No More Fly Fishing Barbie Dolls

The New York Times has an article on how women are the fastest-growing demographic in fly fishing. And like most other things in our society the growth of women participating in fly fishing will be good for everyone.

Manufacturers such as Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms have increased the promotion and offerings of clothing and gear designed and built for women – not just having small and extra small sizes. Greater numbers of women will provide opportunities for more sales based on growth and not just replacement sales. Women will travel to destination fly fishing locations just like the men.

But this growth and promotion is not just about gear sales and travel dollars. It’s about acceptance and respect.

Women guides will offer different perspectives and means of coaching and instruction that will benefit all their clients. Women will be respected for their skills in fly fishing and accepted as full participants in the sport, not just as bikini-clad models at shows and in advertising – “no more Barbie dolls” as April Vokey calls them.

Reading the article made me cringe in terms of how women have been treated by fly shops, fellow guides, and even clients. As a society we should be long past that behavior. But as in most struggles for acceptance there is a long wade ahead as older ideas give way to younger ideas and young women.

You can read the article here.

Orvis 50/50 Campaign

Orvis 50/50 Campaign

Women make up only 30% of fly fishers according to the 2017 Special Report on Fishing published by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation. Orvis has set out to change that. Its new 50/50 campaign has set a target of 50 percent participation by women in fly fishing by 2020.

Leading off with more fishing apparel, wading gear and boots sized for women, and women-specific events, Orvis has made a commitment to match its campaign goals.

I recognize this is enlightened self-interest. More women in fly fishing means more potential sales for Orvis, particularly when their events highlight their gear. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with enlightened self-interest.

Bringing more women into the sport will benefit everyone – gear makers, guide services, lodges, and so on. At the same time, more women in the sport will mean change will be required to accommodate them. Hear that, disheveled tobacco-chewing guides?

Further, more voices for conservation of wild places helps everyone. This is becoming more critical given the current administration’s policies and priorities.

I once got to watch Molly Semenik teach an introduction to fly fishing for women. For those who don’t know her, Molly is on the Casting Board of Governors of Fly Fishers International – the leading organization for certifying casting instructors. I was struck by the difference in terms of how Molly approached teaching versus some sessions I’ve been in taught by men. More voices like Molly’s are needed to continue growing the sport.

This is a great initiative. Well done Orvis.

Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair

One of the great things about fly-fishing is the amazing amount of information there is about fish, the fisheries, and casting. There is always something more to learn.

Books, magazine articles, videos, and knowledgeable friends can provide a good deal of that information. But there is something very special about gatherings where experts share their knowledge in an environment of energy and enthusiasm with large numbers of fly fishers.

Yesterday Puget Sound Fly Fishers provided such a forum at the Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair at Environmental Services Building in University Place. Sponsored by Fly Fishers International (FFI), this was a fun and informative day for those who attended.

Activities included fly-casting instruction, fly tying demonstrations, silent auctions, a local authors table, and vendor and fly shop booths. And then there were the presentations.

The challenge was choosing among the speakers and topics as simultaneous presentations were going on in two rooms. It was an excess of riches.

I chose to attend presentations by Carol Ann Morris, Leland Miyawaki, and April Vokey.

Carol Ann’s presentation was on improving one’s nature and fishing photographs. I believe photography is another area in which there’s always something more to learn.

Given my planned trip to Henry’s Fork in late September, I thought this would be a good refresher. And it was, as Carol showed mistakes in her photographs over the years and how she corrected them. A key tip was not including too much sky when it’s not needed for the focus of the photograph.

Leland of Orvis Bellevue gave another funny presentation on top water fishing for sea run cutthroat trout. I’ve heard him talk about using his popper before, but there was elegance to the way he described how he’s reduced his fishing in his choices in gear and focus on the fish he loves so much. As he said, he works in a fly shop and still basically uses only one rod setup all year.

One thing I was impressed with was when talking about where to go for information on locations, he mentioned both Puget Sound Fly Company and Gig Harbor Fly Shop. Both had booths at the fair and it was a simple but gracious act to recognize them.

And then there was April Vokey’s talk on steelhead.

I had seen photographs and articles about her for years, and had listened to her podcast. But this was the first time I heard her in person. Her talk on steelhead was the most informative I’ve heard. For someone only 34 years old, she’s forgotten more than I will ever know. Her obvious interest in others and her commitment to preservation of the natural world were evident throughout her talk.

She did exact a promise from the audience that when chasing steelhead people should catch two and then call it a day. The days of catching and stressing large numbers of those fish should be long gone as these fisheries are under pressure. The same could be said most fisheries due to population growth, pollution, and climate change.

While a number of the local fly shops conduct events and seminars and there is the annual FFI Fair in Ellensburg, this was the first event of this scope and size in Puget Sound that I can recall. The credit is due to Puget Sound Fly Fishers who planned and staffed the event.

