My job as a kid was to shake the chum bag and, with any luck, reel in a fish or two. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized fishing involved much more than catching fish. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the Florida Keys, where my dad introduced me to the fishing and boating lifestyle as a young girl. Many women don’t have that opportunity.
For this and many other reasons, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation introduced its Women Making Waves campaign in 2018 to empower girls and women to give fishing a try. We know by experience that this sort of initiative creates lifelong participants who will appreciate and care for our aquatic natural resources.
According to RBFF’s latest Special Report on Fishing, 19.4 million females went fishing in 2021, which was up 8 percent over 2019. Overall, in 2021, 1.6 million women went fishing for the first time, and females comprised 37 percent of all fishing participants, primarily with the intent to spend time with family and friends. Data shows that women begin fishing at a high rate but also drop out at high rates because they feel they don’t have a place at the table.
To change that perspective, create representation, break down barriers to participation and establish belonging, RBFF hosted two influencers and four journalists on a Women Making Waves fishing and boating trip in Seattle during National Fishing and Boating Week this past June. RBFF provided three hands-on, on-water experiences that allowed them to experience all the joys that fishing and boating offer.
Ashley Nichole Lewis and Angelica Talan anchored the diverse group of women who, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, went salmon fishing and fly-fishing on Puget Sound. They also took a cruise provided by Yamaha Marine on Lake Washington. Seeing some of our research insights come to life in these experiences was surreal.
“It was an honor to be part of this Women Making Waves event. Fishing has played a significant role in my life,” said Lewis, who is better known in the fishing world and online as “Bad Ash Outdoors.” “To have had a chance to share the fun of fishing with these amazing writers joining our trip while encouraging them to be their best on the water was the best of all.”
For example, our group starkly contrasted with the salmon fishing grounds “regulars.” Our participants were colorful, talkative and playing music. We were there primarily to have fun and develop friendships. Catching fish was on the agenda but served more as icing on the cake.
During the fly-fishing trip on the Puget Sound, the group stayed under a pouring rain practicing, enjoying themselves and looking to catch a fish for more than five hours. It was inspiring to see the persistence in this group of women.
Attendee Nneka M. Okona, a journalist and author from Atlanta, penned an article for Detour (syndicated in The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald) titled “Remembering Black anglers of the past: A trip to Puget Sound inspires appreciation of fishing.” The article details her experience on the trip and the emotional, cultural and generational connections between the water and Black people. “Water for Black folk holds a tangled history for us — it represents so much pain and the migratory stories of our ancestors. Water is transportation. It is healing, a reprieve. It is salvation and a chance to look beyond ourselves. When we take to the water, it is not only to delve into leisure and slow the pace of our lives and center it in gratefulness; it is also active reclamation.”
We hope these types of stories will inspire a new generation of female fishing and boating participants and pave the way for industry engagement and retention with this growing segment. Research coming later this year from RBFF will support the fishing and boating industry with insights on engaging and retaining women in the sport.
Preliminary results from our research shows that active female anglers are significantly more likely to recognize the internal benefits of fishing, such as improving their mood, bringing them peace and helping their mental wellness; have greater self-confidence and resilience, and lead healthier, happier lives from both the teachable aspects and those as a result of the environment; and have higher perceived self-worth than those who fish occasionally or not.
As the traditional male participant ages out of fishing and boating, we need to come together as an industry to invite and welcome new audiences. Engaging and retaining women in fishing and boating is an essential first step. And it needs to look different than today’s marketing and outreach, focusing on all the great benefits fishing and boating offer, and how women fit into the sport. n
This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue.