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Meeting the Hampshire ‘Fish Wives’

PUBLISHED: 10:32 01 September 2015 | UPDATED: 10:32 01 September 2015

Tracy Thew set up the Fish Wives three years ago - photo by Jason Allen

Tracy Thew set up the Fish Wives three years ago - photo by Jason Allen


Women across Hampshire are becoming hooked on a new pastime, Claire Pitcher spent the day with the self named ‘Fish Wives’ to find out what was reeling them in

Fly fishing is no longer a male dominated sport thanks to light weight rods and lines  - photo by Jason AllenFly fishing is no longer a male dominated sport thanks to light weight rods and lines - photo by Jason Allen

When it comes to the sport of fishing, you may be excused in thinking that it’s all men in waders sharing a thermos and bonding over the ‘big catch’. But in recent years it has been experiencing something of a boom in the number of women taking up the sport. Did you know there are now at least 300,000 lady anglers in the UK? However, it wasn’t until 2005 that the first women passed their AAPGAI exams (Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors), and 10 years isn’t that long ago. So what’s been stopping us ladies? Tracy Thew, founder of Hampshire’s ladies’ only group, the Fish Wives, has a theory: “The men kept it a secret for so long,” she jokes.”

“It’s certainly not that men are better at it. Fly fishing used to mean using big heavy rods, there were gut lines, horse hair lines, and you had to have a lot of strength to cast the line out.

“These days rods are graphite and the lines match to the rod. It’s all about timing and technique – it takes very little effort to get a line right across the river.”

A fishing family

Landing a catch! - photo by Jason AllenLanding a catch! - photo by Jason Allen

Bought up in Milford on Sea, Tracy’s been fishing since her father gave her a rod on her 16th birthday. Safe to say she was ‘hooked’ from the very beginning and continued with the past time until she met her husband, Ian, a qualified fishing instructor. “I had to unlearn everything I was doing wrong and learnt to cast properly so I could become an instructor too,” recalls Tracy.

It was while helping Ian on a corporate fishing day three years ago that Tracy began thinking about how there didn’t appear to be many women taking part in fly and wondered why: “I asked around and they all said ‘I’ve got no one to go with’, or ‘I’d love to have a go but I don’t know where to start’. So I spoke to my husband and we decided I should instruct ladies.”

Tracy set up the Fish Wives and booked three days at a fishery at first to see how the new group would be received. There were so many women interested that she added another nine days that year and increased the number to 28 for the last two years: “It means that I can fish every week,” she smiles slyly.

All caught up

The Fish Wives meet at different fisheries each week to advance their skills - photo by Jason AllenThe Fish Wives meet at different fisheries each week to advance their skills - photo by Jason Allen

The ladies meet at different fisheries each week, from the beautiful Meon Springs at East Meon to Moorhen Fishery in Southampton. You can easily spot them along the bank, looking the part in their purple branded caps and jackets. This is as much about socialising as it is about fly fishing, with coffee and freshly baked biscuits on offer all day, a wonderful cooked lunch by Tracy herself, and even an afternoon tea to round off the day’s catch. Equally, you can spend the day in complete peace if you wish, watching the trout jump in the water, letting the hours slip by as you relax.

Tracy reveals that not only do women make better anglers, they are also easier to teach: “Ladies listen to what you tell them. That’s why they make better casters. Girls who take this up are so attentive, watching the fish. They are intuitive and will often out fish a man. It’s just one of those things – women want to listen whereas a man thinks he can do it with no real instruction.”

Time out

If you’re an outdoor girl and you fancy having a go at fishing you could try sea or course fishing, but for most ladies, sitting on a bank watching a float doesn’t seem the most exciting pastime. “With fly you’re on the go the whole time,” insists Tracy “changing the fly, spotting the fish, you move around for the best spot.”

Christine Ames celebrates a big catch - photo by Jason AllenChristine Ames celebrates a big catch - photo by Jason Allen

With Tracy and the rest of the Fish Wives championing the sport, the number of ladies (in Hampshire at least anyway), will no doubt keeping growing and let’s face it, we could all do with a bit of time out sometimes as Tracey concludes: “I think it’s a good thing that women have opportunities to develop their lives out of work and family. We all need it.”

Become a Fish Wife

It costs £300 to join as a member of the Fish Wives, or you can go along for the day for £80, which includes all your equipment, tuition, coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. If you are a member you just pay your fishery fee, so depending where you are, that is about £30 to £50, for two fish to take home. Find out more online at

The women are easily identifiable by their purple hats and jackets - photo by Jason AllenThe women are easily identifiable by their purple hats and jackets - photo by Jason Allen



Shulah Hawes, Garage Owner, from Burley

“I think it’s a misconception that people imagine their uncles and fathers going course fishing, sitting on a riverbank - it does look dull. But it doesn’t have to be like that at all. I started fly fishing in March and I love it. It sounds like a cliché’ but you do ‘get hooked’ and it is really exciting. You think it might be quite clicky going fishing with a group, and that guys might think ‘what’s she doing on the bank?’, but it’s not like that at all. It’s great being outside, no phones, no one around you. It’s so relaxing, but thrilling too!”

Andrea Smith, Bid Manager at NATS, from Portsmouth

“I’ve swapped handbags and shoes for fishing rods, reels and flies. Tracy has changed my life – she and Ian were doing cast demos at the New Forest Show and I saw them every year and thought I would like to have a go. I didn’t, because it was full of men.

In 2012 Tracy was at the show again setting up Fish Wives and I had a go at casting. My husband booked me a day with her at Holbury Lakes and I caught five fish on my first day.

I come here independently now, whereas before I don’t think I would have had the confidence in such a male dominated environment – now I feel like I can hold my own. I would quite happily come to Meon Springs and not fish - I’m content to just drink tea and chat. I didn’t even know Meon Springs existed before - it and the Fish Wives have been the best discoveries I’ve ever made.”

Christine Ames, B&B owner, from Ashurst

“Most of the bigger trout I catch I take to the River Test Smokery in Chilbolton, I then serve them up with scrambled egg on a toasted muffin to my guests. For me I enjoy serving it to them as much as I enjoy catching the fish.

I was fishing on my own at the time I met Tracy, going to a fishery called John O Gaunt. We fished together and I realised she was a jolly good fisher. She’s been so proactive and has gradually gathered a regular group of ladies. It’s a wonderful way of spending time with the girls and getting out for a day.

The perception has always been that fishing is associated with chaps. The reality is it’s nothing to do with strength - it’s all skill and technique. It also requires patience, something we women have inherently more of. When you talk to other women about fishing, and they ask how difficult it is, you can tell them that within three or four times of going out you will be able to cast and have a fish you can take home for supper.”



Denise Black on growing up in Emsworth - With fish and chips in hand, star of stage and screen, Denise Black, tells of her childhood growing up in Emsworth

Spiced barbecue bream recipe - Featured recipe from the June 2014 Hampshire Life magazine


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