To all the fathers that have sent messages on social media encouraging my career for the sake of their daughters, I want you to know I have read each and every message and continue to read and re-read them when my chin starts to drop and my feet start to drag. Your messages and pleas are motivation to stop being self-centered and open my eyes to the bigger picture: The industry needs a woman to step-up. The little girls of the world, they need someone that can show them it’s cool to rip lips and be a fishergirl. You can love the color pink, dresses and diamonds, and still go out on the water makeup-less, drive a bass boat well, and get bass thumb.
There will be a lot of responsibility that will come to the first female Elite qualifier, whoever it may be. The wrong attitude and mentality could ruin it for other women coming up, and moreover, could hinder the industry. I have spent many nights thinking about these responsibilities, so I put pen to paper to talk about some of the areas that have really hit home for me.
As a female, you need to learn how to drive a boat. Not just putting a boat on the trailer, but know how to really drive a boat. There is a lot more than putting your foot to the pedal and turning a wheel. Learn your rig, how it takes corners, where it grips, where it lets loose and learn how to time and read waves. In tournaments, you will encounter a lot of different weather and boating conditions; you will have that male in your passenger seat sweating and wondering if you know what the heck you are doing. So know what you are doing. One of the proudest moments is when your co-angler slaps you on the back and says, “Honey, you can drive!!” I spent the last 12 months getting to know my Skeeter FX, and one thing I love to do is take someone for a ride who has never been in a Skeeter. You want to be able to let the boat shine.
Your fishing mechanics and knowledge level need to be great, not just good, but great. Can you work a frog? No, not can you buzz a ribbit frog, can you walk Ish’s Phat Frog and pause it and walk it some more? Two years ago my mechanics were not on par. My baits entered the water hard; there was no flip into a Dixie cup successfully every cast. Roll casting? Back then I did not roll cast. Now? My casting, flipping, skipping and in-between skills continue to advance. When someone hands me a rod & reel, I take pride. Guys will generally not be put on the spot, but the public is always itching to see if the girl knows how to flip accurately. So be prepared.
The woman who qualifies for the Elites needs to understand most techniques more than surface level. The last 6 months I took a technique I wanted nothing to do with (light-lining) and have immersed myself in learning the hows and whys… the size of hooks, the type of hooks, the why one is effective on certain sizes of line and not others, and how each affect the natural profile of the bait being thrown. Make it a priority to learn the ins-and-outs of knots, from the San Diego Jam to the Double Uni and all those in between. Yes, there are many more knots than the Palomar, and you should learn them. You cannot help but smile when you cinch down a knot and your co-angler asks what the heck you just tied. When there are 99 guys, not all of them have to understand every technique because the public will split questions between the different male anglers. There are plenty of men to fill interview spots, but there will only be one or two women. So if the public or media asks you about a certain technique or a piece of equipment or a rod action, you need to know the details.
Playing the female card
I was around the Elite Series all last season, and there are enough men that act like girls in the protest and complaint department on tour. You do not want to be the actual girl who complains. Handle it on the water. Last year, I learned a ton and had times where I loaded my boat and as soon as I was out of public view, the female hormones set in and the tears rolled. I learned that being a female on the water does not bring automatic respect. There may be a lot of gentlemen fishing, but the last thing those men want is to be beat by a girl. And when you start to make anglers nervous and show the competition your skills, they will start to treat you differently on the water. Guys will say you are poaching their area or that you are too close or so on and so on. They will say things to you that they would not say if you were a man. But you know what? That is how it goes. Do not accept their threats and mind games. Do not get pushed around on the water. But do not go cry to the powers that be and protest what they say or do. You chose to jump into the game. Know that it is part of it. Know that male rookies on the tour sometimes get similar treatment. Stand your ground. Outfish them. Play the cards you are dealt with your head high.
A woman’s ability to be marketed is at the top of the list of responsibilities. If you think that being out of shape and not taking care of yourself is not a big deal, it is just not true. First, it is almost impossible to compete at the level necessary to make bass fishing history without being in good shape. Moreover, the woman that qualifies needs to be someone that any company could and would want to add to their marketing campaign. Think about the Nikes, Red Bulls, Oakleys and Go Pros. Scroll through the list of women they support. Not only do those women kick rear in their sport, but they look good doing it. It is reality. The first woman needs to grab hold of that reality, to ensure the biggest impact possible for the industry’s sake. I’m not saying you have to be knock-out gorgeous, but you should take pride in your physical health. I struggle with this day-to-day. It’s really hard on the road to eat right, but it is part of what is necessary if there is going to be a spotlight on you. The first girl will definitely have that spotlight on her.
Unfortunately, one of the worst issues that plague the industry regarding the women that are trying to or have made some sort of wave in fishing is that they have sexualized there position with sponsors and the public. Industry people love to share stories about female anglers turning up to sponsor dinners dressed inappropriately, having “more than friends” relationships with sponsors and media people, serial dating tour anglers, posting over-sexualized pictures, and on-and-on. It’s disheartening. Am I saying you cannot be a beautiful person or date someone in this industry? Absolutely not. But think about the impact the photo you choose to post will have, what message does the photo represent? What will a relationship with a tour angler or sponsor look like and what might happen if things go sour? Are you allowing your skills to speak for you or are you showing skin to get in? All-in-all, the industry is small and everyone talks. Know that your skills will get you a lot more respect than pushing your sexuality. At least, that’s what I have come to learn. You may not get attention as fast as the other women, but you will get the right attention and while you can hold your head high, those others will slowly lose relevancy.
These are some of the responsibilities that I’ve identified as important for the first female Elite pro. I hope that the next woman who is thinking about making a move in the fishing industry will take a few of these to heart. It is a man’s world and those of us women who want to play in it really need to be on our A-game. It is the least we can do for our sport.
If you know a girl who fishes or someone who you think would love to get into bass fishing, send this column their way. The industry needs girls to step-up in competitive tournaments. Come fish the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate. Come get a taste of what this world that has become my home is like. Yes, I want to be the first female to make the Elites, but it’d be cool for two women to make it. Can you imagine an Elite Rookie class with two girls? That’s history making.