feelings and behavior, they tend to avoid direct competition. Women show a greater cooperative orientation, meaning that women like to get along and gently support one another in a shared learning experience. They talk about the things that give them trouble on the water and they brainstorm different ways to skin the cat.
One nice thing about women fly fishing students is that they aren’t afraid to look foolish in front of each other and so there is often alot of laughter in women only fly-fishing classes.
From my perspective there are some distinctions between men and women in the way they go about learning how to fly fish. And if the differences matter I haven’t really seen it. The great thing is that if it matters to a woman who wants to learn fly fishing in women’s only classes there are opportunities to through BOW and other fly fishing organizations that offer classes just for women.
One thing I would highly recommend for women is to take BOW classes and then to enhance the learning experience join a Federation of Fly Fishers group in the area where you live. Their mission is providing on-stream experiences, education and mentorship for beginners and they really do take you along the fly-fishing journey much faster. One of the things that I appreciate so much about being a member of the St. Paul Lew Jewett Chapter of IFFF is that it is so genuinely welcoming to women, has been so generous in teaching fly fishing skills, and offering camaraderie and friendship to all who join. The doors are always open and it is a great place for women to be. The men and women of the Lew Jewett Chapter are more alike than different, especially when it comes to sharing great food, losing a good fish or falling in and getting wet!
Margaret LeBien, Fly Casting Instructor