I can only hope given the large numbers who attended yesterday that more events like this will be held in future years.

Fly Fishing The Greater Yellowstone: Lessons Learned

Firehole River Yellowstone National Park

Any experience, or set of experiences, in life will result in memories; hopefully more good than bad. But experience without an opportunity to learn from that experience means

Travel, and most life experiences for that matter, result in memories – hopefully more good than bad. In addition, if we pay attention to what we’ve seen and done, there are lessons to be learned.

Don’t Overlook the Obvious

I spent months working on the itinerary, planning and making reservations for our stays, deciding where to fish rivers; what flies we might need – with some to buy here and others to buy from local shops; which rods to bring (a 5 weight Scott Radian and 6 weight Sage Accel for me; two Reddingtons – a 5 weight and 6 weight for my wife); water temperatures; and last minute weather forecasts to figure out which clothes to bring.

The only thing I didn’t think about was waders.

I use Simms G4Z waders in Puget Sound. Unless it is very hot and midday, I’ve never found them to be too warm. Given those were the only waders I had, I wore them on our first morning on Rock Creek. It took very little time to realize I was overheating. At it hit me at that moment that I had never thought when packing them that they would be too hot for where we were going. I made it through the morning but decided I’d need to buy a lighter pair.

During our stay in Bozeman, I picked up a pair of Patagonia Rio Azul waders at the Orvis dealer, Fins and Feathers They worked great for the rest of the trip. Light and easy on/off, they were a life saver.

Next trip to Yellowstone – unless it’s winter, I’ll leave the Simms G4Zs at home and take the Rio Azuls.

Changing the Paradigm

I watched a fly fisherman while we were on the Henry’s Fork. He was upstream of us and stood in the middle of the river unmoving for what I guess was at least 45 minutes. He then shook his head and moved down and off the river. I got a chance to share a few words with him a bit later and saw that he had a dry fly on a bamboo rod.

During that same time he was standing in the river, my wife and I were swinging nymphs, getting hits and landing a nice Rainbow trout.

The Henry’s Fork has renown as a dry-fly fisherman’s dream. Most people go there with the hopes of catching a rising trout on a dry fly. We did. But when it was apparent there were no hatches underway we switched to nymphs and had a great time.

Perhaps that fly fisherman would rather stand in the river and catch nothing than switch flies and go with a nymph. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There are many people who think of fly fishing as only using dry flies. For me, dries, nymphs, and streamers are all ways of catching fish.

Of course then there’s the flip side.

While we were using nymphs for the entire trip, we basically stuck to a tight line swing. That worked well on the wide easy moving Henry’s Fork, but not on the pocket waters of the Madison and Ruby.

Over the years,I have disdained indicator-type nymphing as clunky casting and as too much like the cane pole and bobber fishing on the first fishing I did as a child in Missouri. But the guy who pulled the 20-inch brown out of the Ruby was using a round indicator as were all his friends.

Eventually I bought some indicators. Being rigid in one’s thinking doesn’t always bring in the fish.

It is What It is

I had first seen someone fly fishing in 1975. It was a cold snowy Sunday in October and I was heading out of Yellowstone on the west side road. In the area of 7 mile, I saw a lone fly fisherman casting in the light snow. That image has stuck with me ever since.

But, in all the years since, I had never gone fly fishing in Yellowstone. Until this year.

And as I recounted in the previous post, it was a bust.The Firehole and Gibbon rivers were already in late summer conditions – too warm for fishing. The Madison was running dirty in high winds.

It was a bit disconcerting. But then again I knew we had other rivers to fish and we were in Yellowstone National Park and I was fly fishing there.

No success is guaranteed. Fly fishing on Puget Sound reflects that. As I once heard it described by Jason Cotta from Orvis Bellevue, “the only thing consistent is the inconsistency.”

Already being back home I smile when I think about how I finally got to fly fish in Yellowstone. There was magic even in that. And it’s only a very long days drive from here.

New Perspectives

This is the first vacation, now more properly termed a trip, since I retired last year. So this was the first time I did not have to return home and dread thinking about returning to a corporate job. And so it’s been possible to savor all the experiences and live with a different sense of time than when one’s return to work with all its overburden of pressures and stress crush the life out of the experiences.

It made me appreciate that this next stage of life has even more rewards.

Northwest Steelhead Primer

Steelhead

Leland Miyawaki, former Fishing Manager of Orvis Bellevue, has written a terrific piece on Northwest Steelhead. Leland discusses how Northwest steelhead are categorized by the years they spend in the ocean before returning to spawn and what gear is needed for each year group. He also discusses fishing tactics and emphasizes the need to be able to cast 80 – 100 feet on the bigger Northwest rivers – a polished double haul is mandatory.

You can read the article here.

