A new workshop launched in Wellington this November aimed at encouraging more women into fly fishing.
The workshop was set up by Leigh Johnson of Women on the Fly, who says she wants to help women engage in the sport and see participation numbers increase.
Fish & Game NZ sells around 100,000 freshwater fishing anglers’ licences each year, with around one-third of participants being women.
Johnson says she wants to help shift that demographic, and so with the help of the Kapiti Fly Fishing Club and Fish & Game, she launched the Women on the Fly workshop for women from the Wellington region, on the banks of the Hutt River trout fishery.
“The target audience for the Women on the Fly workshop is women who want to learn about fly fishing and give it a go, as well as those who wish to develop their skills, confidence, general knowledge, and friendships,” Johnson says.
Barriers to overcome
Johnson says there are many barriers for women taking up fly fishing as a recreational activity, including a lack of female role models, a lack of women in fishing clubs, and the physical aspect of the sport.
“I’ve met women here locally who’ve been along to our fishing club, and they said they’ve often been the only woman going along and things haven’t gone quite how they expected to, or they didn’t feel as welcome as they thought they should.
“And they haven’t stayed as members because there aren’t the friendships to be made by having enough women involved. There aren’t the role models – who do you know who’s an experienced angler who will get you out fishing?”
Johnson says some women are also nervous about the physical side of fishing.
“They’re worried about accessing rivers. But you don’t need to wade in water up to your hips to be successful, which I know is what prevents some women from taking up the pastime.
“Fly fishing in New Zealand is so accessible. Not only are we recognised as having the best trout fishery in the world, but almost all Kiwis also have superb angling right on their doorstep, with most rivers, streams, and lakes holding healthy populations of fish.”
Johnson says there are numerous benefits to fly fishing.
“Women’s lives can be stressful given the challenges associated with juggling work and family, and fly fishing is a wonderful way to decompress and destress. When I was running my business in Wellington, it was an incredibly hectic period in my life. I wish I had maintained an active interest in fly fishing, rather than returning to it in my retirement, as it would certainly have helped me unwind and re-centre at a time when I needed balance.”
Johnson drew on her business nous to project-manage the event, which involved successfully applying for an underwriting grant from Wellington Fish & Game, arranging guest speakers and presenters, and door-knocking potential sponsors.
“The support we’ve had from everyone is just fantastic. Hunting & Fishing and Manic Tackle Project were our key sponsors. It was a superb event, and I can’t wait to see a cohort of women head off on their own exciting angling journey and reap all the rewards that the pursuit has to offer. ”
The workshop ran over two days on 26 and 27 November and involved practical workshops with experienced facilitators, all of whom were women flyfishers. The workshop saw 28 women take part.
“I was able to draw on the networks that I’ve made and was able to get some real role models along,” says Johnson.
“A key aspect of this workshop was to bring in experienced female fly fishers from around New Zealand to share their skills and experience over the weekend.”
Johnson says one of the aims of the workshop was to enable people to make friends and meet people you could go fishing with.
“About a third of people who came along were absolute beginners. The rest were able to come along and learn skills you’ve never tried before, to build up your confidence. It can be quite intimidating to go out on the river and be surrounded by people who seem to know what they’re doing when you feel like you don’t.”
The second day of the workshop involved taking the women out to Hutt River and out on the water.
“Some of these ladies have never held a rod or never been in the water,” says Johnson. “So it was a real opportunity to try and give it a go.”
Corina Jordan, Fish & Game NZ’s first female chief executive, was the keynote speaker for the workshop. Jordan says the initiative was exactly what angling needed.
“We’re currently embarking on a nationwide survey of our women licence holders to try and find the drivers for their involvement, and how we might use that to bring more female anglers into the fold,” she says.
“But these events like Leigh has organised at the grassroots level are so valuable for helping drive recruitment and setting up support networks for anglers starting out.”
For more information, visit womenonthefly.nz.