As with many outdoor hunting and fishing activities, women are increasingly finding their way to the rivers and streams in search of the elusive trout.
The mouth of the Two Hearted River in the fall is a paradise for brilliant colors and fishing opportunities for either fly fishing or traditional rod and reel.
There was a time when finding a woman fly-fishing on a stream or river was about as rare as me not hooking a tree limb with a four-dollar dry fly.
Not so today.
As with many outdoor hunting and fishing activities, women are increasingly finding their way to the rivers and streams in search of the elusive trout. I’ve found figures of anywhere from single digit percentages of women who partake in fly-fishing to upwards of over 30 percent. I doubt either figure is anywhere near the correct one. A representative of the American Fly-Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA), agrees that these two extremes are likely not valid figures. However, there is a joint 2022 report on fishing in general by the Outdoor Foundation and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation that breaks down some figures for fly-fishing by gender which shows a steady growth in all fly-fishing participants that began in 2014 that started to stall out later that decade. Yet fly-fishing recorded 450,000 more participants in 2021 than in 2019. This represents nearly two million more anglers from a decade earlier, and like many outdoor activities during 2020 forward, a significant percentage had to do with the coronavirus pandemic. People just wanted to escape the crowds and had the time to do it. That same report showed that female fishing participation fell slightly in 2021 from its 2020 all-time high. Nonetheless, in 2021 there were 2.8 million more female fly-fishing anglers than five years prior, and 3.8 million more than in 2011. My problem is, and always has been, how do groups arrive at these figures? Regardless, we know just by observing, that women are taking a more active role in fly-fishing, and in fishing in general, and that in itself is a very positive thing.
Data continues to underscore the critical importance of introducing fishing at a young age, as 86 percent of current fishing participants first fished before the age of 12. Participation rates among young anglers fell by nearly half between the ages of 12 and 24, suggesting that retaining teenagers and young adults is important to growing and maintaining future participation. This is where many fishing organizations, both at national and state levels play a significant roll. In my opinion, they have succeeded in getting kids involved.
Fly Girls of Michigan, is one of these groups who are active in helping women and kids become active in the sport. Founded in 1996, they continue to be active over two decades later.
One of the founders of “Fly Girls,” Dorothy Schramm of Pentwater, ventured to Michigan from Minnesota back in the early 1990s at least in part for the steelhead fishing opportunities. In her home state she was a representative on the Great Lakes Council Board of Directors and her husband Jim was also an avid angler. After moving to Michigan, Jim, whose profession was an attorney, did consider-able pro bono work for the International Fly-Fishing group as well as helped on the Pere Marquette Watershed Council. He assisted in gaining the non-profit 501c3 for at least thirty organizations, such as the Michigan Resource Stewards and Project Healing Waters. He also aided in getting passed the “no kill” section on the Pere Marquette River.
It didn’t take Dorothy’s move to Michigan long before she became active not only in fishing but becoming one of the founding members of Fly Girls of Michigan. After sending out around 400 detailed surveys to women anglers in 1995, they received a very respectable 70 percent return. The respondents were in agreement on three main issues that the survey group mentioned: 1) they wanted to learn more about fly fishing; 2) they wanted to meet other women who fly fished; 3) they wanted to have more opportunities to fly fish. “Fly Girls has a single gender purpose,” according to Schramm, however anyone can join as long as they provide help with education and conservation.
Dorothy Schramm, one of the co-founders of Fly Girls, a Michigan based Women's Fly Fishing group, displays the highly popular Fly Girls hat.
Shortly after the survey, a core group of women met up in early 1996 to form an incorporation meeting. One of the survey questions was “if we formed a women’s fly-fishing group, what would we name it?” A woman from Ohio and another from Michigan suggested Fly Girls. They all really liked the name and figured if it were good enough for the women pilots of WWII, it was certainly good enough for them. (Author’s note: the fly girls of WWII were formally called Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASP, but they were often referred to as fly-girls.)
As outlined in the Fly Girls first meeting notes in 1996, the initial board of directors was: Dorothy Schramm, President; Sherry Shore, President-elect; Marlene Osborn, Secretary; Ann Miller, Treasurer/ Newsletter Editor; Sue Hull, Director. The bylaws were written/adapted by Jim Schramm, Dorothy’s husband.
