Women are everywhere on the water. Fishing has long been a male-dominated pastime, but that trend has changed. Fly fishing, and fishing in general, is no longer your father’s sport. It’s your mother’s and your sister’s. It is, in essence, for everyone, male or female.
Few have really studied this phenomenon. Steve Kantner was astute enough write about it in depth with his new book, Fifty Women Who Fish. Published by Wild River Press, the book features lengthy profiles of some of the most famous women anglers, including legendary caster Joan Wulff, television host and guide April Vokey, DUN Magazine editor Jen Ripple, longtime Miami Herald outdoor writer Sue Cocking and world-record holder Meredith McCord among others.
TFO blog editor Mike Hodge reached out to Kantner at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla. home to discuss his book, which is his third. The other two are The Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing South Florida on Foot and Backcountry Flies: Tying and Fishing Florida Patterns, from Swamp to Surf.
Fifty Women Who Fish is due to be released later this spring. You can order copies here.
Below are excerpts from the phone interview.
TFO: Here’s a simple question: How long did the book take, from start to finish?
SK: “Well, from its actual conception to its actual delivery, I started in January two years ago, and now we’re going into April, so you’d say about 28 months.”
TFO: Was this book more difficult than your first two books?
SK: “The level of depth. … You’ll see.”
TFO: The fly book is somewhat formulaic. But this is a series of in-depth profiles, right?
SK: “It’s a 200-and-something-page book. And you have to try do it right. A lot of the fly book, the problem was that I’m a lousy photographer, and I had to try to get all the photos done. … But here you’re talking about sweeping concepts and people’s lives. One girl was locked inside of her house until she was 9 years old.”
TFO: The profiles, did they take a long time to write and to do the interviewing?
SK: “The thing I worry about is sometimes you get to know these women and you’re talking to them, I wanted them to be comfortable. That’s why I let them see things as the process evolved. I didn’t want them to be afraid because this would have some longevity. It’s not like a Facebook post. No one knew them better than they did. I didn’t want the profiles to be press releases, but I wanted the women to be confident in what was presented.”
TFO: What was the most rewarding aspect of the process?
SK: “I got to know and understand women a lot better. I think the most rewarding thing is I gave these women a voice to their concerns and to their fears and to their aspirations. I tried to let them be all that they could be.”
TFO: What was it like talking to Joan Wulff?
“That was a couple times. (My publisher) Tom Pero knows her pretty well. I talked to her a bunch of times. Her stich is the First Lady of Fly Fishing. I’ve known her for years. She came pretty clean with her life. She’s a lovely lady, 92 years old. She was big not only for women’s fishing, but for everybody. She came from a large family. Her father was Jimmy Salvato. He had a sports store in a suburb of Patterson, N.J. That was back in the day when you sent your sons to college, but not your daughters. She always had a little edge about that. … From the first time she went fishing, she knew it was for her.
“I didn’t know her (late) husband Lee. But the guys that I know that knew him either liked him or they didn’t. Most of them really liked him a lot.”
TFO: Were most of the women pretty receptive to being profiled?
SK: “Yes. Once they realized I was authentic. In the beginning, imagine how it would be when someone calls you up and wants to ask you secrets? I came on slow, deliberately. You look at all the weird stuff we have in our society. I don’t know about you, but I get about 10 crank calls a day — ransom ware and locking up your computer. Imagine what it’s like getting a call where they might not know you.”
TFO: Did you have trouble coming up with 50 names to profile?
“No. The problem I really worried about was there’s one who’s particularly deserving that I would have liked to have added, but you can’t have a title like 51 Women Who Fish. I didn’t know this woman personally, but if there’s a sequel, she’s on my list.
“I’m kind of a sucker. I was sending stuff out and I really had to ride herd on it: ‘Are you interested. If you’re not, say so.’ But you know how it is, it’s not normal thinking. They don’t say, ‘No thanks. Not interested.’ What I was afraid of was getting 51 responses and I would have to tell someone no. That would be devastating. I would then defeat the purpose that I started out to do, which is to give them a fair shake. Fortunately everything fell into place.”