The world is more complicated than I thought. Long ago I reckoned I knew the difference between a woman and a man. It was obvious really. Men were sort of, well, manly. They went out from time to time shooting rabbits, ploughing fields or fighting fires. Women, by contrast, married them, fed them and generally attended to their various needs. And the TV confirmed that it was so. While Tarzan was wrestling crocodiles in the swamp, Jane was at home taking his loincloth out of the tumble drier.

Now, before anyone starts ripping my head off, let me say that this all happened long ago. Those were the thoughts in the mind of a boy. I have since grown up and discovered, as I say, that the world is complicated. For one thing there are now more men who are hair stylists than fight fires. Apparently some men wear aftershave, condition their hair and look in the mirror…

Perhaps the blurring between the identities of the genders started with Monty Python’s lumberjack song. This manly figure from the great northern forests starts off as a regular, tough outdoor type but as the verses unfold he unveils himself to reveal a highly suspect, cross-dressing wimp. “I wish I was a girlie, just like my dear Papa!”

This may all seem funny to you. But to my naïve view of the world it was profoundly unsettling. If a lumberjack isn’t the archetypal man, who is?

Well, how about a fly fisherman? After all, we can easily picture this fellah standing up to his balls in icy rivers all day, or desperately hanging onto his rod as permit unpeel the line from his reel during a searing run on some tropical flat, or maybe he is gingerly extracting his fly from inside the terrifying jaws of a pike. It is easy to imagine him trekking home, his arms aching from the exertions of the day, before swilling a few cans of beer. Finally, he clambers wearily into his bed to spend the night snoring and farting and dreaming of great battles with monstrous fish.

But even this seems to be wrong. It looks like this mental image of the intrepid angler as some iconic male figure is likely to be threatened by, steady yourself, women!

To be honest, this is nothing new. One of the first on the scene was Dame Juliana Berbers whose “Treatyze on Fysshynge with an Angle” was published in 1496 and preceded Walton by fully 180 years. Later, women started turning heads after catching some big Atlantic salmon. Mrs Morison took a 61 pounder on a fly in 1924,  just two years after Miss Ballantine caught the biggest ever British salmon on the river Tay in October 1922.

Later Joan Wulff appeared in a competitive arena dominated by men and showed us all how to cast. And today, if you want to enjoy breathtaking technique and have access to the internet, you could do worse than visit a lady called JeongPark. In North America women are getting involved in fly fishing in record numbers, and why not? Clearly women can write, they can cast, they can tie flies, they can guide and they can catch record fish. And they are, let’s face it, much easier on the eye than your regular fishing buddy.

As far as I am concerned,  this is all a good thing. I like women. My mum is a woman. My sisters are too, and, come to think of it, so is my wife! So when I happen to come across a woman on water, I will be sure to take my hat off to her. After all, there’s absolutely no reason why she can’t be a real man too.

Published by Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly, September 2010