Much has been written about the role of women in fly fishing over the ages, and much more has been forgotten over time. Women have always fished and have made many notable contributions to advancing the art and practice of the sport around the world. The record of many early pioneering women fly fishers of the early days would be lost without the photos, prints, and postcards rescued by collectors from the stream of time. What can we learn from the women and the memories captured in these images?
Before the 1920s, it was common for men and women to fish and hunt together, as one can see from this photograph of a British fishing party.
In the U.K. and around the world, it has been documented in the record books that women have landed some of the largest Atlantic salmon. There is even a theory that female pheromones help attract the male fish and most of the record salmon have been males.
While fighting her great fish, Georgina challenged her skeptical father to buy her a new frock when she landed the beast. In the end, she triumphed on both scores.
Fly fishing prints depicting women fly fishing featured stylish attire of the time, including fishing hats and fine creels for their catch.
Sometimes, women were employed to promote tackle for some of the tackle retailers and manufacturers. The real picture postcard on the left was clearly the progenitor for the advertising trade card on the right.
Fly fishing was depicted as a glamorous outdoor activity in this magazine cover from the gilded age of publishing in 1913.
This German fly fishing print from the 1930s carries through the glamorous depiction of the sport and its appeal as a healthy outdoor activity.
Women have also been inventing and tying flies since the beginning. Mary Orvis Marbury in Vermont wrote the landmark American book Favorite Flies, bringing fly patterns together from all over the country. With the advent of commercial fly tying at Orvis and companies like the Percy Tackle Company in Maine, women often tied most of the flies. In fact, in terms of overall fly production, women have probably tied more flies than men.
In additional to commercial production, many notable women also contributed to the evolution of fly design and created and tied innovative new patterns, including Carrie Stevens of Maine, whose streamer fly patterns were both novel and beautiful.
One of the best salmon fly tiers in the world was Megan Boyd of Brora, Scotland, who tied flies for over fifty years.
Woman fly anglers continue to bring great energy, innovation and art to our sport while an appreciation of their sporting heritage is a work in progress.
Photo Credits: Photos from Mj FitzGerald Collection and Fly Fishing Treasures Book by Steve Woit
About Mj FitzGerald: Mj is an adventurous and accomplished flyfisher and a member of many fishing associations and of the angling clubs founded for women, including the International Women Fly Fishers, the Delaware Valley Women Fly Fishers, the Chesapeake Women Anglers and others. She has also served on the board of the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association. She is a graduate of the Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures guide school in Montana, co-founded and run by Lori-Ann Murphy, the first woman to be named an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing guide.
About Steve Woit: Steve Woit is the author of the book Fly Fishing Treasures. The book includes 30 interviews with leading antique fly fishing tackle collectors, experts, museum and club curators, and auctioneers as well as over 800 color photographs. He has been fly fishing for 40 years and collecting antique tackle and rare gut-eyed salmon flies for over thirty years.
You can learn more about Fly Fishing Treasures here.