Navigating New Waters
With women being the fastest growing demographic in fly fishing and Bozeman being one of the fastest growing towns in the nation, it’s not too much of a stretch to realize that Bozeman may be the epicenter of the boom in women fly fishermen. Having worked in various fly shops since 2015, I have noticed an increase in both female fly anglers as well as products geared towards them. Through my work and by chance, I have been fortunate to meet some of these anglers. I recently had a chance to interview guide and outfitter Mae Monaghan who is owner and operator of Maefly Outfitters and also guides for the Tackle Shop in Ennis.
Greg Louzan: How did you get into fly fishing and what part of Montana are you from?
Mae Monaghan: Born and raised over in the Harrison Pony area and graduated high school at Harrison. Originally, I used to fish with my grandpa all the time. We would go camping and fishing; he was the one who introduced me to fly fishing. He passed away when I was younger and no one else in my family was really into it. What was really cool though at Harrison High School, we had these crazy PE electives that we could take. One year we had a local guide out of Ennis, out of the Tackle Shop and he taught one of the PE classes, so I took the course. We tied flies, he took us out on the Lower Madison, we fished. He basically just donated and volunteered his time to teach us all how to fish. We had a small class of 10 kids, so we had a lot of exposure to him and that guy was super influential in getting me started fishing.
GL: What was it like starting out as a female guide and eventually outfitter, and do you feel it has become more accessible for female anglers to make the transition?
MM: Yea, I think so. Especially right now, they gear a lot of stuff toward women and their comfort in mind. Right now, it’s especially big but before it wasn’t. When I started out, I ran into some guys that weren’t mean necessarily, but they definitely wanted to test me. There was one guy who I worked with a lot early on who was just so tough, and I’d come home at the end of the day just so frustrated and upset. But we’re great friends now and I learned so much from him. It definitely made me a better fisherman, working with the guys. I can take criticism and crap from people and be okay at the end of the day. It was kind of twofold; it was a good experience learning and made me tougher, but then it was also challenging and it was hard for sure. A big part too was that I love rowing, especially the Upper Madison. At first a lot of the guys were like “oh she’s too little” or “she can’t do this” “can’t handle high wind days.” That’s kind of where I always felt that I had to prove myself, and once I did then it was fine. There were no more questions about it. But that was a big one, when it came to rowing that drift boat, especially on bigger water, they would kind of baby me with that kind of stuff. A lot of it comes down to ego and trying to break free of that. There’s always something new to be learned if you just let yourself.
GL: Women are the fastest (and only) growing demographic in fly fishing. Do you think this is attributed to the overall growth in outdoor sports or is there something specific that is attracting more and more females to fly fishing?
MM: I think a lot of it has to do with family-oriented activities, not just women but also the kids as well. We get tons of trips with kids. Our society is kind of getting away from the ‘Good ol’ boys club.’ Like, “we’re gonna take the weekend and go fishing” has turned more into “we’re gonna take the whole family fishing.” I think they get the wives or the girlfriends up to speed so they feel like they can do something enjoyable together. I’ve kind of noticed that as well as the kids; the kids are big-time getting into it. There’s a piece of it that people like it because it’s cool. Fly fishing has become more trendy and a lot people when they come to Montana, if they’re gonna do two things, they raft and they fly fish.
GL: With the rise of “fishing influencers” and “instafamous” female anglers, what role if at all do you think social media has played in the recent growth?
MM: Oh gosh, social media, you have to be good at it. Word of mouth isn’t good enough anymore; you have to be holding the big fish and get “the shot.” I think social media has played a huge piece of that. Like I said earlier, it’s almost trendy, it’s cool to hold the big fish in that picture. I’ve noticed too people are more careful even, you will get torn apart if you’re not holding the fish right or if you’re too far from the water. I don’t know, it seems like social media has exploded in the fly fishing industry. Sometimes I have to look at it like work, after a long day I get home and say to myself “okay you have to post this stuff.” When I grew up, we didn’t have cell phones and Facebook or any of that, so it’s different. It’s free advertising really, but it’s hard for some of us to do. I work with Orvis quite a bit and sometimes will write a little article for them or someone from the company will visit and fish with me. And always one of my guy friends will say, “Oh you only get that cause you’re a woman and you’re pretty.” It is a double-edged sword because I don’t wanna cry and complain about getting these opportunities but you do kind of wonder, is it because of that or because I’m decent at the sport?
GL: What advice would you have for female fly anglers entering the sport and how to navigate a steep learning curve in a sport by and large dominated by older men?
MM: I’ve actually told a couple gals this lately. Women will seek me out because women are comfortable with women, ya know. Like I told you in the beginning, if I hadn’t had those experiences with older fly fishing men, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. So get over being nervous; those guys have tons to teach us and most of them are more than willing to teach us. My advice would be to learn something from everyone, seek out women if that makes you more comfortable, but don’t be afraid to learn from someone who may be older or slightly intimidating.
After speaking with Mae, I was excited to hear her view that the growth of fly fishing is expanding not only to female anglers, but more and more as an activity for the whole family. Whether you are just experiencing the sport for the first time or are a seasoned angler, Mae’s advice about getting over ego and learning from everyone is a valuable tip that will surely maximize your time on our region’s bountiful water. Mother’s Day is fast approaching and with it the infamous Mother’s Day caddis hatch. If you are able, it is always a great excuse to get out of the house and experience some of the best dry fly fishing of the year with your loved ones.