Climate Change: A Time to Act

I came across a timely article in Conservation Hawks. Called “A Time to Act”, it was written by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Craig Matthews (Blue Ribbon Flies), Tom Rosenbauer (Orvis), and Todd Tanner (Conservation Hawks). Conservation Hawks is a non-partisan group of hunters and fishers united by a desire to pass on a healthy world for sportsman.

The authors add their voices to the millions of others that see the impact of climate change on our planet. For every one of us, whether as fly fishers or fellow travelers on planet Earth, the time to act is now – both at an individual level by our daily actions as well as by working together to force change.

You can find the article here.

Orvis and Trout Unlimited Partner to Repair Culverts

Many years ago, I was in graduate school, studying water resources (Department of Civil Engineering, Oregon State University). Not having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I wasn’t familiar with the problems of migratory fish – specifically, salmon. A lot of research was going on regarding fish ladders and ways to get the salmon around the dams on the Columbia River drainage basis.

Now these many years later, the problems still exist – not just fish ladders, but culverts that impact fish in rivers and streams across the country.

This year (2014) Trout Unlimited has partnered with Orvis in the 1,000 Miles campaign, the goal of which is to reconnect 1,000 miles of fishable streams by repairing or replacing poorly constructed culverts that have restricted the passage of fish.

This is a worthwhile endeavor that will benefit everyone. You can learn more here.

There’s a nice video that explains the problem and shows a lot of nice footage of streams.

Another benefit of this campaign is that Orvis is matching every donation to Trout Unlimited.

Gink and Gasoline on the New Orvis Marketing

Gink and Gasoline has a new post reflecting on the ways Orvis is changing the way it markets itself. Orvis understands it has an image problem – derided by a good number of critics for many years a “lifestyle company” – and has aggressively set out to reclaim its place as a preeminent fly fishing company.

Orvis has attacked its image problem in two ways. It was the first fly fishing company to use internet marketing and social media. Tom Rosenbauer’s podcasts represent a growing library of tips and information. It has a dedicated web site of instructional videos to help both new and experienced fly fishers. And many of its company stores have active programs of presentations and schools.

At the same time, Orvis has focused both research and development and manufacturing technologies in improving its products (Helios 2 rods and Silver Sonic waders are only two examples).

This is great for the industry overall. When the biggest company in the business starts moving to reposition and market itself, other companies must do likewise. All of us will benefit from the increased competition.

As one example., I’ve observed over the last year that Winston has upgraded its marketing to include a new web site and a Facebook page. In addition, it has recently posted a series of Joan Wulff instructional videos (see here).

You can read the Gink and Gasoline post here.

Sling Packs

The fly fishing vest has been the garment that for decades marked someone as a fly fisher. Originally made of cotton canvas, the short-waisted vest with its many pockets was as distinctive as the fly rod and reel.

Over time, the hot canvas vests gave way to lighter, cooler vests made of nylon fabric or mesh. But for many, the vests were still confining or tended to induce carrying too much for a day’s fishing.

Recent years have seen the increasing use of waist packs or sling packs, with the vest, if still owned, relegated to the back of a closet. I gave mine away.

Most of the gear manufacturers have sling packs. Over the last few years I’ve spent time, and money, trying packs from Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms (pre 2014 models).

I found the Simms pack the least comfortable and useful to me. It was more like a waist pack with a sling, rather than a true sling pack. Simms is revamping their line for 2014 and a true sling pack appears to be coming. From what few pictures I’ve seen it looks rather interesting.

Patagonia’s Stealth Atom Sling is an interesting pack that has good size, a water bottle carrier, drop down hard pocket and a nice waterproof internal sleeve. I liked this pack though it has a few quirks I didn’t care for. There is a small padded pocket on the neck strap that has no utility that I can find – too small for sunglasses or a cell phone. The pack itself has a number of places to clip on forceps and other tools. I like things put away so I don’t knock them off – and have done that with forceps on more than one occasion.

Patagonia Stealth Atom

And that brings me to my current favorite sling pack: the Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack. It has two features I really like and make it stand out for me: it has a sleeve forceps on the neck strap; in addition, there’s a sleeve for pliers on the main bag. Both sleeves are secured with magnetic closures. The pack has two pockets that enable me to carry all that I need and not more. It doesn’t have a water bottle pocket (the large Guide Sling does), but I can work around that. And it doesn’t have a waterproof inner sleeve; I bought a waterproof sleeve and that takes care of that need.

Orvis Sling Pack

Give one of them a try.

A Shared Demo Day – Cooperation as a Model

Puget Sound Fly Company Demo Day

Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.

Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for  American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.

And do you know what sells the most?  The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns.  Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60.  And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.

My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every  $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.

Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop.  Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.

So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.

Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!

But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.

Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.

The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.

So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.

On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma  demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose.  As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.