In May, the Bug Theater in Highland hosted the “Casting Forward” event, a documentary series premiere about women in fly fishing. Ms. Mayhem, an online publication which presents a fresh perspective on feminism, put together the multimedia project. With a special focus on gear, safety, conservation and education, and the lack of visibility for women in marginalized communities, the project showed the surprising issues within the sport, and told the stories of the women who are casting forward to the future.
Madison Lauterbach is an angler. Fly fishing is a sport in which she found a deep connection, whether it was the relaxing peace that she found on the river, the exciting rush of pulling in a fish, or the way that it helped her connect with the two most important men in her life, her dad and her partner. A little over a year ago, Lauterbach started to notice the discrepancies for woman in the sport. It was difficult to get male counterparts to take her seriously and it was nearly impossible to find gear from large companies.
“I just got really frustrated that someone with a really average build like me couldn’t wear this company’s gear. So I started looking into other companies (like Miss Mayfly and Sarabella) that might be doing things better, specifically women-owned companies,” she said.
Lauterbach started looking closely, and found a tight knit community of female anglers who shared her struggles in such a male-dominated sport. As the founder and editor of Ms. Mayhem, she saw this as a perfect opportunity to tell the stories of women who feel unheard and under-appreciated within their passion.
One of those women is Jeanine Blair who finds her inner peace while on the water. She is passionate about the wilderness and connecting with it via fly fishing. But as a woman of color, she doesn’t always feel comfortable within the mostly white male sport. She was never welcomed into the sport, which is why she founded Fishanistas, an organization which seeks to inspire more women to fish. The organization is now thriving, and young Black girls have a role model to look up to and welcome them into the sport.
Blair’s story is one of many which Lauterbach tells in “Casting Forward.” The completed project is five 15-minute videos, which will be posted to the Ms. Mayhem website with a few in-depth written stories to accompany on June 8th.
The first focus of the project was gear. In fly fishing, one is meant to stand in the water to cast. Waders are a special type of overalls which keep the angler dry and warm, even if the water is rushing and cold. The issue here is that most companies do not carry women’s sizes for waders, and if they do, the sizes are abysmally too small and don’t fit a typical woman’s body shape.
“Dudes have been doing it wrong. They think about optimizing everything, but it’s not always thinking about the people, it’s more for the sport,” Nicholas Clements, one of the audience members, said. “It gives a better perspective on what needs to be done.”
Secondly, the documentary videos focused on the safety of female anglers. Anglers have to be aware of the river that they’re in, the weather conditions, and any potential hazards that come with being in the wilderness. Women have additional safety concerns, like protecting themselves from other people on the water. Several women in the documentary shared the sentiment that they would be on extra alert if they were ever alone while fishing. Women of color specifically agreed that they would be afraid to be spotted by a white man on the water.
Another potentially dangerous place for women in the sport is online. Social media can be a great place for female anglers to connect with one another, but it is also a place where people can voice their hatred for women participating in a “man’s sport”.
The documentary also highlighted conservation and education. By teaching young people the beauty of the wilderness, they create a desire to preserve the world that we have. The fly fishing community actively participates in this conservation.
The next piece focused on the struggles specific to women of color in the industry. As is with the rest of society, it is difficult to feel welcome in a space where there is no one else with the same background, gender, or race. The effects of societal racism do not exclude the fly fishing community.
Esteban Fernandez, a videographer and assistant producer on the project, said he noticed how even in something as small as the fly fishing community, it is easy to see parallels to society as a whole.
“It was interesting seeing how systemic forces play out in such a small microbubble. There weren’t any cartoon depictions of racism. Instead it was more insidious and more subtle. That was one of the big lessons in this project, is just how deeply woven and baked into everything it is.”
The documentary made it clear, although anglers are typically not outwardly racist or sexist, the environment that they create can still be exclusionary toward people of color, and toward women.
With the “Casting Forward” project, Ms. Mayhem is starting this conversation in the world of angling. The “Casting Forward” project gave Jeanine Blair a voice to tell her story and, hopefully, to make the world of fly fishing more inclusive. “I am absolutely speechless that a platform was set to allow us to share and speak freely, said Blair. “It was raw, and my emotions were high.”
Lauterbach fly fishes to explore the outdoors and connect with loved ones, but today it’s also about building community.
“Throughout this project I got to meet a lot of really incredible women that I still have contact with that want to go fly fishing together. They want to spend that meaningful time with me, and that to me is the best part,” she said. “Through doing these stories, I was able to find community. That’s what this project is all about.”
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