It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Anglers

A few weeks ago Tim Romano wrote a post on his FlyTalk blog titled Women In Fly Fishing. Tim and I had a brief exchange about the questions he posed in the piece:

Ladies, are you the sole angler in your circle of friends?”

Did your mom teach you how to fish?”

If you don’t fish on a regular basis – why not?”

We agreed it might be an interesting twist if I wrote a response post….oooh, fabulous idea! Sort of like when Kitty Wells sang It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels in response to Hank Thompson’s Wild Side of Life. Overly confident, I was excited to whip up something insightful, sharp and witty.

Just one problem. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

What? I mean, I am a woman. And I fish. I obsess about fishing. I seem particularly well-poised to write about this. But am I a ‘woman in fly fishing’? To tell you the truth, I see myself more as someone who is stumbling through the dark, trying to figure it all out. When it comes to fishing, I’m a work-in-progress.

Nancy So let’s just start with Tim’s questions. Yes, I am the only angler in my close circle of girlfriends. Yes, my mom is an avid angler. The reason I don’t fish on a more regular basis? Uh…PTA meetings, homework, sleepovers, bills, clients. Oh, and running around with my friends – most of whom don’t fish.

People ask me all the time why I love to fly fish. Depending on my mood, I might ramble on about the scenery, the escape, the camaraderie, the challenge. The sport of it. The respect of the fish. Blah blah blah. Other times I just smile and shrug my shoulders.

Hell, I don’t know why I love to fly fish. Do you?

Most addicts have to work a 12-step program to understand why they’re hooked. I’m not willing to give up my fishing addiction anytime soon. So without the soul-searching, self-probing insight of rehab, I just continue to muse awkwardly about the myriad of things I love about it.

I can’t speak for all women anglers, but I think I fish for the same reasons a man does. I like big, fat, feisty fish that fight. Native fish with rich colors and lots of energy. I like searching for them in beautiful, clear, skinny water. I like a bent rod. A cool take. I like hungry, dumb fish – until I catch them, and then I want them to be smart and discerning. I like getting them to eat. Picking the right fly. Even better if it’s dry and small.

cut throat closeup I don’t see a gender gap at the core of fly fishing. Hell, the fish don’t know I’m a girl. But there are palpable differences for women in the experiences that surround the sport. Most are so harmless, they really don’t bear mention. But just for kicks, what do ya say we take a look at a few?

For example, the Flora & Fauna lessons. When you are a woman fishing with a male guide you don’t know very well, he will almost always cover you up in the nature speeches. Now I love an osprey’s nest as much as the next guy, but I really just want to look for fish. And maybe gossip a little.

A friend of mine had the opportunity to guide Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Flathead last summer. Getting into the groove of the day, he offered some fun facts about the mountain range in the background. She responded politely but firmly, “I don’t have a lot of time to fish out here so I don’t need the nature tour. Let’s just find the fish and see what they’re eating.”

Right on Sandy! I like your style darlin.

I’ve met the most wonderful friends in Montana over the years. Men, women, guides, anglers, shop owners, café owners. Some fish. Some don’t. It’s a wonderful community and I am so lucky they welcome me with open arms year after year. And most of the anglers that pass through this summertime fishing town are happy, positive and kind. After all, they’re on vacation doing what they love.

Some of them are just tickled to death to stumble upon a female angler on the banks of the river. Apparently it’s even more exciting than finding an osprey’s nest. If I had a dime for the number of times I’ve heard, “Man I’d like to get you in the front of my boat!” Hardee-har-har. They’re just having fun, I can tell pretty quickly if they’re being nice or being an ass.

A few are flat-out incensed by my presence and ask, “What exactly are you doing here?” If I say I’m just out to fish, some just ignore me, like I’m not supposed to be crashing their boys trip by eating in the same restaurant. Others don’t believe me. They’ll start testing me with condescending questions that I know they know the answers to. “What kind of fish are in this river? What are you catching them on? A hopper? What’s a hopper? Do we get to eat these fish?”

The good news is I have no ego that drives me to respond to any of this banter. It is interesting that they go to such lengths to start a conversation with me, just to be rude. I suppose it’s the middle-aged-man’s version of pulling my pigtails in class. But I don’t care if they think I’m clueless, I’m not competitive. I pretty much thrive on a healthy mix of high standards and low expectations.

IMG_1615 I do, however, get annoyed when they bring it to the river. I go out of my way to give other boats plenty of space. Plenty! But some guys see me rowing my mother and my daughter and think our water is fair game. They see three ponytails and have no problem cruising over to low-hole me, while my mother is casting to rising fish off the front of the boat. Now that pisses me off.

