I’ll acknowledge this right away — I had some choice words to say about my time at The Fly Fishing Shows the last two weekends.
However, what was not discussed was this: for every one guy who was a jerk, there were 200 more who weren’t. I had a handful of questionable experiences in two weekends of constant interaction, but there was hardly a single moment, while inside those two expo centers, that I wasn’t talking to someone. To say that my experiences in New Jersey and Atlanta were indicative of the industry as a whole would be wildly misguided.
Nor, did I find those rare negative interactions to be the defining experiences of the shows. In reeling off highlights to friends, I’ve found myself talking about the people I met, the films I saw, the seminars I attended, the lodge owners I met and the exotic fishing locales I learned about (Alabama? Never heard of it). I talked to people about their favorite fish species, their rivers, their travels and their kids, and heard no shortage of great stories.
I spoke with the women at Athena and Artemis — a shop that exclusively sells clothing and gear for women — about their home rivers in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. I spoke with a guy for almost an hour about how he and his wife have spent the last 30 years fishing “literary rivers,” across the world (#relationshipgoals). I became convinced I needed to add about two dozen fish species to my fish bucket list, including but not limited to: red fish in Louisiana, stripers in New Jersey, sea-run browns in Iceland, tiger musky in Washington, brook trout in Northern Ontario and so many bass species specific to Alabama I should have been taking notes.
What I found most incredible about The Fly Fishing Show was the variety of people I met, as well as their experiences. Shows are about interactions above all else, and as with any situation where you’re speaking with hundreds of people over two or three days, you’re going to get some negativity, some discomfort, some straight-up weirdness. This would have happened at an auto show, a golf show or virtually anywhere males vastly outnumber women. Which brings me to another point — of course these negative interactions don’t just occur between men and women. Negativity is a thing independent of gender, and I completely understand that some people are always going to be jerks regardless of sex.
What I want to be clear about is that the attitudes and behaviors I experienced at the show weren’t a result of anything the people behind The Fly Fishing Show did or didn’t do — it IS directly related, in most cases, to the archaic idea that women at trade shows are there exclusively as (often bikini-clad) human directionals. I did not see one scantily clad lady hawking fly rods or gyrating on a reel case over two weekends at The Fly Fishing Show. What I did see were multiple booths for companies owned by and geared towards women — magazines and gear shops and clothing designers and book authors and nonprofits – all aimed at making flyfishing more inclusive and welcoming for women. Athena and Artemis owner Geri Meyer had a changing room in her booth — a changing room! — which was simultaneously revolutionary and probably the simplest way to tell women they are encouraged to not only shop there, but try things on and make themselves at home.
These things tell me flyfishing is on the right track. That said, knowing that many of these women have experienced exactly the behavior I highlighted in my previous post was precisely the reason for posting it — whether it happens on the river or behind a booth, it’s still happening, and there’s no better way to stop it than by calling it out. My goal was not to shame the industry, nor men as a whole, but to let a few select (insert insulting term here) know that their behavior is not only unwelcome, but detrimental to an industry that is — on the whole — doing a pretty damn good job of being inclusive. That, to me, feels like the only way to assure that the daughters and granddaughters of flyfishing are accepted equally as, well… flyfishers.