Breaking Down Barriers

Recently I returned from a trip to Boston, Mass. where I was invited to speak to an all men’s fly fishing club, the Fly Casters of Boston. This is a private club steeped in tradition and bylaws that date back to the early 1940s. The group of gentlemen meet monthly at the even older, Boston Union Club, situated on Beacon Hill across from the State Capital building. It’s a prestigious club and I was flattered for the invitation.

I was told that some of the gentlemen had interest in tenkara and were curious to learn about it. The club had had another tenkara speaker quite some time ago, but several members had been following my pursuits and were interested in what I was doing. They wanted to learn more. Needless to say, I secured a flight and was on my way. The opportunity to talk about tenkara was overwhelming. The opportunity to talk about tenkara to a gentlemen-only fly fishing group was beyond what words could express.

To further the cause and the experience, I was gently reminded there was a dress code in place and that my regular quick-dry pants,  plaid fishing shirt and hiking boots would not cut the mustard. Honestly, I was internally thrilled. The chance to get a little dressed would be fun and make the event even more special. I would also be spending the night at the Union Club, a private, vibrant social club founded in 1863, which was the first male club in the city to welcome women as members. I took that as a positive sign.

The evening began with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and succulent oysters on the half shell, all while overlooking a park and the State House. This was slightly more indulgent than the usual beer and vegetable platter with ranch dressing that accompanies most other presentations. I could get used to this. The room was ornate and flattered the men who filled it – all adorned in well-fitted suits, ties and even bowties. Red wine and a variety of whiskies flowed, and my warm host introduced me around the room. In a relatively short period of time I was embedded in conversations, laughing, looking at fish pictures on phones and felt relaxed and comfortable.

We sat down to an incredible 3 course dinner and enjoyed more intimate conversation and fish stories. After the main meal was finished and dessert was being served, I was introduced and began my presentation. I always find it interesting to survey people on their knowledge of tenkara and the audiences’ experience with the method.  Over the years, the number of hands that are raised has increased quite dramatically but I’m always surprised at how many people still know very little about fishing tenkara.

I started with a quick and dirty tenkara crash course then moved on from there. Even though I had a full hour to present, there were so many questions and wonderings that I actually ran overtime. While I try not to do this, the enthusiasm, interest and engagement speaks for itself. And when only one very elderly gentleman nods off for a few moments out of the entire hour, I call that undeniable success. Particularly in a darkened room after an indulgent meal and a bourbon or two to drink. I didn’t get up to my room until well after 10pm due to continued conversations and attempts to answer in-depth questions and inquiries, all while shaking hands and receiving generous compliments and thank-yous.

The night was simply fantastic and the experience, in my mind, ground breaking, not only as a women in the fly fishing industry speaking to an all-men’s fly fishing club, but also, speaking to this group about tenkara. This is exactly what seemed impossible ten years ago. I felt respected as an angler, as was tenkara, as a viable fly fishing method. It wasn’t a direct or easy path to this point in time, but here I am and it feels extremely good. I give credit to Fly Casters for being open minded and wanting to learn more. I give them kudos to opening their door to female speakers, because it’s atleast a start. During conversation, several members expressed their desire for the club to change and allow females to join as members, and acknowledged that it would bring freshness and a new vitality to the club. I congratulate them for saying this out loud and being accepting of change. I hope that my presentation, in a small way, will help to facilitate this sometime in the near future.

The next morning after my presentation I got dressed in slacks, cashmere sweater, black pearls, and blazer and headed downstairs for breakfast. I travel a lot and have gotten precise and efficient at packing lightweight. Like my tenkara rods, I dress multi-functional and with a minimalistic mindset. I have “dress athletic shoes” that I wear through airports, during outings and even with dresses in the evening. I consider them Parisian/European chic. However, in Boston at the Union Club, they were merely “sneakers.” I was refused service in the dinning room. Instead, I Googled “best breakfasts in Boston” and ventured outside into the city streets to find coffee and eggs for myself, due to my uncivilized attire. Just around the corner Archie’s Place offered up a Meat Lovers omelet to which I added spinach and mushrooms, served solely in Styrofoam with plastic utensils with a friendly smile, and it was most definitely delicious.

Breakfast was great. The city, full of history and cemeteries, was fabulous. I checked out of the Union Club that afternoon, leaving Beacon Hill and its traditions for another visit in the future when maybe, I would qualify for membership at the club I was speaking and could order a cup of coffee and breakfast and count on being served.

PS: My lovely Fly Casters host did tell me that I was the best dressed and most corporate looking fly fishing presenter the club had ever had (I guess minus the sneakers – though he didn’t seem to mind.)




  1. This is a wonderful article! What an exciting opportunity! Good for all of us — you represented us well.
    I’m curious. What shoes do you refer to as “dress athletic shoes”? I might need to buy a pair of those. When I was working, I did have some rather expensive, practical, European shoes, since I was on my feet all day. I’m intrigued about the brand to which you refer. No worries, I won’t quote you. (Unless they’re a sponsor. 🙂 )
    Again, congratulations on the speaking invitation and the super-positive results!

    • Hi Shirley – thanks for the kind words! You said it, Good for ALL of us – the women and the men. It was a little intimidating at first but then, well, we were all just talking fish, lol. I am an Athleta and Boden fan for travel wear when not on the water. Comfort, packability, style and wash and wear durability. The “sneakers” were a platform athletic shoe from Boden. But I have several others that are black slip-ons…these were essentially white. My bad. Lesson learned. But I love the shoe and wore it all through Germany, Switzerland and France (and got service everywhere I went, ha ha.)

  2. Thanks for sharing Karin. Interesting read. I am glad that you were received well, and they were interested in the technique.

    • They sure were! Slowly traditional fly fishermen are beginning to be interested in the method and appreciate the foundational skills the tenkara method relies on – particularly with larger fish.

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