An industry nod to the small but growing market of female fly fishing outerwear.
Several years ago, the sight of a female angler hip deep in a river would have been the source of much barside chatter that night.
"She had a fly rod in her hand, you say? And was casting? Inconceivable . . ."
Spending the season working in a well-reputed fly shop on the banks of the Missouri River in Craig, Montana, I've seen a bit of this attitude firsthand. There are clients who ask to be helped by a man, and others who look askance at me when I offer to load a new line on their reel.
In a fly shop where three members of the lead staff are female, men might want to rethink that attitude. Especially considering the odds are quite high that two of those females—myself excluded—can probably fish circles around many of the customers.
And while even on the Missouri the sight of a woman fly fishing still draws a bit of attention, the locals are used to seeing ponytailed fly fishers out casting in the evening light. The little fishing village of Craig seems to be relatively savvy to the anomaly of having female anglers in the area.
Women who fly fish have always faced a problem when it comes to gear. For years, we have squeezed into men's waders, often battling the straight-cut designs seemingly made for 20-something male fishing guides with the physiques of long-distance runners. We've shopped in vain for wading boots, hoping to find some extra-small size that somehow mysteriously made its way into the shop. And we've bundled up in button-down shirts big enough that we could add a belt, and make a cute dress.
Across the world, manufacturers, guides, and lodges are discovering that fly-fishing women are a significant, untapped market. Women-only retreats are popping up at lodges, and guides are brushing up on their skills with female clients. I've talked to more than one guide this summer who was excited to fish with female clients that day because they "tend to listen better than the dudes."
One of the most important changes we have seen for women in the fly-fishing industry, however, comes in the soft goods department. While hard goods such as rods and reels are now coming in versions specifically tailored to women, female anglers agree they are most excited to simply have a pair of waders that fit.
In the past, women settled for men's waders, often cut far too straight for a woman's figure, and too long for anyone under 5'8".
Wading boot have similar problems. Most men's boots start at a size 8, which is too large for most women. Heavy wool socks were donned in enough layers so as to resemble a podiatric tiramisu, and the entire business was neither very comfortable nor very supportive.
Women shopped around for small sizes in lightweight, sun-protecting fishing apparel, hoping to find a lightweight sun shirt in a rare extra-small, or a pair of pants that were cut to accommodate a female figure. We had resigned ourselves to baggy shirts and shapeless silhouettes, taking comfort in the fact that, hey, at least it kept the sun off our backs.
I know more than one woman who tried fly fishing and decided not to pursue it due to the fact they could not find anything "suitable to wear." Perhaps that is another matter entirely. Luckily, a plucky group of women remained in the industry, despite the ill-fitting outerwear.
And finally the industry responded. What started as a trickle of women-specific soft goods has now morphed into a mini industry of its own. The sport discovered a new market of enthusiastic fly fishers who also like to shop. As women, we shop and we spend money. It's not a gender stereotype. It's true. Now, thanks to some ingenuity and attention from the fly-fishing industry, we have a growing selection of sport-specific gear to spend our money on.
Simms, Patagonia, Redington, and Orvis all unveiled new waders for women in late 2013, and now nearly every major fishing equipment company offers women's waders and wading boots. Some companies are even taking it a step further by offering different fits for women's waders, similar to how you would buy jeans in a boutique. Redington's Siren Waders are a good example of this, with waders in shapes dubbed Marilyn and Kate.
Casual clothing soon followed, and now we can buy sun shirts with princess seaming, and a cut appealing enough to wear out to dinner after a day on the river. Quick-dry pants accommodate our curves, and some even offer feminine detailing such as embroidery or pockets lined with a floral fabric.
Well-outfitted female fly fishers also need accessories, and the industry has not left us wanting in this department either. We are seeing a greater offering of appealing footwear that retains a feminine vibe while performing as well as the guys' gear.
Sun masks, gloves, and hats now come in sizes to fit our smaller statures and in an array of colors that would catch the attention of any fashionista. Vests, packs, and even luggage come in equipment-friendly designs and female-friendly colors.