Fly Girls do not charge a membership fee, which for most any organization is unusual in itself. But before joining you must be a member of Fly Fishers International (flyfishersinternational.com). This, according to Dorothy, allowed for members to “give back” something to the sport. In addition, they want members to provide assistance with their mission of assisting in education and conservation through the sport of fly fishing. They also enjoy providing opportunities for others to enjoy this activity. Donations, an occasional fund raiser, and the sale of Fly Girls paraphernalia (hats, mugs, T-shirts, logos) helps support the group. The group has managed to donate over $50,000 to various fishing and conservation groups to help support their mission.
One of the projects they are particularly proud of is working with the Girl Scouts in Traverse City where they help helped host a ten-day fishing class for young women from as far as Fuji and Russia.
They not only learned about the art of fly fishing, but also rod construction, fly tying, fishing not only the river, but lakes as well. This was a “real feather in Fly Girls hat,” says Dorothy.
Fly Girls also host several mother/daughter events, hoping their offspring will take up this activity and pass it on to their kids.
Two Hearted in the Upper Peninsula displays brilliant fall colors making it an ideal place to fish for steelhead and other species.
Schramm also states that they have worked with Trout Unlimited (TU) in particular educating children, which is one of the goals of both organizations. In fact, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education is part of the TU program and Fly Girls have a strong belief in this program as well.
When Dorothy moved to Michigan in the early ‘90s, she would only see maybe a couple of other women on the rivers fishing. Although she sees more women fishing on the river, “it’s probably not the one third of fly-fishing anglers are women as some groups characterize as mentioned above,” she says. Although that would be nice to have such a number, I doubt this is the case.
The Great Lakes Chapter of Fly Fishers International includes part of Ontario and Indiana, and Fly Girls falls under the international group.
Fly Girls 2021 minutes shows they have 236 members, but like many outdoor pursuits, it’s an aging demographic. Looking at the concise history of this organization, they had 150 members in 1997 and at times in following years saw over 300 female anglers on board. Dorothy noted that there is a lot of talent in the group, and many of the original members are still involved with the organization. “It’s quite heartening,” she said.
Karen works on her cast in an early spring opener.
Most member are understandably from Michigan, however at one time there were members representing thirteen different states. Schramm says they liked to fish in Michigan, and many were proud to wear the Fly Girls hat and give something back to the sport they love.
Dorothy has won numerous awards from the Federation of Fly Fishers, and also the recipient of the Arnold Gingrich Memorial Life Award. In 1998, the IFF presented Schramm with the Woman of the Year Award for her IFFF devotion and participation. The Arnold Gingrich Memorial Life Award is presented to that person of outstanding achievement in any of several areas that are part of, or related to, the sport and science of fly fishing. Those areas include angling writing, original fly-fishing theory, conservation and environ-mental protection, entomology, education in the sport of fly fishing and innovation in fly fishing techniques.
Schramm also worked sports show for Fenwick and Scientific Anglers and has taught in the Sage and Orvis fly fishing schools throughout the Midwest. She was the owner of Rodsmith, a custom rod building and angling-related arts business and was considered to be one of the premier rod builders in the Midwest.
A note of interest is that a member of Fly Girls, Lory Warfield, was considered the first female fly fishing guide in Michigan. This was a major breakthrough for women in a male dominated sportworld.
One of the items I noted of interest was the number of activities each year, including fishing outings. For instance, in 2021, the following events were listed:
River/Feenstra Guide Service Trout Opener - Fullers North Branch Outing Club, Grayling MI Wa Wa Sum Trout Outing, Grayling MI Camping/Fishing - Tra-verse area, flats and rivers Lake Fishing - Joan English Memorial Event - Grayling, MI Casting for Recovery - volunteers needed on Sunday Au Sable River Clean Up 25th Anniversary Celebration - Rock-well Lake Lodge Steelhead event - Pere Marquette River Lodge. If you fly fish, or wish to learn to fly fish, this organization would be ideal place to start. I truly am amazed how active this group is today and how much they have accomplished while approaching almost three decades.
Certain things will always remain constant: the trees and shrubs lining the shores of the rivers and streams will continue to snatch my dry flies as they have in the past; my waders will always manage to sprout a new hole, but Fly Girls will continue the mission they started back in 1996 and will look forward to many more successful decades ahead.