Women in waders

I am a huge enthusiast of women fly fishing. I met my wife fly fishing and some of the happiest days we spend each summer are when the three of us (my daughter has likewise been inculcated) head for the river.


It must be said, and I know they will admit to this, that there has to be some ‘bribe’. If I simply pose the question ‘Shall we go fishing’ the take up will be poor. So I have become a little cunning, dressing up the day with an incentive of a post-fishing lunch at a good pub.


For those of you who wish to adopt this strategy I’d advise lunch rather than supper; afternoon departures are inevitably kyboshed by events. In general don’t expect to get them back onto the river after lunch and don’t delay lunch. My wife once became so infuriated by a particular fish I refused to leave uncaught that she snuck up behind me to lob a rock in the river. I took the point.


All this came to mind when I read an article in the New York Times last week that said women are now the fastest (and only) growing demographic in fly-fishing. My business ears pricked up. I went on to read that in an extract from a recent study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation it was that said women make up about 31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly fish.  In 2016, more than two million women participated in the sport, an increase of about 142,000 from the previous year. The aim of the survey is to promote the fly fishing industry goal of gender balance by 2020 with an equal proportion of men and women participating.


At that point I scratched my head: 31% of fly fishers are women? I found it hard to believe. When we fish the One Fly in Jackson Hole no more than ten of the one hundred and sixty competitors are ever women and of the eighty guides maybe two are women. If I scoured the Fishing Breaks database I think I’d struggle to do any better than one in twenty. In the dim distant past I seemed to recall the UK mix said to be one to twelve. As this story took traction on social media the figure of 24% women for the UK became common currency, quoting an Environment Agency lifestyles survey from 2010. I still wasn’t convinced so I dug it out. This was a market research survey that polled 2800 people to discover how often people went fishing, what motivated them to go fishing and what might encourage them to go more often.


The first thing that struck me as odd about the poll was that the respondents were 51% women and 49% men. In a male dominated sport that would certainly skew the data but in itself it didn’t seem to explain the discrepancy so I turned to Dr. Bruno Broughton who is the expert in this field. It seems I wasn’t alone in spotting the oddity the problem lying not in the answer but the way in which the question was framed. Broughton explains:


“The 2010 survey repeated the phraseology used in previous surveys: “Have You Been Fishing…?” Females who accompanied males but didn’t actually use a rod-and-line referred to themselves as anglers because “we” went angling.  In other words, about one in four male anglers went fishing with a female at some stage in the period covered by the survey.”


So nearly all those 24% (there are of course some female anglers) considered that they had ‘gone fishing’ even though they never held the thick end of the rod. It seems that once this discrepancy is factored in the split reflects a 2006 survey that comes back to the rather depressing 5/95% figure.


I guess it is not all bad news. There has to be hope that if a quarter of partners are willing to come along it is surely a short step to actually have them fish themselves and likewise the children as well. Quite how you make that conversion I am not sure but I suspect the most effective strategies will lie at fishery level. Two for ones, family days and those sort of things. Abolishing the rod licence would help. The Environment Agency is already boasting that there has been an increase in participation by children after 12-16 year olds were exempted. It is short step of logic to say that this would apply to all society groups.


In the United States the focus, to quote the NY Times is on, “outreach events to educate women on gear choices, selection and function; plan classes to build skills and confidence on the water; and arrange mentoring opportunities for future female guides, shop employees and industry leaders.” All good stuff. Similar things have been happening here so I’m sure with the combined US/UK push we will see women with a higher profile in fly fishing and better served in stores.


But all that said I think that if we really want to move the needle it is probably incumbent on all of us who fly fish today to play our part. I am sure there are plenty of spouses out there who’d be willing to give fly fishing a try given encouragment, though I’ll give you a heads up: a fly rod to the uninitiated rarely makes for a romantic Christmas gift! On the other hand to a child or grandchild it is a whole different story – the promise of an adventure with those you love most.






Sincere apologies for the hassles with trying to see CHALK in the first 48 hours of release. I didn’t help things by announcing four hours ahead of the official launch (sorry) and then we had techie problems.
I can’t pretend I understand how or what went wrong, but it did and your frustrations are understandable. However, all is resolved and thank you for all the glowing reviews that have since arrived at my Inbox.


So, if you’d like to watch CHALK click this link and follow the instructions to register with FishingTV. If you are still having difficulties do ping me an email. There isn’t a problem we haven’t been able to resolve yet!
If you’d like to see CHALK ‘live’ as it were, I am hosting a special screening as part of the One Fly Festival on April 26th & 27th. The Thursday showing is now sold out but tickets are available for the Friday. Book here ……






They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; at the weekend I felt the adage tested me.


I took a trip to Rosebourne, a new style of home store that specialises in local and fresh produce in which one of our neighbours in Nether Wallop has an interest. Maybe two Saturdays out from Christmas wasn’t the wisest day of the year for a first foray, but it was good to see the car park full and the store packed.


Wandering around I alighted on the drinks section which has all sorts of unusual brands and a local cider caught my eye. Well, it would. It was called Meon Valley Cider and comes in three varieties.


The dry has a damsel fly label. The medium dry called and with a brown trout label. And the medium, styled cool as a chalkstream, had an idyllic river scene on the label.


‘Gosh, how lovely.’ I thought. And then I did a double take. It was the cover from Life of a Chalkstream, with a few details altered.


I am not sure whether to be enraged or flattered. Watch this space.


PS You will not find the Life of a Chalkstream in hardback in the shops any longer. It sold out the print run. However I do have a stash if you’d like a copy. Buy here ….





Congratulations to Sgt Kev Kelly who was named Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year at the Wildlife Crime Conference last month. His ‘beat’ is North Yorkshire with 21 wildlife crime officers under his control.  So in that vein, three questions. As ever it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.


1)    When was hunting with hounds banned in England and Wales? A) 1994  B) 1998  C)2004


2)    What is the punishment provided under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for shooting a hawk in England or Wales?


3)    When was bear baiting banned in England? A) 1735  B) 1835  C) 1935



Happy Christmas shopping!



Best wishes,


Simon Cooper simon@fishingbreaks.co.uk

Founder & Managing Director




Quiz answers:


1)    2004

2)    An unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment or both

3)    1835 and then soon after across the Empire.

About lifeofachalkstream

I am a professional fly fisherman, fishing guide and author living in a restored water mill in Hampshire. I write a bi-weekly blog charting the oddities and events that come my way living life on a river. In 2014 Harper Collins published my first book Life of a Chalkstream and in 2017 the next will be out, this time about the otters who share my life at the mill.
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