In the Beginning…

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IWFF’s founding member, Fanny Krieger, reminisces about the inception of the organization, and the events that led up to the creation of our club!

by Fanny Krieger

Thirty years ago, two couples met for dinner and while sipping a glass of wine, Susan (or it might have been Fanny) said wistfully, “It would be nice to know other women who fly fish…” This was the leading statement. Next, Fanny uttered (or it might have been Susan…), “Let’s find out who they are and start a club!” Husbands John and Mel wholeheartedly agreed.

Before actually starting Golden West Women Flyfishers (GWWF), I talked to some of the best known fly fishermen in the country: Mike Lawson, Mike Fong, Jack Dennis, and John Randolph were all enthusiastic about this new concept of a women’s fly fishing club.

We sent out 22 invitations to the first meeting, hoping for six women to come. About 20 came. That was it! We needed a name, a place to meet, a charter, and a set of rules and goals.

In 1983, Golden West Women Fly Fishers was founded – you should have seen and felt the excitement! With it came the acceptance, support and recognition of the entire fly fishing community.

We were one of the first women’s fly fishing clubs in the country but not the first women to fly fish.

In old English books, there are pictures of women in long black dresses wearing a hat standing in the river holding a fly rod. There have been women fly fishers long before we came along.

In 1486 Dame Juliana Berners published, The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle in England. She was a prioress of the nunnery of Sopwell, a lady of a noble family and celebrated for her learning and accomplishment. That was years before Sir Isaac Walton.

During my early years of fly fishing, it was puzzling to me that not more women were into that sport. Back then, when a woman wanted to get what she needed for fishing, sometimes she could get her husband or boyfriend to give her waders, a vest, a rod and flies he no longer wanted. When she went into a fly shop to procure gear, she often was ignored by the salesmen who always took care of their male clients first. A woman often stood unseen. Then when she finally tried on men’s small waders and small wading shoes, she looked uncomfortable, and I must say not very attractive. There were no female sizes… you remember that, don’t you?

In 1996, 18 years ago, I had a vision of more and more women could and would get involved into fly fishing, perhaps even on a worldwide scope. So, with the backing of the GWWF, I formulated a Festival in San Francisco by inviting all the best known fly fishing women in all parts of the industry, including former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, Joan Wulff, many of our well known writers, artists, instructors, lodge owners. Three hundred invitations were sent out, and close to 300 came, many hosted by members of the GWWF. It was a magic encounter of women from all walks of life, age, talents and the connection was incredibly powerful.

Fanny and Joan

Joan Wulff said: “I have waited all my life for this to happen!”

It was a most memorable encounter of women fly fishing who became inspired to start new women clubs, getting involved in CFR and other fly fishing activities such as Rendezvous.

In addition a combination of things happened. Catch and release became more accepted and the sport seemed less bloody. Women, perhaps somewhat empowered by the feminist movement, took up new sports like fly fishing, hunting, surfing, even boxing. They felt that macho sports were no longer exclusively for men.

About 30 years ago, the ratio of women attending fly fishing schools used to be about 1 woman to 10 men. About 20 years ago, it changed to 5 or 6 women to 10 men. Progress was being made.

Suddenly fly shops couldn’t do enough for their female clientele. They even hired saleswomen. The industry took the hint and appropriate female clothing appeared. Even rods were made “for women”. We had arrived and we loved it!

When IWFF was launched, there was (to the best of my knowledge) very few other fly fishing clubs in the country. There are now over 50 clubs all over the USA and new ones cropping up all the time. There are also many more clubs in the rest of the world, at least 10 in the UK, several in Scandinavia, and Japan, just to name a few of the countries.

When I first went to fish in Argentina in 1971, I encountered only one other woman fly-fisher. She was eager for female company on the river. There are now many women on rivers and lakes, female guides, instructors and even a women’s fly fishing club starting in Buenos Aires.

IWFF has had over the years over 300 members from the USA and abroad.

Who are the women who fly fish? All ages, from 8 to 80 and over and still going strong, all careers from the housewife whose husband does not care to fish, to the executive in high-powered jobs, to cosmetic company models, to Oprah, to Mrs Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President of the USA, Jimmy Carter – all walks of life, from struggling young women to those that are rich and famous.

They represent everything that men are: competitive, casual, relaxed, eager to learn every aspect of the sport, interested only in outings and catching fish. Some are eager to travel to exotic places and explore. Others prefer staying fairly close to home.

For many women, catching fish is almost secondary to being somewhere beautiful, casting the best we can, watching rising fish and occasionally having a fish strike our fly. In Alaska for instance, catching lots of fish, sharing the rivers with the bears, picking blueberries in the fields, smelling wild strawberries in the spring, watching the moose, the little red foxes on the shore and feeling the tired salmon by our legs, that’s what a fly fishing experience is for me.

Fishing with and for women is more than just catching fish: It is a lifestyle.

There are also well-known female fly fishing guides, instructors, lodge owners, shop owners, women who write wonderful fly fishing books and women employed in designing and creating for some of the major manufacturers, such as Simms, Winston Rod Co, Patagonia and others.

Annette McLean of Winston Rod is the only female rod designer in the country designing rods for a major manufacturer.

As the women fly fishing movement has become so strong and involved, we now focus on the new generation of fly fishers. The youth are our future. Everyone recognizes that now. Every organization has some program directed to kids. Fly fishing camps have become very popular. Adults who teach kids to fly fish are getting a lot of satisfaction and in the process learn more about the sport. When teaching kids it is important to keep the sessions short, simple, fun and exciting.

It has been 18 wonderful years: very active in the sport of fly fishing, with women who have had the impetus to get into a primarily men’s sport, being recognized and accepted by the fly fishing community and industry. IWFF members have found lifetime friends to share what has become our passion.

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