Of course I won’t say anything — another difference between men and women. I’m too scared they’d yell back at me.

It’s funny that men are so intrigued by a female angler. I meet a lot of women who fish! I have a few girlfriends in MT who are amazing anglers, some are guides. I love being on the water with them, very chill and lots of laughs. But there are other women who don’t IMG_0427 want anything to do with female anglers. They would sooner gnaw off their arm than have a conversation with me about fishing. I think they just like the attention of being a girl in the boys’ club. So they only want to fish with the boys. Talk shop with the boys.

That attitude is insane to me. Never trust a woman who doesn’t have female friends.

But the mildly annoying people in the world of fishing are the exception, not the rule. Over the years, I have met incredible people and dear, dear friends. There is a passion and a generosity of spirit in this sport that transcends all else. I marvel at how much I’ve learned from anglers that hail from so many different places – people I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

After my divorce, fishing became a mirror of my quickly-changing life. At first it reflected a harsh blinding light, bouncing right off the water and straight into my eyes. I realized how much my ex-husband had handled on these fishing trips. I’d been doing this a long time but I didn’t have a clue. So I started asking more questions. Tying my own knots. Wading out in the water by myself.

I began wandering around the flyshop parking lot looking for an open spot in someone’s boat. Like I was in a ski lift line shouting, “Single!” That got me in a few pickles so I had to learn to row myself. I’m inherently quite lazy, so I’ve surprised myself at the lengths I will go to. I will get up early, stay on the water til dark, bring all the beer, sleep in a tent, drive near, drive far, trade in frequent flyer miles, tap out my vacation days, quit my job….anything it takes to fish.

IMG_0745 cropped To tell you the truth, very little about this sport has come naturally to me. I soak up information wherever I can. I eavesdrop in flyshops. I pay attention when guides compare notes about their day on the water. I scour your blogs and read your magazine articles. I am so incredibly grateful for each and every one of you who has reached out, welcomed me to the conversation, or even just allowed me to listen-in for a spell.

I’ve always had a ton of girlfriends who’ve been like sisters to me. But fly fishing has given me a whole mess of brothers! I love it. Brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins. Maudlin as it may sound, it’s become an extended family. Like a good ole honky tonk bar, you never know if you’re going to be greeted with a grunt or smile. But the beer is cold, the jukebox is on and the neon sign lures you in just the same.

I suppose that is why I love to fly fish. To be a part of this wonderful, diverse, dysfunctional, passionate family. I didn’t plan on delivering such a sappy response to Tim’s blogpost, but what can I say? I guess I’m just a girlie girl at heart. A girlie girl who loves to fish.

And on a good day…a girlie girl who can really stick ‘em.

16 Responses to “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Anglers”
  1. Having two daughters; one with a masters degree in engineering and the other a firefighter who flys around in helicopters and likes nothing better than wielding around a large chainsaw; I say to you – well said and a life well lived. You have a lucky daughter.

  2. Thanks Travelwriter!! What a lovely thing to say, and much appreciated.I’m the lucky one to be sure…Cheers.

  3. Kentucky Jim says:

    I have a seventeen, soon to be eighteen year-old daughter. One day a year or so ago she turned to me and said “Dad…can you teach me how to cast a fly rod”. I got this warm fuzzy feeling inside of me, and understood why I love my daughter so much. She knows how to get her way with me. I mean, she has some class about it; not just, “Dad, buy me some clothes…”.

    Yeah, liked your essay on fly fishing women on the water…a lot. Geeeeez-us, woman!

    See ya on the river sometime.

  4. Alabama flygirl says:

    FFC…I couldn’t have said it any better myself!! I don’t think it was sappy at all. I agree with Travelwriter…lil Chick has one cool mom!!

  5. KY Jim — sounds like you’ve got a pretty cool bird on your hands! your daughter sounds wonderful. makes me hopeful for the teenage years that are closer than I think. thanks for sharing that story!

