February 15, 1995 in Sports

All-Male Fly Fishing Clubs Hit Snag

Fenton Roskelley
 

The hottest topic of conversation among many Northwest fly fishers who are members of all-male clubs is not whether to stomach pump trout, admit that their “mooching” is actually trolling or that they use bobbers, not “indicators.”

It’s political correctness.

To their consternation, the Federation of Fly Fishers no longer welcomes member clubs that discriminate against persons of the opposite sex.

The FFF board’s action shocked members of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club of Spokane and the Washington Fly Fishing Club of Seattle. Both are all-male clubs. So are some other clubs.

Without giving member clubs time to debate the subject, FFF directors decided that clubs, when considering new members, could not bar members of the opposite sex.

Either accept the rule, FFF directors, in effect, told member clubs, or drop out of FFF.

Board members apparently wanted to avoid confrontations before the annual meeting.

The board’s action, reported briefly and ambiguously in FFF publications following the annual meeting, has escalated gradually into a major controversy, with hot heads on either side of the issue writing to the FFF Quill, the national organization’s publication.

The rule was aimed at all-member clubs, but it will force all-female clubs to toe the new line if they want to retain membership in the FFF. Some members of one outstanding all-female Washington state club don’t like the rule any more than some members of all-male clubs.

The IEFFC and WFFC long have restricted their membership to males. Both are charter members of FFF.

The Spokane Fly Fishers, Spokane’s other fly fishing club, welcomes both men and women.

Not all members of the IEFFC are opposed to accepting females as members. Those who would vote to accept women, however, won’t speak out in deference to fellow club members’ strong prejudices. Most male fly fishers understand that female fly fishers are every bit as competent as males.

Here are excerpts from letters to the FFF Quill:

Adrienne Rudich, Chicago: “Congratulations to the FFF board for its action tidying up its by-laws so as to make it clear that membership in the organization knows no gender bias.”

Robert T. McLaughlin, Edmonds, Wash.: “I belong to a male-only club and am delighted that it is so. A good deal of my enjoyment of the meetings is based upon this fact.”

Frank N. Webster, Seattle: “I believe (and so, by the way, does my wife) that it is still important for men and women to be able to get together on their own, where they can talk about their sport from their own points of view and perspectives.”

Jim Abbs, FFF Quill editor, answered Webster this way: “The world has changed … we can’t kill our limit anymore, clearcut our forests or tell half of our fly fishing colleagues that they can’t join in the fun, just because they are different than we are.”

Ilsa Nolan, vice president of the Northwest Women Flyfishers, an all-woman club, wasn’t pleased with the FFF action.

“Many of us have spouses, boyfriends or brothers who fish,” she wrote, “but to be with women who fish is a different atmosphere. It’s supportive, it’s easy to ask a stupid question. We encourage that. Many feel that there is a value in being with the same sex; it’s fulfilling and there’s a certain camaraderie you only get with others of the same gender.”

Ann Miller, a biologist and editor of a newsletter of the Great Lakes and Great Rivers FFF councils, lobbied for the change in the FFF by-laws. She said she and others are “pleased with this change and hope that the discriminating attitudes that still exist will soon be dispersed.”

Why are some men fly fishers so prejudiced against having women members in their clubs.? Some like the kind of male camaraderie they’ve become accustomed to at club meetings. Some feel they can’t enjoy an occasional off-color joke when there are women present. And a few know that their jealous wives might think they will indulge in a little hanky-panky at club meetings.

The controversy over the gender issue isn’t likely to end as fast as a mayfly hatch. In fact, it’s possible that some clubs, rather than comply with the gender by-law, will drop out of the FFF. Stay tuned.

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