By Brenda J. Sharpe
At the Canadian Fly Fishing Forum in Brampton, Ontario in April 2000,
a last blast of winter causes the unheated exhibition hall to become uncomfortably
cold for attendees and exhibitors alike. Industrial heaters are brought in to warm
At a booth at the back of the hall, a large bowl of goldfish crackers attracts visitors.
Several women are standing behind the counter, shivering but still smiling despite the
cold. They are representatives from the Reel Women Fly Fishing Club of Ontario.
Pat Robinson, the president of the club, and booth-mates Kathi Surette and Janice
Collis are cheerful, welcoming, and eager to confirm to visitors that women can
participate fully in the sport.
Warming her hands as best she can on a styrofoam cup of tea, Robinson also warms
to the subject of the Reel Women club and their enjoyment of fly fishing.
Confronted with the death of her younger sister in 1996, Robinson, now president
of a freight brokerage firm, began to list things she wanted to do but hadn't done yet.
She had fished before and was aware of fly fishing, but had not yet tried it, so she
entered it on her list. An impulsive visit to Grindstone Angling in Waterdown,
Ontario was all it took. A few lessons, some fishing trips later, and she knew
she had found a sport she loved.
Almost immediately she began to think about sharing the sport with other women.
Grindstone Angling staff offered the use of their shop for a meeting, and Robinson
created a flyer to advertise the event. Seven women turned out for that gathering.
Kathi Surette was one of those seven. A former resident of South Carolina, she now
serves as vice president. She has created business cards and brochures for the group.
Enlarged photos of her with some very impressive catches grace the Reel Women's
The group soon drafted bylaws, a charter and a mission statement. The businesslike
approach helped establish credibility and provide a platform for future growth.
Membership has grown steadily: at the time of the Forum the group was 34 members
strong and had outgrown their original meeting space. They meet at least once a month
in addition to fishing outings and special events.
The club has an educational mandate. Sessions include information on equipment,
knots, basic fly tying, and other beginner information, often presented in the form
of handouts and kits.
Asked about the challenges of starting a women's club in what is still largely a men's
sport Robinson says, "In some ways it's almost easier. Women are born organizers.
We're used to juggling work, husband, families; many things at once." As may not
always be the case with established, male-dominated clubs, there is a special emphasis
on making new members feel immediately welcome and comfortable. Meetings begin
with introductions, anecdotes, and a chance for visitors to tell about their level of
experience in fly fishing and what they hope to learn.
The club has actively sought donations from the community although outfitting some
members for their first fishing trip has occasionally proved challenging. Somehow,
though, it works out. "Wealthy or struggling, the passion for the sport is the equalizer,"
"Causes and projects escalate the club," she adds. The group involved itself in local
conservation efforts right from the start. One activity of the club is particularly near
to Robinson's heart.
She spent time with breast cancer patients prior to her sister's death from the disease,
and remembered these women once she began to fly fish. After some research she
found that others had made a similar connection, notably Gwenn Perkins of Orvis, who
originated the Casting for Recovery program in Vermont. The Women's Fly Fishing
Association of Alberta held Canada's first fly fishing retreat for women in 1997, now
a regular event called Casting for Life.
The Reel Women are hosting the Cathy Taylor-Varlow Memorial Fishing Derby
for Women in September, in memory of Pat Robinson's sister. For more information
about this event, contact them at reelwomenflyfishers@ hotmail.com or by telephone:
(905) 336-9061 (Pat Robinson) or (905) 543-9648 (Kathi Surette).
~ Brenda J. Sharpe