SHERIDAN — Fly fishing isn’t often thought of as a woman’s sport. Songs and tales of those “gone fishing” typically focus on men and the sport is one with a primarily male demographic.
Brenna Burgos, though, hopes to change that.
After moving to the Sheridan area about a year ago, she started developing her business idea focused on women and fly fishing.
“Research shows that women want to learn,” Burgos said. “But, it is intimidating for a lot of women to enter the male-dominated industry. Most people in shops are men. So I thought Rods, Reels and Heels would be a great avenue for women.”
The business started off as blogging, but has grown to include classes and a clothing line.
Fly Shop of the Bighorns in downtown Sheridan provides Burgos with a space to sell her gear, for which 15 percent of the proceeds goes to Joey’s Foundation, a local nonprofit that utilizes fly fishing as a way to teach life lessons to children.
“We thought it was a great idea, to approach women without intimidating them,” shop owner Peter Widener said of Rods, Reels and Heels. “This brings them in, gets them comfortable asking questions about flies, gear and where to go.”
Widener noted that Burgos’ efforts also help to grow his own business.
“It allows us to reach that demographic and now when women come in, we can send them to a specialist,” Widener said of Burgos’ group.
But Burgos won’t call herself an expert. She encourages women at all stages of learning about fly fishing to participate in events and classes hosted by Rods, Reels and Heels.
“We have women come who have been fly fishing for decades, and some that haven’t ever gone,” Burgos said. “It’s a sisterhood of fly fishing.”
She added that her overall goal is to let people, women especially, know that no matter how intimidating it may be to learn something new, there are always avenues to do so.
Whether the women who participate end up fishing just every once in a while or every weekend, Burgos noted the importance of learning a new skill.
Kathryn Law has attended Rods, Reels and Heels events.
“I have a tendency to do random things,” she said. “It isn’t a New Year’s thing, but sometimes I’ll say, ‘OK, this summer I’m going to do these things.’
“So one of those was that I wanted to learn to fly fish,” she added.
Soon, Law heard about Brugos’ plan for Rods, Reels and Heels and reached out.
Law noted that the business had just gotten started and said she was encouraged to see a good turnout at the initial social held to gauge interest.
“It’s good for women to have a support system,” Law said of the company. “It’s not just a guy thing. But (Rods, Reels and Heels) isn’t a frilly thing. It’s really down-to-earth and practical.”
Law said the group has been very welcoming and emphasized that she’s never felt “less than” because she wasn’t as experienced in fly fishing as others in attendance.
“I think it’s always a scary thing to start something that you’ve never done before,” Law said. “This creates a safe space.”
While Law grew up in Wyoming, she said she was used to just getting into the car with her family and going where they went and doing what they did.
“Fly fishing is something I can choose to go and do and be who I want to be,” she said.
Widener and Burgos both noted that they hope the program will continue to grow.
Burgos said she would like to see it stretch beyond the borders of Sheridan County. Eventually, she hopes to create networks of women across the country so if somebody from Sheridan wants to fly fish, say, in Washington, contacts to go with are easy to come by.
“Again, it’s that sisterhood of fly fishing,” she said.
She also noted that she’s still planning to grow the clothing line and develop more gear specifically for women.
Future events, too, could look different. Burgos said conservation efforts and projects that work as fundraisers for local organizations could be added to the mix more often in the future. Teaching ethical fishing and conservation practices will always be included in classes and programs by Rods, Reels and Heels, she said.
The company has just gotten started in Sheridan, but already Burgos has booked her next few classes to capacity. The turnout has encouraged her to continue her efforts connecting and supporting women.
The result has created networks of not only women fly fishers, but women in business working together and collaborating.
“This is a great way for women to network,” she said. “It’s not just about friendship, but a business avenue too.”