• Fly fishing reels in more women
    By PAT GRAHAM The Associated Press | August 27,2006
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    COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. Standing on a rock outcropping that juts into Officer's Gulch Lake, Char Bloom resembled an orchestra conductor the moment before a concert. Instead of lifting a wand, though, she waved a fly fishing rod.

    With an audience of women surrounding her, Bloom brought her rod back and then gracefully rocked it forward, throwing her line into the lake with just the perfect amount of arch. The fly gently landed on the tranquil lake, creating only the tiniest ripple.

    "Make sure the fly hits the water first and not the rest of your line," Bloom said. "Otherwise, you'll scare the fish away."

    Too late: The 17 female anglers watching Bloom were wearing jingling beads around their waists and they were decked out from head to toe in bright colors such as turquoise and hot pink. Their rods? Raspberry colored.

    There are new anglers reeling in fish these days: According to an Outdoor Industry Foundation study last year, there are nearly 3.5 million women who fly fish in the United States, up 200,000 since 2003.

    That's welcome news to Robert Ramsay, president of the American Fly Fishers Trade Association.

    "We all know that mothers control vacation destinations," Ramsay laughed. "If we can entice mothers to take their families fishing, that would be great.

    "Fly fishing has this stigma of being a cigar-smoking, good-old-boys type club. It would be great to change that image."

    The International Women's Fly Fishers organization, now in its 11th year, has helped organize 42 women's clubs from California to New Zealand.

    "You have companies making waders and boots just for women and rod makers designing rods to fit the smaller hands of ladies I'd say ladies are discovering fly fishing," said Pat Magnuson, vice president of IWFF. "It's fascinating to see the interest."

    If Bloom's clinics are any indication, interest is increasing. As one of the top female fly fishers in the nation, she is in high demand.

    "My husband was up at 5 a.m. one morning with a sick kid and saw her on television," said Betsy Wiersma, who brought Bloom in for Camp Experience, a two-day, women-only seminar at Copper Mountain.

    The clinic was dedicated to giving women a chance to relax and mingle through fishing, golf, yoga, massages and pedicures.

    For Bloom, it was paradise. She was a camp participant, but she also was an instructor.

    "Any day I have a group to teach, it's a special day," said Bloom, the mother of Philadelphia Eagles kick returner and Olympic moguls skier Jeremy Bloom. "You have the possibility to give them a day that might change their life."

    During one morning at Camp Experience, one person plunged into the water up to her knees and another snapped her line so hard the fly took flight and landed briefly in her hair before falling to the ground. Someone else snagged a 3-foot bush.

    "We haven't caught many fish, but we look good and are having fun," said Bloom, who has started her own line of clothing with "Fish like a girl" as a motto.

    Charlie Craven has seen the influx of women fly fishers. According to Craven, owner of Charlie's FlyBox in the Denver suburb of Arvada, there is a growing number of wives accompanying husbands into the streams.

    "It's really catching on," he said, no pun intended.

    Fly fishing as a whole has leveled off, though, according to last year's study. There were 14.7 million fly fishermen (and women) in 2005, down from 18.2 million in 2004.

    Fly fishing had a surge in popularity when Brad Pitt starred in the 1992 movie "A River Runs Through It." However, wannabes soon discovered it wasn't as easy as Pitt made it look.

    "It got very fashionable there for a while," fly fishing author John Gierach said. "But those who saw the movie and got into it because it looked fashionable have moved on to something else."

    Not that Gierach or the rest of the fishing community minds.

    "There's not enough water to support a ton of fishermen," Craven said.

    If you find a good fishing spot, you tend to keep it private. But the secret's out about Bloom, who has been teaching clinics for four years from her home base in nearby Keystone. She does about 10 formal clinics during the summer and countless informal ones.

    She doesn't take payment, either. Instead, she will hand the client a donation form for the Denver Rescue Mission's Champa House, which helps single moms and their children.

    "If they float for nine hours in my drift boat, I never know if they send in $10 or $10,000," Bloom said.

    All of Bloom's classes at Camp Experience were filled. Most of the nearly 200 women wanted to learn fly fishing, and so they were bused from Copper Mountain to the lake (a lake is easier than wading into a river). Seeing the women walk toward her in the bright clothes she designed gave Bloom goose bumps.

    "Fishing should be in high-def," Bloom said.

    Although she had met the women just the night before, Bloom acted as if she'd known them forever. She gave quick pointers and sent them off to catch fish

    "Is it common to lose your fly?" said Maria Mazzaferro, a belly dancer from Louisville, Colo., who supplied the hip scarves the women were wearing on the lake. "I've lost a few."

    "No problem," Bloom said. "But you catch more if you keep the fly on."

    While the women practiced casting, Bloom's attention was drawn to the fish jumping toward the middle of the lake.

    "I'd give anything to cast out there," said Bloom, whose first name, Char, is a small-scaled trout. "Fishing is such a sensory sport. Standing in the river, listening to the sounds as butterflies fly around.

    "Day one might be frustrating because you might be getting knots in your line, but when you finally get that good cast and you get a fish and you pull up a gorgeous rainbow trout it's a little bit Zen."

    The bus pulled up to take the women back to the ski area. Bloom couldn't wait to return to the lodge. She had an appointment.

    "Nothing is better after a day of fishing than getting your nails done," she said.
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