    AL Flygirl — as always, love hearing from you! here’s hoping we will cross paths on the water someday…

  6. Jim@FFO says:

    Interesting post,
    I recently saw a video done by Mark Gungor on the differences between women and mens brains. Don’t know much about him but see a clip here( While the explanation is coarse (and funny), the end result gives you insight into both sides. He even uses fishing in part of the bit, but not in a nice way.
    FFC, if you like to fish, I say let your freak flag fly. Until recently, I never gave much thought as to why I fish but I’d imagine the reason’s aren’t gender specific. I like the perfect Zen moment of the strike where you think about nothing else but the hit. Sounds hokey, but see if you can actually remember what you were thinking about the next time a fish hits your fly/spoon/pellet. Usually, it’s nothing and you still end up with a big-ass smile on your face. Pretty freakin’ Zen if you ask me ;-)

  7. Adolfo says:

    Hello FlyFishChick,I really enjoyed your post.The reason I’m addicted to fly fishing is that I can feel every run a fish makes dowm my arm.The fight of any fish on a flyrod is priceless!I fish for bass and perch alot with a 3wt.But this year I’m going to join GRTU and fish hard for trout this winter!I’m not the best caster by any means,but I catch my share of fish.More people need to give flyfishing a try and not be intimidated by others.I’m happy for you and your daughter that you fly fish as a family.Continue being the mother you are and have fun in Montana in June!Fish hard or stay home!

  8. Glista says:

    Great read FFC! Perhaps I am looking at this from a mans perspective but one of the differences I see between men and women, especially in fly fishing, is that men will use brute force to solve a problem were women will use skill. For proof of this go ask Joan Wulff, one of the worlds greatest fly casters.

  9. ijsouth says:

    This post really got me thinking, because I’m approaching it from the other side of the fence. I’m a single father of three daughters, one 13 and the other two will be 8 in a few weeks. While I have been fishing all my life, I became addicted to small-stream trout fishing, particularly for brookies, a few years ago. Now, we routinely make 700 mile trips up to the Smokies to feed our addictions…notice I said OUR. My girls like it as much, or perhaps more, than I do. My oldest has really taken to it, and handles casting quite well. Her siblings are still a bit young, but they seem to handle mine fine when I give them a chance – this next trip, they’ll try it solo. From what I’ve seen, I actually think they do better with fly fishing than other forms of casting…maybe it is a manual dexterity issue – I’ve read where women have superior manual dexterity to men. What has really surprised me is the fact that they really enjoy this sort of fishing – we go after wild fish, in brutal casting conditions (tight canopies, etc). This isn’t jerking perch down at your local pond, but they’ve really taken to it. Perhaps our kids are capable of a lot more than we think.

  10. thx for all the great comments! the feedback is so appreciated.

    jim ffo — especially love your term “freakin’ Zen”…and I will definitely continue to let the “freak flag fly”…classic

    adolfo — you’ll love the grtu program!! good group, nice crowd and very helpful

    glista — I’m with you, joan wulff is a goddess. when my cast starts deteriorating the first thing I do is start muscling it as hard as I can. result is utter disaster. then I have to channel my Inner Joan…picture her screen door analogy…slow things down. it’s a constant process for me. she breaks it down better than anyone

    ijsouth– keep those girls fishing! that’s awesome. my dad had me hunting at age 9. am more into the fishing now but certainly had early appreciation/love for the outdoors.

  11. courtneyw says:

    as a fellow (albeit very very novice)angler…i can attest to proposals on the river/creek in NC and other places, and find it funny and strange at the same time. having sung those very songs with you in MT – I have to say this post made me love you even more…what a gift you are. keep up the wonderful writing – it makes my day. love court

  12. Thanks Court! love you too doll. my next post is dedicated to you, the original spoon casting vixen. Oh you know what I’m talking about…

  13. courtneyw says:

    oooooohhhhhh the spoon cast – what a guide fantasy i had/have…so precious…and it helped my cast so double benefits as I have hooked many since – what a hottie

  14. JustFlyBob says:

    What a great website! Your posts are funny, insightful and inspired. Yeah, and even though I’m a guy, I know what you mean by the brute force stuff. I liken it to fly fishing vs. hard core baitcasters. I primarily fish the upper stretches of the McKenzie River now in Central Oregon, and the lack of courtesy on the river can surely get my dander up. I can be wading 60 yds downstream from some guys sitting on a bank and STILL have them hook me or my line on a constant basis. I mean, really. Do you need to troll a 20lb rig 60 yds downstream when the fish are right in front of your nose?

    But then I watch an couple of Opsrey dive for their dinner (and the nest’s) and all is well with the world.

    Besides, I always catch the bigger and fatter fish! :-)

    Keep up the good work and maybe I’ll see you in Montana sometime. I’ll be the guy with the Filson hat, wraparound shades and a sh*t eatin’ grin

  15. John Salamon says:

    Great site, witty, informative, entertaining, but most important it has huge fish!

    Fresh Water Lures

  16. Papa says:

    My partner (Mama in my blogs) is my favorite person to be fishing with….she’s just so awesome across the board…

    But, Diana Rudolph is pretty cool too….

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