Women are not new in fly-fishing — but now companies are paying attention

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily
April Archer, CEO of Colorado-based SaraBella Fishing, and her husband, JT, with partner Scott Grieble, launched the company in October 2014.
Special to the Daily |

the first time I went fly-fishing I was wearing borrowed waders. The person — guy — from whom I’d borrowed them had to have been at least twice my size.

I cinched the shoulder straps as tightly as possible, fit my feet into the massive boots and looked, with slight dismay, at the amount of waterproof fabric that ballooned from the top of the rubber boots to my waist. I felt as if I were playing dress up, but was slightly reassured by the fact that, if I fell into the river, the amount of air trapped in the waders would surely keep me afloat.

More female anglers

Though women have been fly-fishing for decades, the equipment required for this sport, such as waders, boots and even fly rods, remained firmly geared toward men. However, during the past few years, there has been an upswing in the number of female anglers.

In 2012, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association commissioned the market research firm Southwick Associates Inc. to do a study on retailers in the fly-fishing industry. According to the report, women accounted for 15 percent of fly product sales. Additional data reflects that one in three anglers is female, though that data is not all that accurate, said April Archer, CEO of Colorado-based SaraBella Fishing, since most retail locations don’t capture gender data of their customers. The numbers might be even higher.

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“That data doesn’t always reflect what’s happening on the water,” Archer said.

Though it may be difficult to nail down hard numbers, the fishing gear industry has taken note of the female interest in fly-fishing and is offering products that are geared toward and often specifically designed for women.

Archer, who has been fly-fishing for the past 16 years and fishing for even longer, noticed the lack of products for women. About five years ago, she started asking women about how they felt when they realized that gear wasn’t made for them and how they felt about having to settle for men’s gear.

The products hadn’t caught up with the needs of women, in her opinion — especially fly rods. So she set out to change that.

After really looking at the production of fly rods, creating and testing out versions to have a usable product, Archer and her husband, J.T., with partner Scott Grieble, launched SaraBella Fishing in October 2014. SaraBella’s fly rods, which are designed for women, are perhaps most unique in the fact that they offer choice for size, weight and grip.

“I think an important element to the ergonomic performance is grip,” Archer said. “Women’s hands come in all shapes and sizes. Some companies make them (the grip) smaller or make them pink to make them for women. But some women have bigger hands or are strong and don’t want light or smaller. By offering a choice, she can choose what is best.”

Mandy Hertzfeld, a guide at Minturn Anglers in Minturn, was drawn to SaraBella rods because of those options, especially the grips. Most fly rods have large grips, which can be hard for women with small hands. By choosing your own grip, Hertzfeld said, you can cast to your full ability without your wrist getting hurt or sore or getting fatigued overall.

“It’s nice in a sport that’s generally male-driven that there’s women stepping up and making it about them and about other females,” Hertzfeld said. “It’s more welcoming and encouraging for the rest of us.”

Choice is key

Choice, whether it’s with fly rods or waders or boots, is really the key in the rise of women-specific gear in the industry. Major brands such as Patagonia and Redington have been making women-specific products for a decade or more but have made significant pushes into the arena during the past three to five years.

The reason, said Chris Gaggia, fish global marketing manager at Patagonia, was “what little women’s gear existed was poorly executed in terms of fit, performance and comfort.”

Patagonia’s current lineup of women-specific gear launched in the spring of 2014, and Gaggia said that fit is a huge component, as it’s closely related to both comfort and performance.

At the Denver Fly Fishing Show in January, one of Patagonia’s advanced research and development engineers, Kaili Clay (who is herself a fly angler who grew up steelhead fishing on the Kispiox in British Columbia) took measurements from all of the female customers who were trying on the Spring River Waders so they could plot real-world customer measurement data against fit blocks to see where they might improve or offer more sizing options.

“Women who fish drive the product — not market forces or trends,” Gaggia said.

At Redington, women are also influencing new gear.

“We have female designers who are also anglers and they pull from their own experiences to develop waders and boots which are visually and sensibly appealing for women,” said Nicole Labrie, a soft goods designer at Redington,

Redington’s women’s waders have a reshaped bust, waist and booties. There is also stretch neoprene for better ease in getting waders over the hips and properly securing the material at the chest.

“I think that it’s important that women are recognized for having their own unique space within the sport of fly-fishing, that they are heard and truly represented,” Labrie said. “That’s what we aim to do with our women’s products.”

More and more women are realizing the joy of standing hip deep in a river, creating the rhythm of a cast and are experiencing the thrill of hooking a brown. And now, thanks to some new options in gear, they can do it in comfort — no oversized waders required.

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