The first time that Amidea Daniel invited women to join her for an introduction to fly fishing, the class filled up in hours.
When women signed up just as fast for her second class a month later, Daniel realized she was onto something.
“There just seemed an overwhelming response,” Daniel, an instructor with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, said.
Hoping that Daniel can continue the momentum, the commission this year put her in charge of programs for women and youth.
While women make up about half of the population of Pennsylvania, they buy only 18 percent of the fishing licenses sold in the state.
Fifty-six percent fail to renew licenses the following year, meaning that women drop out of fishing faster than men, the commission’s Executive Director John Arway told the state House Game and Fisheries Committee in February while explaining that the commission, which gets funding from license sales, not taxes, needs new customers.
Women face demands on their time which limit opportunities to try a new pastime. Even women who try fishing might lack friends who encourage them to keep at it.
“Somebody has to say, ‘Hey, let’s go fishing,’” Daniel said.
That’s why she started offering smaller, follow-up courses with an instructor for every two or three students.
The women review casting and knot-tying but spent most of their second class on the water.
Women who finished the second course wanted to continue so Daniel invited them back as mentors. She started a page called PA Women Anglers on Facebook where women can talk about places to fish, ask about gear and learn how Trout Unlimited and businesses are promoting fishing for women.
Daniel said some women who fished as youths want to return to the sport to relax or because they’ve retired and have more time.
For some who had fished only with worms and bobbers, fly fishing held a mystique before they took Daniel’s class.
“They like the peacefulness of it, the movements,” Daniel said.
In that respect, the women in the class were like their teacher.
Daniel grew up bait casting on small streams with her father and grandparents, usually during trout season, which started Saturday in Schuylkill County and 17 other southeastern counties and opens for Luzerne, Lackawanna and 48 other counties on April 15.
Until she met her husband 20 years ago, Daniel said she had no idea what fly fishing was.
On her first try, she noticed white bugs that she now recognizes as midges rising from the water. She looked through her box until she found a fly of the same size and color.
“Five to six casts later, I caught my first brown trout … It was pretty awesome,” Daniel said.
The idea that she could fish on the surface instead of the bottom of the stream and select her bait from a case in her pocket rather than from a can of worms or a bucket of minnows enticed her.
Her husband teaches fly fishing, and she continued to learn from him.
Likewise, Ann Foster, a member of Trout Unlimited, started fishing in earnest after meeting her husband.
“I was never an expert, always had an Ugly Stik kind of rod, but once you hook that first shad on your line or reel in your first catfish … you yourself are hooked,” Foster said.
About five years after her children were grown, Foster learned to fly fish from a friend during a women’s camping trip.
“She took that Ugly Stik out of my hand and put a fly rod in it and tried to teach me how to cast,” Foster recalled. “The beauty of the sport, the challenge of executing it effectively and the environmental awareness that’s involved with fly fishing drew me to it.”
Entering a room full of veteran fly fishermen at her first meeting of the Brodhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Monroe County took resolve.
“Luckily, having spent 20 years raising four sons made me the type of person who wasn’t so easily intimidated by a room full of men,” she said.
Foster isn’t surprised by statistics indicating that men buy and renew fishing licenses more often than women.
“While I think it’s improved since I was young, I still think in youth a girl is less likely to be mentored and encouraged in the sport of fishing than a boy,” she said.
She has noticed that men offer advice on fishing when she asks, and their support can help women improve and enjoy themselves as anglers.
In her chapter of Trout Unlimited, members organized an event called Wine, Women and Waders to introduce women to fly fishing in a relaxed setting on April 29.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Foster said. “We have ladies on a waiting list and will likely hold a repeat event in the fall.”