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Columbia Ultimate Chill II Long Sleeve Shirt $90
Historically I am not a big fan of technical fishing shirts, but this one made me change my tune. This lightweight, stretchy, long-sleeve shirt has Columbia's sweat-activated cooling technology. The fit is trim and feminine, while the fabric's stretch allows for range of motion. The Ultimate Chill II kept me comfortable and happy during long summer days on the water, and the stand-up sun collar is actually tall enough to make a difference. The coral and blue colors are lovely and light enough be comfortable in hot weather. columbia.com
Check out Fly Fisherman's review and insider video on this product! Columbia Ultimate Chill II Long Sleeve Shirt
Fishpond Chica $140
With adjustable straps and a feminine cut, it's clear Fishpond has put effort into the Chica Women's Vest. A total of nine interior and exterior pockets offers a home for everything from fly boxes to lunch. A large back pouch allowed me to easily bring along extra layers, and fleece-lined handwarmer pockets hold the promise of more comfortable cold-weather fishing. As with all things Fishpond, attractive colors and Western detailing make this a cute vest with big personality. fishpondusa.com
Orvis Silver Sonic Convertible-Top Waders $260
Comfortable and easy to move in, these convertibles give you options in warm weather. SonicSeam Technology ensures there are no bulky seams to rub in awkward places, and a flip-out interior pocket offers a secure place for valuables. The fabric is light, and packs down smaller than some competitors — important for ladies who travel. Orvis nailed the fit here — these are the best-fitting waders I've tried, and together with the convertible top, made these my favorite of all the women's waders I tested this year. orvis.com
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards
Redington Siren Boots $140
Redington added crushed walnut shells to the sticky rubber soles of these boots, ensuring a grippy experience in tenuous conditions. An expanded sole provides stability, and leather/woven nylon uppers provide good ankle support. The fit and weight of these boots reminded me of my favorite gym shoes. redington.com
Simms G3 Waders $500
The 2014 version of the women's G3 waders uses the new, more breathable, 5-layer Pro Shell Gore-Tex through the legs. The women-specific cut has a higher chest for both better comfort and coverage, and both front and rear leg seaming contours to the female form for a fitted yet flexible silhouette. The little bit of blue trim adds some color for a subtle, feminine look. simmsfishing.com
Simms Solarflex Hoody $50
Offered in both a hoody and a crewneck for 2014, Solarflex has also seen a fabric update this year. Simm's COR3 fabric technology is wicking and antimicrobial, boasting a UPF of 50. A longer body and finger loops offer protection for sunny days on the water. Working with a shop crew who can't seem to wear anything but Solarflex shirts in the heat of the summer, I've seen these shirts put through the ultimate test. They offer superb sun protection and are comfortable in the heat, but the fabric seems a bit susceptible to snagging. The subtle prints and new colors will be a welcome addition to my closet. simmsfishing.com
Patagonia Spring River Wader $400
Patagonia has redesigned their women's waders for 2014 and brought several innovations to the market. EZ-Lock suspenders are mounted at the waist and allow for quick conversion from waist to chest waders, and they also unclip to allow for a quick drop-seat feature — those riverside rest stops just became much more pleasant. The fit is trim but allows free movement, and as I often fish with groups of rowdy guys, the drop seat feature makes river life far easier. The waders are comfortable at full height, or worn at the waist, and the wool-lined neoprene booties were surprisingly cool and comfortable even on warmer days. A flip-out dry bag mounted inside the chest provides a safe haven for my cell phone and an extra camera battery. patagonia.com
Redington Siren Waders $220
These waders come in two different fits — the Marilyn and the Kate. While the references may slip past the guys, ladies will be able to use them as a guide to finding their perfect fit. Neoprene gussets on the upper wader ensure comfort for any chest size. The neoprene booties on this wader were the most fitted of any I tried, preventing those annoying bumps and scrunched areas in my boot. The waders themselves seem to fit loosely, and while I prefer a bit more fitted silhouette to my waders, many women will enjoy the slouchy, comfy fit. redington.com
Over the past season I have helped scores of ladies—many who had previously resigned themselves to men's wear—find women's waders and other items they were absolutely delighted with. In fact, the shop I work at finds female shoppers to be such important consumers that we have an entire corner dedicated just to women's clothing and accessories, including outdoor scarves, sunglasses, and women's packs.
Color plays an important part in the shopping experience as well. It seems a product is far more likely to sell if it's offered in a vibrant purple or a fresh coral.
Comfort is another factor to consider. We are tactile creatures, and far more likely to buy a shirt if the fabric is soft and comfy—something we can envision wearing all day in the drift boat. Fit and function run hand-in-hand. Sleeves that don't drape over our hands allow for easier casting, and fitted waders offer fewer edges for stripped line to be caught upon.
Fly fishing is a changing industry. It always has been. And with a strong influx of women into our sport, we can expect to see a greater selection of products tailored to our special needs, desires, and tastes. After all, it's a lot more fun to be out on the water if you can look good and be comfortable doing it.
Jessica McGlothlin is a freelance writer and photographer who lives wherever her work takes her. She is currently finishing a documentary project on Craig, Montana, and the Missouri River. Her website is firegirlphotography.com