She started hunting to connect with her late husband. I started a company because of the problems I faced.

She started hunting to connect with her late husband.  I started a company because of the problems I faced.

Grief-stricken and missing the man she had loved since she was 12, Dylan Demery took out her husband’s fishing equipment, and the items she had bought him for his birthday, as a way to connect with him.

This story first appeared on From outsidethe premium outdoors newsletter written by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, as well as the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

Tony loved to fish, so much so that he would sometimes come straight out of the office after work, and Dylan loved to be with him when he did that. She loved the joy it brought him, and she loved the way he greeted the fish as he threw it. “Hello, little man,” he would say before thanking her and throwing her away.

She was hoping for a little peace that fishing gave her, but she was surprised by how much it yielded for her. She actually enjoyed it, so much so that she tried fly fishing. I fell in love with it, enjoyed the serenity it gave me and felt empowered enough to start a fly fishing company in 2020 to introduce women to the sport and sell them gear designed to fit them.

Tony and Demery were 31 when he died of pancreatitis in 2009. It was quick and terrible, she said, and fly fishing took away the terror of it, even more than meditation, another valuable part of her healing journey.

“I can get in the water and feel it,” Demery said. “It was unbelievable for me.”

Fly fishing brought her peace, and later brought her She’s Fly, a business that fulfills her purpose, even if it doesn’t make much, if any, profit. She pays the bills by working in customer support for a software company.

“Most of my life since Tony died I’ve been trying to feel happy and complete,” she said. “It’s flying that makes me excited to get up in the morning.”

It’s a beautiful story, perhaps even worthy of a Hallmark story, and you can stop there if you want to believe it was Tony’s memory that inspired her to start the company. But Tony’s memory only inspired her to take up hunting. Demery started the company when she decided she was tired of using his equipment, which fit her plus a tarp, and tried to buy her own.

“Are you here for your husband?” The store employee asked, grabbing her with a barbed hook attached behind her heart.

It got worse from there.

A strange and uncomfortable welcome committee

The same man who asked her about her husband tried to fit Demery in waders made for men, and she didn’t want him to measure her. Emily Anderson, Demery’s business partner, fishing friend and marketing director, was with her that day.

“The guy helping us was nice, but his eyes were straight to her chest,” Anderson said. “At that point, we wanted to do things differently.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, wader sizes have stopped at a size 14. More than 70% of all women are a size 14 and up, Demery said. Waders fit like a sausage casing.

“It was a terrible experience,” Demery said.

Just imagine, she thought, if this was a woman’s introduction to the sport. The thought made her sad.

“This is why we’re losing hunters,” said Kim Ranala, owner of Miss Mayfly, a southwestern Pennsylvania-based company that sells cut-and-fit hunting gear to women.

Fishing won’t lose her. Ranala became addicted to fishing – heh – after fishing helped her physically and mentally: fly fishing helped her rehabilitate from injury when nothing else worked. She was willing to wear waders that didn’t fit her well because she loved the sport. There aren’t many like it. In fact, even her daughter was not willing to do so, which is what prompted Ranala to change the industry. Her daughter is tall, 5’11, and has a woman’s figure.

“I wanted my daughter to go into the water with me,” Ranala said. “I bought the best thing I could find. It was lame. I knew it would never go into the water with her.”

So, starting in 2016, she spent a year learning how to design clothes, relying heavily on her ability to sew and create boots that fit all body types. She lost friends because of it, people who thought she was crazy, but she opened her store in 2018 selling waders only for women. Retailers, including She’s Fly, now carry her items and she has her own website, too. She knew she was onto something when a large woman flew in just to see Ranala.

“I told her, ‘I don’t have a wader that will fit you, but I’ll make one,'” Ranala said. “This is now the top release, and one of our best sellers.”

Demery now works with Ranalla to sell her equipment on She’s Fly. Other women have followed Ranala’s lead, including Colorado women who make fishing rods (for all genders), such as SaraBella Fishing and Karin Miller with Zen Tenkara.

Ranala cries when she talks about some of the women who have contacted her to tell her the equipment has changed their lives.

“These women are my heroes,” she said. “It’s really my love for them that keeps me going. Women always tell me that if they hadn’t found the mayfly, they wouldn’t have kept fishing.

Introduction with wine

Although the number of women and girls involved in fishing has increased, men still outnumber them in traditional outdoor sports. This doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with other outdoor sports. For example, more than half of half marathon runners are women. However, even with this rise, only a third of fishermen are women.

