I decided awhile back to write a post about the contributions that women have made to fly fishing. Today is International Women’s Day (I posted this a day late, because I was fishing yesterday), and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to post it. As a primarily male dominated pursuit, I think it’s important to note that women have had a huge impact on the development on fly fishing, and the sport wouldn’t be the same without them.
There are so many people to mention that I decided to focus on the earliest examples, primarily in North America. The one exception to the North American part is Dame Juliana Berners, who is too cool to leave out.
Dame Juliana Berners – Presumed writer of A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle in 1496, which is thought to be the first known work on fly fishing. Although it’s been disputed whether or not the existence of this fly fishing nun can be proven, it’s quite an impressive accolade to be among the first writers in fly fishing. To give some further clarity on the time scale, this literature pre-dates Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler by nearly 200 years. The Compleat Angler was published in 1653. Despite the skepticism out there, I’m apt to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Carrie J. Frost – Carrie J. Frost was born in 1868, and grew up fly fishing with her father in Wisconsin. She felt that available flies were not working well enough on her local streams, and started tying her own. Once her flies were proven successes, she started her own company called “C.J. Frost Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Co” in 1896. At its height, Frost’s tackle company sold millions of fishing products a year. She is an important figure not only as a fly tier, but as a successful business woman in early American history.
Mary Orvis Marbury- The eldest daughter of Charles Orvis, Mary Orvis Marbury became the manager of Orvis’ fly tying business in 1876. She hired and trained women to produce flies for the company, and they tied over 400 different patterns. One of her most famed accomplishments is cataloging flies of her time and publishing the book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, which is regarded as a landmark book on fly tying.
Carrie G. Stevens – Another prominent female fly tier in early American fly fishing, Carrie G. Stevens probably needs no introduction. Anyone who is familiar with the Rangeley style streamers, likely knows Carrie G. Stevens as the inventor of the “Gray Ghost” pattern, as well as several other popular streamer patterns. When Stevens first tested the Gray Ghost, she caught a 6 pound 13 ounce brook trout; winning second place in a Field and Stream contest. After publicity from the competition, she became a well known fly tier in her time. Her fly tying work remains largely responsible for shaping the styling of many streamer patterns available today.
After researching and fact checking this post, I found that the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester, VT held an entire exhibition on this topic a few years ago. If you’re interested in learning more about women in fly fishing, they have actually created a digital exhibit online. It’s great, and does a far better job of highlighting women in fly fishing than I have here. I haven’t yet visited the American Fly Fishing Museum, but hope to visit sometime soon.