Outdoor Pursuits: Women and Diversity on PA Waterways
Women represent 49 percent of the potential fishing license buying population yet only 19 percent of the actual license buyers between the ages of 16 and 64. It’s that disparity, along with a desire to bridge gaps between women and fishing and conservation efforts, that led to the creation of a committee to address it.
By Jennifer Pencek
Women’s Intro to Fly Fishing Program – Hills Creek Lake
Strong interest was shown in 2012 when introduction to fly fishing classes geared toward women filled all 25 available seats in 28 hours, with 22 women placed on waiting lists. Classes were added and five years later the Women, Diversity and Inclusion committee was formed.
“A lot of initiatives similar to this began with trying to get women involved and are now branching out to encompass more diverse audiences,” said Amidea Daniel, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Northcentral Region outreach education coordinator and committee co-chair.
Along with Daniel, the committee is led by Kelly Williams, Clearfield County Conservation District watershed specialist. The committee is the result of partnerships with the state Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and local organizations with the shared goal to connect diverse populations to fly fishing and waterway conservation efforts.
Women’s On-water Fly Fishing Program – Spring Creek (Fisherman’s Paradise – Bellefonte, PA)
“Recruiting anglers helps increase conservation efforts,” Daniel said. “If people don’t buy fishing licenses we can’t go out and stuff fish in the waterways, and provide dam safety or habitat protection. We have biologists out there who have their thumbs on the quality of those watersheds. Each license isn’t just a license to go fish but is a ticket to go support these watersheds. Even if a person is not an angler, just purchasing a license helps us.”
Assessment has shown positive results, Daniel said. Women in particular who go through classes have a higher percentage rate of returning as licensed anglers. There has been an increase in programs geared toward women, and while an entire class may not return as licensed anglers, Daniel said instructors are seeing participants learning multiple ways to engage in local Trout Unlimited chapters and longer-term success in getting participants interested in conservation efforts.
Female angler from Women’s On-water Fly Fishing – NE PA – Hooking in to her first fish on a fly!
“It’s that variety and diverse programming so they can continue to come back and be invited as that community instead of just one program,” Daniel said. “As we move along we are looking more at assessment and gauge what we are seeing now. A lot of our feedback comes immediately from evaluations after each program or hearing verbally or on the PA Women Anglers Facebook group.”
Jamie SanFilippo serves as president of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited as well as owner/guide of American Fly Fishing Company. She became involved with the committee two years ago after teaching many Women’s Introduction to Fly Fishing classes with Daniel.
Family dynamics and the generational impact play roles in if women feel included in fly fishing and conservation efforts, SanFilippo said.
“Typically, fishing/hunting experience and knowledge is passed down through family generations by men to their sons and grandsons,” she said. “Many women have wanted to learn how to fly fish since they were girls, but never had the opportunity. This carries over into the conservation world as well. From my experience, local conservation organizations consist mostly of men. By connecting women to fly fishing, I am hoping to see more women become passionate about conservation as well.”
After creating her business a year ago, SanFilippo realized she was in a unique position.
“Female fly fishing guides are rare, especially in Pennsylvania, so I wanted my company to be unique,” she explained. “In my experience, some women feel safer and more confident with a female guide. However, men have commented that through my guidance they are able to experience a different outlook and approach to certain aspects of fly-fishing. I am fortunate that my clientele are an equal mix of men and women.”
Rachel Kester has participated in numerous programs and events offered through the committee, including the NEPA Fly Girls Fly Fishing Film Tour and Expo at Keystone College in LaPlume in November 2019. She also serves as program director of PA Council of Trout Unlimited-Coldwater Heritage Partnership.
“I personally find that being out along the stream is a way for me to connect with nature, share moments with friends and have fun while doing it,” Kester said. “I consider myself more of a conservationist than an angler as I have spent my career restoring streams that have been damaged by human impacts. I see conservation work as a way to protect, enhance, and restore our cold-water resources and make sure they are there for future generations to enjoy. Fly fishing and conservation connect us to the past and future while also keeping us grounded in the present.”
Kester stressed taking part in committee efforts is not just for fly fishing experts. She noted the importance in enjoying yourself in the water and knowing even if you have never fished in your life, there is a place for you with Trout Unlimited.
“We are a conservation organization, first and foremost, and we need folks from all walks of life to join us in our conservation mission,” she said. “Whatever you are good at, we can find a way to use your skills to help conserve our cold-water resources. Whether you want to roll up your sleeves and pin logs in place during a habitat project or use your social media skills to keep the public informed of our projects and events, you have a place at Trout Unlimited.”
For more information on the Women, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, e-mail Amidea Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with fly fishing and conservation efforts on the PA Women Anglers Facebook page, which is for anyone who enjoys Pennsylvania’s waters via hiking, biking, boating, or camping.
Jennifer Pencek is a freelance writer based in State College and programming coordinator of Penn State’s Gender Equity Center.