There are two main reasons for this, say Demery et al. Women still view traditional outdoor sports such as fishing as a male activity. Many others are afraid to be outside alone.

That’s why simple things like equipment are so important, Ranala said. They usually have so many reservations that even the slightest reaction may inspire them to give up.

“This is their first experience, and immediately they get the message that they don’t belong,” Ranala said.

However, Demery’s mission extends beyond finding gear that works for women. She wants to baptize as many as possible. She hosts beginner classes for women, and women only, so they can feel comfortable around each other and avoid the inevitable humiliation.

“We didn’t see ourselves in this sport, but that’s changing,” Demery said. “We’re trying to reach as many as we can.”

Participants learn how to cast during a class at Avalanche Ranch hosted by She’s Fly, a Fort Collins company founded by Dylan Demery after she had a bad experience trying to find waders to fish with. (Courtesy She’s Fly)

Melissa Gallegos of Loveland saw her husband’s fly fishing trips with his family and their sons as something for the boys, but on the few trips she was on, she started tying flies for them, and the art of it fascinated her to the point where she wanted to use it. But not on boys’ trips. I found Demery through a mutual friend and took her class. She even brought her sister-in-law to the next place.

“It was a welcoming atmosphere,” Demery said. “It’s just fun and low-key.”

Demery admits that women may need some amenities that men may not enjoy, including the glass of wine they get with the class Demery holds at Sweet Heart Winery in Loveland and the care packages she puts together for her students. Gallegos doesn’t apologize for enjoying the extra touches, like morning yoga and a soak in the hot springs after class.

“I mean, after fishing all day, it’s kind of nice,” she said.

Bro culture is not for everyone, including other men

There’s another reason women prefer to be taught by women, said Erin Crider, who owns Uncharted Outdoorswomen, a women-only guiding and outfitting service.

They tend to be turned off by rampant masculinity, Kreider said. Crider was a financial advisor but started her own outfitting company after searching for a guide that didn’t fit that negative stereotype and came up empty. What’s interesting is that this isn’t exclusively about sex. Now men attend her classes too.

“The bro culture isn’t for all men either,” Kreider said. “The women don’t seem to mind. The men promise they won’t ask for phone numbers. Most of them are grateful to have found us.

Aside from shaming men, there are darker reasons why women don’t go to classes taught by men.

“I have more than one example of seeing a man with a gun that set them off,” Crider said. “They told me that the last time they saw a gun, it was pointed at them.”

This is a problem, Ranala said, because a large percentage of women who enjoy the outdoors turn to it as a way to heal from the trauma inflicted on them by men. But ironically, their inexperience can increase their anxiety rather than decrease it.

“Sometimes, they can’t even identify poison ivy,” Ranala said. “They think there are bears and snakes everywhere. They feel strong and healed and at peace, but sometimes they’re walking down the road and they’re worried about the guy walking behind them.

Crider said even outfitters have talked to her about harassment they’ve experienced from customers or even other guides who should know better. Some outfitters who had children suddenly found themselves without well-tipped customers.

But what might be worse than all of that is the fact that men sometimes act as if women don’t belong in the outdoors, even if that’s not their intention. It is discrimination, and like all forms of discrimination, it is hurtful, humiliating and frustrating.

Women wearing waders stand in the river holding fishing poles
Emily Anderson, left, and Dylan Demery fish the Big Thompson River. Demery started hunting as a way to connect with her husband, who died at the age of 31.

For example, Anderson had a father who worked in the clothing business and, as a result, had been working outdoors since she was a child, giving her more experience than most men. However, before flying, she went to a fishing store and did not get help after 10 minutes of walking around the store. She even picked up the most expensive item and threatened to buy it and still ignored her.

“A lot of times there’s a lack of interaction like that, and a lot of times that’s the end of their experience,” Anderson said.

That’s why Crider’s goal isn’t just to introduce women to the outdoors. It is to enable them to return on their own, regardless of whether a man comes or not.

“We want to show them enough so they have the confidence to go, and they don’t even have to turn to us instead,” Kreider said.

Demery learned to love fishing on her own, and now says things like, “It’s fishing, but it’s really healing.” Hunting had given her a purpose, and it was also something she loved now as much as Tony did. She organizes trips to welcome other women into the sport, but still goes out on her own to fish when she can. When she receives one, she thinks of her husband

“Hey little man,” she says to the fish before thanking her and leaving.

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