One my favorite photos is of my 4-year-old self at my grandparent’s cottage in western Ohio
standing by Lake St. Mary’s holding a cane pole and worm bucket with red bows in my hair excitedly waiting for grandpa to take me crappie fishing. As a little girl learning to fish with my family, it was moments like these that instilled confidence and a lifetime passion for fishing and the outdoors
Why Women Fish
The truth is, women are just as excited and passionate about fishing as men and they make up 37% of the total fishing population, the highest female participation ever recorded according to new female anglers research released by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (BRFF).
As a fishing and outdoor journalist, I spend a significant part of the year traveling the United States and internationally fishing for new and exciting species, oftentimes as the only female in the boat or on the trip. While this is the norm for me, the lack of female companionship on the water in general is a barrier for many women according to the research and what I consider to be missed opportunities for women to grow their skills and experiences.
Women’s History Month is a perfect time to look into the research findings and understand why women take up fishing, the mental and physical health benefits of being on the water, the segments of participation gaps and the barriers that sometimes make women leave the sport.
It is time to take what we know and change the direction of opinion and opportunities to build the community of female anglers necessary to keep them engaged. Let’s dust off those old fishing photos and re-energize the little girls and women in our lives to cast a line and reap the lifelong benefits that fishing instills as we look at some of the key research findings.
What Makes Women Start Fishing
The RBFF research shows that female anglers find the most confident, patient, and resilient versions of themselves while on the water. I count myself in the 1 in 5 women anglers who say that fishing makes them feel like they can do anything they set their minds to, especially while sticking out long days on the water or reeling in a personal best species.
Women aren’t lost on the health benefits of fishing that the research reveals provides greater mental strength and better stress management for anglers over non-anglers. Spending time in nature has a way to calm nerves, gain perspective and feel grounded.
The Participation Gap
The participation gap in fishing is not just between genders, but the research shows a significant disparity when it comes to race too. Female anglers stopped fishing at a 10% higher rate than men and of those, Hispanic and Black female anglers were among the largest segments to drop out of the sport.
When it comes to kids, participation among girls averages 55% compared to 66% average participation for boys. Unfortunately, the participation gap for women widens as they age.
Why do these gaps happen? Women drop out for several reasons according to the research which puts hard numbers behind what I have witnessed and experienced as a female angler for years.
When you look at statistics you understand why. It shows that 43% of active female anglers say they don’t feel respected (and that includes walking into a fishing store); 31% of active female anglers say it is intimidating to be a woman and fish with men and that 1 in 4 active anglers don’t want to participate if they think they will be the only woman.
Having grown up with two older brothers I’ve learned to prove myself early while fishing with men and although that shouldn’t have to be necessary, I can understand why, with numbers like these many women would rather sit it out.
Closing the participation gap starts with the fishing community to be mindful and inclusive. It means pushing the retail industry to be respectful of women who walk through the doors and better serving female anglers’ needs like offering more women’s fishing gear. It also means responding (or not) to the fishing marketing and advertising that heavily skews towards men making 75% of female anglers feel underrepresented. Closing the gap means being active and vocal to change these behaviors and practices that have historically been status quo and expected in the fishing industry.
What Makes Women Continue to Participate
Women like how fishing makes them feel. Yes, it’s great to land a big catch but more than that, fishing instills self confidence in a way that few other things can. For women, it’s about reaching a benchmark you didn’t realize was attainable and discovering a bit of internal grit that you didn’t know you had.
A large part of fishing is building memories and keeping that fading photo from childhood on display to remind you of the wonder and excitement that led you to learn how to fish in the first place. Women are also motivated to participate when they feel they have the right sense of community. Only 5% of active female anglers fish as much as they want to and 14% say they don’t have anyone to go with, so they don’t go at all.
There is a growing number of women’s fishing clubs that help and encourage female anglers to find that sense of community and companionship on the water. We need more of them, but the trajectory is encouraging as these resources are expanding for active female anglers to find.
Where We Go from Here
While it is exciting to see female participation grow in the fishing arena, there is still room for improvement when it comes to keeping women anglers on the water. Female anglers research like the studies that RBFF conducted is important because acknowledging the potential areas of improvement is how we keep moving forward being inclusive, respectful, and providing opportunities for participation.
The research shows that women are the gateways to family activities and planning so their participation in fishing trickles down to the next generation. Having come from a family where cousins spent time together fishing as children and now as adults, I have a passion for making sure other women get the opportunities for new angling experiences on the water. We have the research and tools to do it, so for Women’s History Month lets vow to each take one step towards closing the participation gaps and moving the fishing industry forward as a whole.