Reel women on the fly

Women nationwide are hanging up their tennis rackets and golf clubs, and picking up fly rods instead. The fastest growing demographic in fly fishing, women and girls now comprise more than 30 percent of American anglers, and 40 percent of these women are over the age of 45.

Though women are flocking to the sport, they’re not new to fly fishing. Joan Wulff, 90, started when she was just 10 years old and remains the leading female fly fisher in the world. She outcast men as the National Casting Champion from 1943-1960, and has a fly-fishing school in the Catskills of New York.

Jeff McKenna, manager of Western Anglers in Grand Junction, said when he guides fly-fishing trips, women always catch more fish than the men.

“They listen, which is key, and have more patience,” he said. “They are quicker studies and seem to enjoy it more without the competitiveness that’s typical of men.”

The growing number of women anglers has spurred Western Anglers owner Ned Mayers to offer Ladies’ Night several times a year. These popular gatherings of women of all ages and skill levels offer fly fishing speakers, support, friendships, merchandise discounts, and a little wine to boot.

“This is where we live,” said Mayers, referring to the rich fly-fishing country in Western Colorado. “Take advantage of it. It’s never too late to start.”

Reasons to fish

Mayers’ wife, Colette, 47, is also an avid fly-fisher. Working at Whiting Farms in Delta, a leading worldwide source of fly-tying hackle, she gets to share her passion with coworkers and customers. She enjoys the peace that comes with fly fishing, but she especially loves to fly fish with other women.

“It’s a great de-stresser,” she said. “I can have a great day and not catch a single fish.”

Colette said she’s often caught off guard when she catches a fish because she’s mesmerized by the scenery and life of the river—the wildflowers on the bank, the insects, the sounds of the water and fish waving against the current.

“Fly fishing almost forces you to let your mind rest and we don’t do that enough,” she said.

On the flip side, Lennie Watson, a 67-year-old nurse, finds pleasure in the challenge and the technical aspects of fly fishing.

“I look forward to the planning and anticipation, as well as actually catching the fish,” she said. Pondering strategy is rewarding for Watson, as she considers factors such as the best fly to use, water temperature, weather and time of year.

“I want to learn everything I can about every aspect of fly fishing and how you use your mind, skill and body,” she said.

Being a volunteer on Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Commission for five years opened her eyes to the sport. She took a class with the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife and was excited to hit the water.

“Wherever you fly fish is probably one of the most beautiful places you can ever be,” said Watson. “Time flies and the whole world falls away.”

While Kari Sewell was growing up, her mom and brother were obsessed with fly fishing. She didn’t get serious about it until her mid 20s, after which there was no such thing as too much.

“Then life happened, I had two daughters and only went a couple times a year,” said Sewell, 53.

Tragedy struck Sewell’s family in 2012 when her husband, Tim, committed suicide. She spent the next several years searching for ways to channel her trauma and grief.

Two years ago she reconnected with fly fishing by entering the Grand Valley Anglers Trout Unlimited Carp Fly Fishing Tournament. With her daughters almost grown, Sewell can usually be found fly fishing at one of her favorite year-round spots.

“I was so passionate about it before and I’m so fortunate to have found it again,” she said. “Casting and the focus it requires take the chatter away. For me, it’s a spiritual experience. Fly fishing is the glue that keeps all the pieces in my life together.”

For her, it’s about more than just catching fish. It’s about the whole experience, whether she feels like being social with friends, or experiencing nature in solitude.

Fly fishing benefits

Kate Larmouth has been fly fishing for 23 years, which is especially a long time for her since she is only 29. She even met her husband while fly fishing with her dad on the Delaware River. Now they both work at Ross Reels in Montrose.

“Fly fishing is more than just a sport,” Larmouth said. “There are physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. It’s about connecting with the outdoors, sharing in a community and giving you confidence in being who you are.”

Larmouth is one of the founders of Able Women, a social outreach aimed at getting women involved in fly-fishing, allowing them to share knowledge and experiences with each other.

“Learning to fly fish from another woman is different than from a man,” Larmouth said. “It sometimes felt stressful and like work when I went with my dad. With women, the priority is to have fun. It’s more relaxed and at the end of the day, it’s all about supporting each other.”

Whether it’s the calming effect of this quiet sport, the ability to surround oneself with the great outdoors or the camaraderie, women are finding a connection and passion for fly fishing in record numbers. You could say they’re hooked.

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