Meet four women who are changing the face of fly fishing and inspiring more female anglers to get out on the water.
In 2017, the popular rod and tackle manufacturer Orvis launched the 50/50 On the Water program aimed at addressing inequality in the sport of fishing. The sudden spotlight called out stark gender disparities on the water. And rightfully so: According to a 2017 “Special Report on Fishing” released by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and the Outdoor Foundation, women make up only roughly 30 percent of the fly fishing community. That means there’s a long way to go to achieve equality in the sport. But for the following four Colorado women, bridging that gap is more than just a passion, it’s part of the job.
Fly-Fishing Guide, Instagram Influencer, Advocate
In the 2017 report the RBFF revealed that nearly 34 percent of males thought that a fishing participant would look like them, while just 19.3 percent of women thought the same. Perceptions of what a typical angler looks like have always skewed towards men in the male-dominated industry, but fly fishing guide and Instagram sensation Maddie Brenneman is changing all of that.
At 27 years-old, Brenneman has already made quite a name for herself in the sport of fly fishing. For the past three years, the young guide has been heading up the fishing program at the historic C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado—a job she recently left to join the team of guides at the 520-acre North Fork Ranch on the South Platte River. But if you’re one of the 105,000 people that follow her on Instagram, you probably know Brenneman as a globe-trotting nomad sharing stories (and gorgeous photos by her photographer boyfriend Nick Kelley) of fly fishing-inspired adventures all over the world. Social media has the potential to be a powerful tool when it comes to changing gender perceptions in the sport since it widely distributes images of women out casting in beautful locations and posing with big fish. Brenneman is one of a handful of female anglers who have amassed huge social media followings in recent years, giving women a new face to pair with the perception of what the typical angler looks like.
“I never imagined that I could travel to fly fish somewhere and make a living,” says Brenneman who has also partnered with big brands including Yeti and Buff in her career.
Although the spotlight has spawned pressure to be the best, Brenneman remains humble.
“Some days I can figure the river out, and sometimes I can’t. I make good casts and I make terrible casts, all in the same day. I catch big fish and I catch little fish, sometimes I don’t catch any fish at all, because that’s fly fishing.”
Her advice to fishing-curious women: “A rod is a rod, and an expensive rod means nothing if you don’t know how to fish with it. Avoid expensive gear to start and invest in a guide that can teach you.”
CEO/Founder of SaraBella Fishing
When April Archer first started building custom fly rods with ergonomically comfortable grips to fit a variety of hands, she ultimately had one goal in mind: “to help people get outdoors, get out on the water and have fun in the wilderness,” she says. But her efforts quickly rippled throughout her community in the Denver Metro Area, and eventually trickled down to elementary schools in the state where she volunteers her time educating kids about the benefits of fishing.
“Fly fishing is a wonderful way to teach kids and young girls about focus, having fun, science—including entomology and physics, how the water moves—and about weather patterns, fish species and the cycle of life,” says Archer, a mother of three young girls.
Growing up in an outdoorsy family, Archer remembers always being drawn to fishing, with her passion for the sport and its intricacies beginning at a young age. “I got my first fishing pole when I was 18 months old,” she says. But like many women in the sport, Archer truly became an avid fly angler when she met her husband JT, who currently serves as the Chief Operations Officer at SaraBella, the brand that builds fly rods especially for women and girls that she founded in 2014. Today, she continues to volunteer her time to organizations like Colorado Women Flyfishers where she helps connect and educate women interested in the sport.
While Archer plans to continue to promote the kind of “smart, beautiful fishing” that her brand is known for, her larger goal is to help the landscape of the sport to change as her daughters grow older. “I hope they continue to get outside and to use fly fishing and outdoor sports as a way to stay healthy, enjoy life and gain perspective,” she says. “I also hope that for them, everyone is just an ‘angler’ later in life.”
Her favorite place to fish in Colorado: “I love fishing urban ponds and urban creeks, like South Boulder Creek through the city of Boulder, and Bear Creek just west of Morrison. The main clues to look for when finding a good urban fishing spot are bird life, insect activity and water flow or oxygen bubbles.”
Freelance Communications Specialist
Fly fishing runs in Kara Armano’s blood—but so does protecting the land we fish on. “Fishing was a way to spend time with my family,” says Durango-based Armano, who works as a freelance communications specialist with big name fishing brands like Redington and Sage. She touts her grandmother as being one of the biggest inspirations in her passion for the outdoors. “She always made it clear that it was important to take time out and absorb your surroundings. Just being observant and taking your time watching where you walk and seeing what there is out there. I think that always resonated with my exploratory nature,” Armano says.
That connection to nature led Armano to a position co-leading advocacy and educational efforts at Artemis (artemis.nwf.org), a new initiative from the National Wildlife Federation that encourages female outdoor enthusiasts to be the complete “sportswoman.” Armano describes that moniker as “somebody who can go out there and see these wild places for what they are, and then come back to civilization and communicate what those places and that wildlife means to you.”
Since she spends so much time on the front lines of the women’s gear revolution in the fly fishing industry, Armano is happy to see growth and development happening in female-specific fly fishing gear, but she encourages women and all consumers to support conservation efforts and protect public lands vis a vis smart gear choice. “It’s important to do a little research on the front-end of who that brand is,” she says. “What does [a certain company] support? What do they communicate through their marketing messages? What non-profits do they support through funding, time or donations, or whatever that may be? See if that aligns with your idealism in terms of what that conservation message should be.”
Her one piece of must-have gear for fishing excursions: “I wear Redington Women’s Sonic Pro Waders, which are awesome. They’re made from heavy-duty fabric, and they last. They have a feminine cut, but they’re not overly female. And they fit all kinds of different chest sizes.”
Co-Owner of Angler’s Covey, Founder of Pikes Peak Women Anglers
Like a lot of women, Becky Leinweber’s first fly fishing experience was with her husband—and it didn’t go well. “He took me out, and like so many people teaching their significant other, it wasn’t an overly positive experience,” she says, adding that it wasn’t until the pair found a women’s-only fly fishing camp that Leinweber really began to develop her skills and passion for the sport.
The couple would eventually go on to build and grow Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs, now a 6,500-square-foot mecca of an outdoor retailer shop, equipped with two casting ponds and employing 30 fly fishing guides, five of which are women. But that initial learning experience stayed with Leinweber and served as the inspiration for the inception of Pikes Peak Women Anglers (bit.ly/2L8T9AY), a welcoming community for female fly fishing enthusiasts of all ages and ability levels. “The camaraderie is a really big part for us,” she says, emphasizing how important the social component of the group has been for members. “Some members have found lifelong friends.”
On the retail floor of Angler’s Covey, customers will often find a female salesperson. “With my own journey before I became a fly-fisher, I would enter into a fly shop and only see men. I felt intimidated and I didn’t feel very welcome,” says Leinweber. “We made it a point that we didn’t want that to be the case in our shop. When you see someone that you can identify with when you walk into the shop, it’s a little easier.”
Her favorite species to fish for out on the water? “Small brookies. I think they are so beautiful and they have the most gorgeous coloring. They’re found in the most out-of-the-way places and they’re always eager because they haven’t seen a lot of flies.”