Fly fishing has been deemed by many as a male-dominated sport, but just over 40 women gathered to defy that notion at an event held at Chesebrough Park on Saturday.
The event, organized by the Santa Clarita Casting Club, featured classes on fly and knot tying, entomology, stream safety etiquette, equipment, conservation and casting.
Teaching one of the classes was internationally renowned fisher Kesley Gallagher, who holds 17 International Fly Game Fish Association records and two pending world records. Gallagher believes that fly fishing can take women out of their comfort zone and that more women who take up the craft can help change the landscape of the sport.
“It’s important for women to get out there, get out of their comfort zone,” said Gallagher. “Too often in the workplace we’re told, ‘You gotta push yourself, take risks, etc.’ So get outside your comfort zone, take up a beautiful sport like fly fishing and get out on the river.”
Since she was a young girl, Gallagher said she’s always been the type of person who wasn’t afraid of very much and hopes her fishing career can be an inspiration to other women to do something they’re not familiar with, or find daunting.
Leigh Ann Swanson, a casting instructor at the event, grew up fly fishing — her grandfather and father were both anglers. She said the sport suits women well for a number of reasons.
“It suits women really well, just the meditative and restorative qualities of it,” said Swanson. “I mean, women have stressful lives, too — so they need someplace to go and escape and have fun and think about something other than real life. So it’s a great resource for women.”
While the serenity of the locations in which the sport takes place often gives flyfishers a stereotype — although not unfounded and a positive one — of being calm, patient, friendly and eager to teach or help, these places can also have an element of danger to them.
Swanson said that, when she was 3 years old, her father would tie a rope around her waist as she waded so she wouldn’t be swept away by the current. But, being taught how to be fearless, with respect for the forces of nature, gave her confidence in herself and, she believes, it can do the same for others who take it up.
“I think it’s great that more and more women are getting into it, that some more women feel comfortable to go out and do things in the outdoors and feel self-sufficient … our goal is to make women self-sufficient — in this and whatever they do, so they can go out there and feel secure … At least that’s how I feel about it,” said Swanson.
For Swanson, the awe-inducing qualities of where she fishes make her feel spiritually fulfilled as well.
“The environments that it takes me to, which are beautiful, kind of off the beaten path. A lot of times you get to see a lot of wildlife. And not just moose and deers, but wildflowers and lakes and that kind of thing,” said Swanson. “For me outdoors is where I feel closest to God.”
While it was for Swanson, fly fishing and the joys of it don’t have to provide religious fulfillment, but can have a swath of other benefits. “Meditative” and “restorative” were two common adjectives used to describe fly-fishing.
Swanson said when she taught veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she noticed that “everything else around them disappears.”
This very common realization among anglers has manifested in another trait — being conservation-minded. This was something event organizers wanted to make certain was taught and emphasized at the event.
“Most women who actually take up the sport, they become more independent (and) they become conservation-minded,” said Swanson.
“Fly fishing, teaching people fly fishing, is no use if you don’t have fish to fly fish for, or beautiful places around the world to go to,” said Gallagher. “So when you combine travel, the spirit of being outdoors, you start to take an appreciation of the rest of the world and you start to understand conservation and why it’s so important.”
Christine Borrayo, an attendee of the event, said she liked the idea of the event being tailored specifically for women because it can often be intimidating to ask about things from men.
“I think some women who may want to learn are sort of intimidated. I guess you you kind of align it with the idea of someone that maybe didn’t grow up in a sports family that thinks football looks fun, but they’re not going to ask a guy, ‘Show me how that works,’ or ‘What’s that rule mean?’” said Borrayo. “You just kind of avoid things like that sometimes. I think having classes that are specifically aimed for women gets a lot of people out here.”
Event organizers said while the classes were the only ones available, there are several fishing groups for women throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
“There are a lot of groups around the country now like United Women on the Fly and they connect through social media, and they meet up in places,” said Gallagher. “So it’s a great camaraderie because they can get a bunch of women together who are new to the sport but then are learning together.”