ATTRACTING more women to fishing means overcoming gender biases sitting just below the surface, Lockwood South’s Karen Rees says.
Long seen as a bastion for men, women are making inroads into fishing clubs and competitions, she says, but they can still sometimes be marginalised.
Mrs Rees is a member of the Women in Recreational Fishing Network, a Victorian group dedicated to encouraging women to fish.
“One of the shifts we are looking at is for women to be respected in fishing,” she said.
“There can be issues when ladies go to fishing events and clubs, where they don’t feel welcomed.”
Mrs Rees had been on the receiving end of comments at competitions.
“So a really big part of it is … breaking down those gender stereotypes. It’s happening, sure, but that would be one big shift that would be good to see,” she said.
In November Mrs Rees was speaking at a club event when someone told her “I go fishing to escape my wife”.
“That was just thrown at me in front of 70 people. I just addressed it how I could in that moment,” she said.
“Afterwards the guy who had invited me to speak said ‘I could not believe that person. We want to be a family friendly, welcoming club and we have members who still think fishing should be a male domain’.”
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Woman are increasingly visible in fishing circles, but men still outnumber them.
The current leader of new Bendigo-based competition The Cod Comp is Rylee Mylon, one of the women in the 50-strong field.
“I haven’t seen too many girls out there (when fishing in general), but there are a few who are partners of boys in this competition and they are out there fishing as well,” Ms Mylon said.
Organisers would like to welcome more women and say registrations are still open for people of all backgrounds.
Other women are making waves in fishing too. Last weekend on a family trip to Echuca 11-year-old Maiden Gully girl Abbey Read used skills she has honed over eight years to catch a rare 91cm Murray cod.
“I love everything about fishing,” she said.
Abbey was introduced to fishing as a toddler, but many women came to the hobby later in life.
Ms Mylon and Mrs Rees were introduced by their partners, just like 60 per cent of women who fish, according to a 2017 Victorian Fisheries Authority survey found.
Initially, Mrs Rees was not interested at all. Then she started fishing Murray cod.
“I got really involved in competitions. So I was one of those ladies who had no confidence with fishing and I’ve developed that over time,” Mrs Rees said.
“It’s amazing the journey it can take you on,” Mrs Rees said.
Last year she attended conferences to meet with fishing industry leaders and discuss ways to encourage more women to fish.
Apart from gender biases, the 2017 study found challenges for women included parenting responsibilities, hygiene and cleaning issues (including toileting), and personal safety concerns.
Nearly 30 per cent of respondents did not believe there were any challenges particular to women.
Ms Rees said hooking more women into fishing meant fostering skills and having areas that were kid-safe.
“For mums there is that real safety issue. So you need camping areas that are quite safe - no steep cliffs or banks where their kids to fall into the water,” Mrs Rees said.
“Sometimes it is just about providing women with the locations where its safe.”
The WIRF network’s main focus has been on ways to build women’s confidence - something Mrs Rees said was desperately needed.
The 2017 study asked people who did not fish why. The main reason given was no experience or equipment.
The VFA’s Belinda Yim helped set the Facebook community up said the group had become a comfortable space where women could learn new skills, exchange advice and feel they could open up.
“What we’ve noticed is that it’s a very supportive community guided by members,” she said.
Ms Yim said clubs were increasingly keen to attract women and were contacting the VFA and others in the industry as they introduced new merchandise and events.
“We have grants that encourage more women to go fishing and there are a couple of angling clubs running events this year,” she said.
Mrs Rees was confident old fishing cultures would continue to erode.
“It is starting to shift, you can see it when out talking to a lot of ladies,” Mrs Rees said.
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