Volunteer instructor Joan McCreery kneels down to help a workshop participant safely release a trout at a fly fishing clinic held at Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery in Camp Sherman in May 2007. - ODFW photo by Nancy Smogor

Becoming Outdoor Women

In spring-fed waters and peaceful pine forests, Pam Marshall went fly-fishing but found paradise. "Fly-fishing is like being in heaven," says the 55-year-old Salem resident. "It's about the closest thing to God on Earth I think there is."

Marshall craved the serenity she captured on the Fall River in Central Oregon, only to realize her husband and son didn't embrace her as a fishing buddy. Loathe to be a third wheel, Marshall searched the Internet for a women's fly-fishing group. Becoming an Outdoors Woman promised not only fly-fishing excursions, but a guide to self-reliance.

"It intimidates my husband for me to go out on my own," Marshall says. "But it's fun."

The program, operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, introduced Marshall to kayaking, dog-sledding, navigating with a global positioning system and outdoor cooking. She learned basic survival skills and even how to chop wood. Ten years after learning to fly-fish, Marshall built her own rod with help from BOW instructors at an October workshop in Medford.

The only fly in her ointment? Letting her husband attend the weekend workshop, too.

"He keeps trying to help me," Marshall says, as she painstakingly wraps 1/2-inch lengths of the graphite tip section in burgundy thread.

"When men are here, I think it's intimidating for other women."

This year, ODFW offered Dennis Marshall, 60, and other men the chance to participate in BOW workshops. Equal opportunity for men, however, became a stumbling block for some women who wanted to learn outdoors skills in the exclusive company of their gender, says BOW coordinator Nancy Smogor.

"Men and women have different learning styles," Smogor says. "The whole purpose of Becoming an Outdoors Woman is to get women out of their traditional roles."

For some, the workshop has afforded a welcome return to nature.

Growing up, Suzanne Ericson's exposure to the outdoors came through the back-seat window of her family's Buick Roadmaster. A Sunday drive through the countryside southwest of Portland was a perennial pastime of Ericson's mother, who was "born with a silver spoon in her mouth."

"Her idea of the outdoors was looking at the outdoors, mainly from highways," says Ericson, 65, of Beaverton.

When Ericson got married at age 23, her husband introduced her to camping around Oregon, Southern Washington and Northern California. Fishing trips took her to the Clackamas and Columbia rivers for trout and steelhead. But once her first child was born, Ericson was left high and dry.

"My role as the good wife was to take care of the kids and support my good husband in his endeavors to hunt and fish."

Now divorced, Ericson realized seven years ago that she was running out of time to experience the outdoors. She signed up for a weekend ODFW workshop near Bend that introduced her to fly-fishing and tying her own flies.

"I knew I couldn't learn these things on my own."

Teaching a women-only class is often more enjoyable for experts in a given field, says Bob Fowler, a lifelong fly fisherman and BOW instructor. Women typically acknowledge that they know nothing about a subject, but they're ready to learn. Men, he says, too often act like they know almost everything and maybe the instructors can impart a few tips.

Pleasing her husband, however, spurred 38-year-old Tammy Dean of Springfield to finish her fly rod in a scant seven hours, ahead of six other women and all three men at the Medford BOW workshop. Adorned in University of Oregon's canary yellow and Kelly green, the rod was a late birthday gift for her husband, Rocky, 47. For $125, learning to build a fly rod seemed like a bargain, Tammy Dean says, considering that rods start retailing at about $200.

Although Dean prefers to spin and knit with fiber sheared from the alpacas she raises, the concentration and patience needed to fasten 10 metal hoops with tightly wound lengths of nylon thread came easily. Surprising her husband was much more difficult.

"I lied to him," Dean says. "I told him I was taking a weaving class."

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