I hate that feeling. If you’re a woman who enjoys doing activities that are often viewed as a man’s sport, you know the feeling I am talking about.
Take fly fishing. You walk into a fly shop and the “guys” are standing there, having a Tim’s and talking about their latest fishing adventures. When they see you, they stop talking. They turn. And stare.
Then the fellow who actually works there approaches you with a curious smile. Often as not, he asks you if you’re there to get something for your husband/boyfriend/other half (who surely must be the one who fishes).
That used to happen to me. So I’d take a deep breath, stand tall and say something like “Nope, I’m out of leader material, I need some Hendricksons, Adams and maybe some Hare’s ears. And some new hemostats”.
That usually made the guys shake their heads and wonder how this woman knew their language. But it wasn’t comfortable. Or pleasant.
Over the years, I’ve entered plenty of fly shops. I’ve often had that feeling, where I am something of an imposter trying to blend in. Even though I do know the language and can talk about casting for steelies in the winter, or nymphing or what it is like to hook a brookie on a dry, it still happens.
But thankfully, not all the time. It was about 2 years ago when I needed a 6-weight fly rod. I’d done my homework, narrowed it down to 2 different brands, and headed into Toronto to this new fly shop called Drift Outfitters (http://drift-outfitters.shoplightspeed.com/). My friends Alex and Sean both told me I’d like the shop, and a website check showed me they carried both brands. So, I ventured downtown with a bit of trepidation, a thick skin and a credit card.
(Now before this becomes an advertisement for Drift, please return to the original premise of this story – the feeling of entering somewhere and feeling out of place, on display or otherwise uncomfortable. Pause for a moment and think about that feeling. Put yourself there, so right now, so you’re feeling a bit off balance and delicate as you continue reading…)
I strode into the shop, prepared with a selection of retorts to throw at the “guys”. There were two young men behind the counter and I metaphorically “braced” myself for that look and the question.
But to my complete surprise, Harry looked up, grinned and said, “Hey there, how can I help you today?” And the look on his face was welcoming and interested and ready to help. I was startled and delighted and blurted out “A 6-weight. I need a new 6-weight”. And before I knew it, Harry was out from behind the counter, drilling me with questions, and ready to show me a few different rods.
Why was this shop different? Or why was Harry (and then Chris, and Alex and Rob, the owner) different?
I think it’s a combination of a few things.
- First, more women are fly fishing and so more women come into fly shops, and staff need to be prepared. There was a time when I’d be the only woman on the river, and now, I take great delight in seeing other women out there, casting and bringing in (and releasing) fish.
- Second, I think that many of us have done a great job with our children promoting gender equity. Jaime once told her Dad that she wanted to do a girls’ sport…she wanted to fish! These young men are Jaime’s generation, and they love everything about fishing and want to share that love. Couple that with their gender perspectives, and you get a reception that makes everyone feel welcome.
- Third, I believe that the owner sets the tone for the welcome. Rob has an unpretentious way of making each client feel like we are the most important person who’s walked into the store. Ever. And that makes all the difference.
In these days of #metoo that seem to colour the newspapers and air waves, it is so refreshing to walk into a shop and know you are both welcome and wanted.
So, yes, now that I think about it, this I actually this is a plug for Drift Outfitters! But even more so, it is a plug for their families and the people who have influenced these young men to become the way they are. They have created a wonderful, welcoming store, and they give me hope that the generations of young people coming after me are ready to make a difference…starting with one fly fisher after another!