The River Dee Damsels are keen to see more women getting into fishing. Gayle Ritchie hooked up with the group for a bash at the sport.
It can be a daunting world for women to break into.
From out-of-date boys’ club banter to a lack of female-friendly facilities, angling has long been thought of as a man’s domain.
And yet uptake among women has been steadily improving, thanks to people like Tara Spiers who are passionately promoting the sport.
Aberdeen-based Tara founded the River Dee Damsels in 2018 in a bid to get ladies together to head out fishing without fear of judgment.
“I felt quite intimidated when I started going into fishermen’s huts,” Tara tells me, when we meet up on the banks of the Dee at Tilquhillie, near Banchory.
“There would usually be a lot of men talking about lines and fishing weights, but I just wanted to get out on the river and have a go.
“Fishing wasn’t on my radar when I was younger – there was no obvious pathway into it. I was fortunate my husband knew about it, but I was conscious that lots of ladies coming on ‘intro days’ on the Dee didn’t know how to progress once they’d learned to cast.
“That’s why I set up the Damsels – with a view to introducing newbies to the sport and having a bit of a ‘comfort blanket’.
“It was about being able to support each other while fishing in a friendly and relaxed environment.”
Cosy fishing hut
Before I join the Damsels on the river, I swill back coffee and munch on slices of Tara’s delicious cake inside the cosy hut.
There’s a huge spread of lunch laid on here, too, with everything from quiche to homebakes to chocolate, crisps, sandwiches and wine. It’s clear that the focus is not 100% on fishing, which suits me fine!
I’ve tried fly fishing before, but Tara is keen to get me into waders for a shot on the Dee, which she says is known as a “ladies’ river” because of its “easy wading”.
I’m not great, but after a few duff attempts, and with Tara’s instruction (although she modestly tells me she’s not an instructor), I see improvements.
It’s good exercise, a great way to relax, and wow – what a view up and down the river.
Tara reckons women are becoming far more visible on riverbanks thanks to social media.
“We’re posting pictures online, and people are seeing us and wanting to get on board,” she says.
“I think as women we have a degree of guilt about taking time for ourselves, but when you do, you realise how much you need it.
“When I get into the water, everything melts away. It’s the one thing that allows me to switch off.”
Tara started fishing seven years ago and is keen to stress how accessible it is.
“It’s for all walks of life, not just the tweed-clad, hunting, fishing, shooting set,” she says.
“It doesn’t need to be an expensive sport. There are so many ways to get into it.
“The more people that fish, the more appreciation there will be for the river, the environment and conservation matters.”
We catch up with some more Damsels at Lower Woodend, a secluded beat accessed via a private estate track a few miles from Tilquhillie.
Here, Jacqueline Robertson tells me she joined the group after feeling she had to convince some fishermen she knew her stuff.
“I was working at Orvis, a fishing shop in Banchory, and some of the clientele didn’t agree with my advice!” she reveals.
“I thought the only way they’d listen would be if I was to be seen on the river with a rod in my hand.
“I joined a Damsels ladies day and built up my confidence and knowledge and then did Fishdee24 in 2021, a 24-hour fishing extravaganza.”
Jacqueline always looks forward to her days out with the Damsels, describing them as “such a great laugh”.
“It’s not just about being in the water,” she adds.
“It’s about being in cosy fishing huts, eating amazing lunches, having great conversations. There’s no judgment. It doesn’t matter your background or knowledge.”
When I get into the water, everything melts away. It’s the one thing that allows me to switch off.”
Fiona Robertson took up fishing after her grandfather, a keen salmon fisherman, passed away. “I love it!” she says.
“And there’s such a warm, welcoming atmosphere in the Damsels. Everyone encourages you.”
Tara says while the Damsels are bringing in beginners, they’ve also got some “really proficient” ladies catching salmon.
“Over the year we’ve got a range of days for all abilities,” she says.
“Complete novices can come to intro days where they get casting instruction and learn what fishing’s all about.
“We do ‘women, wine and waders’ nights, ‘read the river’ afternoon teas to raise money for charity and fishing days on the Dee.
“Many of the ladies have become so confident that they’re off fishing by themselves. They’ve formed great friendships. I’m really proud of them all.”
- Tara is a director of the River Dee Trust.
- The first ‘ladies learn to fish day’ next season will be on March 17 2023. For more information see Facebook, Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org