How to Treat a Woman Outdoors

Remember, this is fishing, not war
By Beth Parento

A turned-over palm is said to be a map of a person's past, an almanac to their future. Yet the readings of such are subject to the voyeur's interpretation. As an angler, I refuse to rely on 1-800-PSYCHIC numbers, even if the first five minutes are free. When it comes to analysis, I prefer the expertise of tackle boxes—they don't lie.

A crimped barb says one thing, a baggie of stale marshmallows, another. No more, no less.

If one rummaged through the back of my truck come summer, it would not be uncommon to find both barbed and unbarbed hooks. From treble hooked flatfish to pin-size #24 flies, my tackle includes every type of toy that specializes in getting things "stuck." Yes, you will also find marshmallows. Besides being a sucker for s'mores, I also enjoy the ambiance and burnt-sugar scent of torch-lit sugar balls glowing on a twig. I've yet to hook a 'mallow, although in my youth, I found white bread to be worthy bait.

You'd also find hats. Baseball caps promoting my favorite fly-shop (St. Vrain Anglers in Westminster, CO), my favorite lure company (Lucky Strike Canada, on whose lure I caught a world-record 36.5-lb pike), my alma mater (Dartmouth College), the alma maters of my brothers and sister (Union College, The University of Vermont, and Yale), and my favorite sports team (Philadelphia Phillies).

You'd find fly boxes, many, many fly boxes. One would contain all the "small stuff," sizes #20 and under. You'd see a bunch of Stalcup red chironomids and Prince Nymphs. Another would contain streamers, plenty of purple-flash and brown Woolly Buggers. You would also find I like egg patterns for the spring rainbow run, carpet baggers in particular. One fly box would contain Colorado Caddis. Only. When it comes to small-stream fishing, I've found that nothing else is needed. If you searched through the bottom layers of my tackle box, you'd find jigs. I love them. From float tubing with small ice-rods to fly-fishing in small streams, jigs can get down and entice exactly what you are seeking to catch.

You'd also find rods. I generally attach these to the hood of my Bronco via magnetic holders from Orvis. On any given day, you'll see a 4-wt. Winston, a 6-wt. G-Loomis, or a 2-wt. glass Lee Wullf with a fresh leader and a new fly just waiting to be tested. My spinning and bait-casting rods I store in a bright red case—open it and you'll encounter various Cabela's models.

Odds and ends include a net, a vest, fly-floatant, fishing licenses from Colorado, South Dakota, Montana, New York, and Vermont, sinkers, bottles of Dr. Pepper, a bag of Jolly Ranchers candy, extra line, leaders, tippets, clippers, rubber boots, and gloves.

It's activity-specific, gender-neutral gear. None of this stuff proclaims that I am woman. Yet, as soon as I step into my waders, sharpen my hooks, pull down the brim of my ball cap and step into the stream, I am no longer one of "us;" I am one of  "them." One of "them" whom fishermen are still trying to come to terms with, trying to figure out. A woman who fishes, although no longer an oddity or aberration, is someone many men still don't know how to treat on the stream.

What surprises most men is that I, a woman, catch fish.

What surprises me is that I, a woman, catch fish in spite of men's advice.

A fish fighting at the end of my line is usually cause for great excitement on a busy stream. The man immediately next to me will encourage me to "Lift my line, lift my rod, and lower my elbow!" The man to my left will repeatedly say, "Easy, easy." The man 100 yards down the stream, too far to be heard, will mime "high-rod" gestures. Another, seeing my fish splash and thrash, will hurry to my side, offering aid in the form of a net. When the fish is landed, they are all overjoyed by my "beginner's luck." Normally, I just don't have the heart to tell them this particular brand of "beginner's luck" was years and thousands of casts in the making.

I'm not complaining, mind you; sometimes I do like the attention. It's just that other times, I prefer solitude. When I do, the backcountry offers anonymity in spades. Small streams are repositories of contemplation.

But you can't fish the backcountry all the time. The reason famed streams like the South Platte between Spinney and Elevenmile are crowded at certain times of the year is because the fishing can be fabulous, worthy of a road trip.

I delight in reading water, looking for flickering shadows, a touch of color in water windows. I know what it feels like to wade knee-deep in a meandering, mountain-fed, reservoir-buttressed stream on a spring day, rod in hand, face warmed by the sun, in search of trout which resemble over-pumped footballs. I understand the lure of fishing, even though I am a woman.

So, here it is guys, a few simple rules to follow when you see a woman, any woman, afield. Tear it out, fold it up, and put it in your wallet. Next time, you'll know what to do.

1. If she is catching fish, and you are not, think about it. She may know something you don't. Beginner's luck really doesn't help much during difficult conditions.

2. Don't let the coy smile fool you. If she has a bunch of wind knots in her line, she could pluck them out just as easily as you, but will use all her charms to make sure it isn't she who's working instead of fishing.

3. When it comes to landing a big fish, she does like a little help... with tailing and netting. Indiscriminate stream-side advice will be ignored.

4. If it is cold and she didn't bring a jacket, she will be happy to wear yours.

5. She can, and will, impale her own bait on her hooks: worms, maggots, minnows. . . whatever.

6. If the fishing is slow, really slow, she does not feel the need to stay unless the ambiance of the day demands.

7. She does not like to be ignored. If she is fishing to blank water on an unfamiliar stream, tell her. If she tells you that you are fishing to blank water, listen.

8. If she's catching fish and you're not, treat her like one of the guys; ask for help.

9. If you're catching fish and she's not, offer a pair of those special flies, but never in a condescending way.

10. Go ahead take her picture when she catches a "big one." Enjoy her success.

11. If this is her first time out, be patient, encourage her. Remember this is fishing, not war.

12. Be kind and courteous. If you play it right, she may just share her bottle of Dr. Pepper and bag of Jolly Ranchers with you.

© Article and Photo Copyright Beth Parento. All Rights Reserved.

Beth Parento is a flyfisher living at just under 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A freelance outdoor writer and columnist, she is the founder of the Women Flyfishers of the Rocky Mountains.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »