Women have been fishing in Maine for centuries. But in the past 10 years, there’s been a clear growth in the ranks of women anglers in the state – from 19 percent of all anglers in 2010 to nearly 25 percent – or 61,653 with fishing licenses – in 2020.
For this Mother’s Day, we asked several moms who fish why it’s important to them and why they want to pass the sport on to their children. They talked about how fishing teaches life lessons, offers a peace and inner calm, and encourages children to seek food from nature. Many said fishing has made up some of the best moments they’ve shared with their children.
So here’s a look at just some of the moms in Maine who cast lines and catch fish – and call on the next generation to continue the tradition.
LIZ THORNDIKE, STRONG
Thorndike’s life story tells what is possible when women who love to fish teach their children. She learned to fish while growing up in upstate New York near Lake Ontario. Her mother, Kaye Studdert, loved to fish so much that she planned family vacations not just around fishing – but around a particular fish species.
The result? Thorndike now is a state fisheries biologist in the Rangeley region who teaches her own children – ages 7 and 10 – to fish, and encourages other moms she meets on the water.
“I think especially with COVID moms are feeling stressed. We put such pressure on ourselves. Fishing is a great way to get outdoors, have fun, relax and detach,” Thorndike said. “I now see a lot of support by women anglers on social media, on Facebook groups. Women share their experiences and get feedback on places to go. And seeing other women fishing helps break down the misconception that it’s a male sport.”
BEV PIGEON, GORHAM
Pigeon learned to fly fish three years ago, fulfilling a longtime goal after she joined the Maine Women Fly Fishers group.
With her wife, Kathleen, Pigeon takes their two young sons hiking and camping often. And all the Pigeons fish together. But while Kathleen is drawn to mountain biking, Bev Pigeon migrates more to the rivers with her fly rod.
During the week, even early in spring before the fish are biting, she relishes decoding a river by investigating the water, the habitat and the fish species found there. Pigeon particularly loves the patience required in fishing. And, of course, moms require patience. So fly fishing has proven a great form of meditation for her.
“When I’m fishing, I think about the water moving. What are the fish doing? You notice things in nature. It’s exercising mindfulness. And then three hours goes by in the blink of an eye,” Pigeon said.
She started teaching their sons Rory, 11, and Jordy, 8, how to cast a fly rod on the lawn. But most of her sons’ fishing now is done with spinning rods. The type of fishing they do doesn’t matter to Pigeon.
“It’s not about you and fishing and you and having fun. It’s about them discovering what they find on their own. If they’re having fun outdoors – that’s a win,” Pigeon said.
JENNY EMLET, STANDISH
Emlet grew up in Gorham learning to fish from her dad and grandfather. Now as a parent, she sees the importance of fishing in her life.
“Women, moms and otherwise are in great need of the Zen that fishing provides,” Emlet said.
While both she and her husband, Jonathan, fish, Emlet said her husband does a lot of hunting in his free time, so she gets to do more fishing, which Emlet relishes.
At ages of 8 and 5, her two daughters haven’t quite embraced her passion for fly fishing. But they enjoy fishing with spinning gear with their mom at their Hiram camp. And Emlet, who took up fly fishing in high school, knows there’s plenty of time for them to catch the fly-fishing bug.
“Back when I learned, sometime around 2000, there weren’t many female anglers fly fishing,” Emlet said. “I think about that now. When I see another woman out on the river, I want to put my fist in the air.”
JODI JENNINGS HASKELL, SABATTUS
A single mom since her teenage kids were toddlers, Jennings Haskell has watched her son, Jacob, go from her student to her guide. And her daughter, Sarah, is part of the trio who go camping and fishing each summer.
Jennings Haskell learned from her dad while growing up in Lisbon. She still thanks Gregory Jennings every year for the gift by going fishing with just him at least once.
Each summer she goes on fishing and camping trips with her children, Jennings Haskell said it is far and away the best moments she spends with them.
“We have a map of Maine and we put sea glass on all the places around the state we’ve been camping and fishing. We’ve seen a lot of Maine,” Jennings Haskell said of her children, Jacob, 15, and Sarah, 14. “When I’m together with my kids outdoors, it is when we are together with no interruption, none of the busyness of the world. They put their cell phones away. It’s our time.”
She said more moms should try fishing because of that real together time – as well as the feeling of empowerment fishing provides.
“A lot of times we’re told we’re women and we can’t because we’re weaker. Well, times are changing,” Jennings Haskell said.
TONYA FLETCHER, AUBURN
Fletcher learned to fish from her dad when she was 6 near their home in Poland. She started teaching her daughter, Leah, at about the same age. After Fletcher was divorced, she and Leah, now 14, went fishing to find a happy, positive retreat.
And if Leah didn’t want to fish, walking around a brook still promised exploration and positive life lessons.
“She went off and played with a stick or in the mud or stomped in the water. It’s a good way to give them freedom and the chance to really enjoy the outdoors,” Fletcher said.
Now the two fish with Fletcher’s husband and Leah’s stepdad, Kevin. Although, Tonya and Leah Fletcher still go on their own. For Fletcher, a certified nutrition coach, one important lesson fishing has taught her daughter is how to harvest her own food.
“The first brook trout she caught, she gobbled it up like it was the best treat in the world,” Fletcher said. “She loves to eat what she catches. We’ve raised her to really appreciate the difference between what is factory farmed and what is wild – what nature has to offer us.”