"A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up." — Mae West
If you want to stir-up the wives of some Bassmaster Elite Series anglers, just ask about the men they encounter while backing up a boat trailer at a launching ramp.
"It drives me insane," said Kerry Short, wife of Elite Series veteran Kevin Short. "I'm like, 'Just get out of my way, and I can be out of your way.'"
There is nothing quite like the spotlight that hits you while on the boat ramp each morning at Elite Series events. All of the individual movements of almost 100 boats being launched in time for take-off — Julia Kennedy (wife of Steve) compares it to "a dance, a waltz," when it goes off without a hitch.
But one slip, and everyone notices. You are on stage, and if you fail to perform, the embarrassment can leave a lifelong bruise.
That's why several Elite Series anglers' wives have become the Mikhail Baryshnikovs of backing a bass boat trailer. They always leave the launch ramp with their egos intact. And, like ballet dancers, they've put in hours of practice.
As is often the case, men simply don't get it. When they see a woman backing a boat trailer, they assume she's a damsel in distress.
"I actually had a man walk up and say, 'Ma’am, can I help you?'" Kennedy recalled. "I said, 'Yes, by walking away.'"
Echoed Le Ann Swindle (wife of Gerald), "There are a lot of guys that want to come to your rescue."
"I didn't want to be saved," said Kelley Prince (wife of Cliff), who has now been backing boat trailers for 18 years. "I wanted to do it and figure it out."
These women don't need any help. They've backed more boat trailers than most men would if they lived to be a100 years old.
They're confident in their ability to flawlessly perform a task that has left so many people frustrated — both men and women. Boat ramps are a catalyst for divorce. There have been more fits of anger pitched on boat ramps than at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Q: So all of you, in general, can kick a man's butt at backing a boat trailer?
A: "Yes, easy," said, in unison, Kennedy, Short, Swindle, Prince, Robin Howell and Stacy McClelland.
"We talk all the time about men drivers," Kennedy added.
If you think they've got an unreasonable amount of confidence in their abilities, think again.
"I'd put Kerry up against any other woman and about 75 percent of these (Elite Series) yahoos," said Kevin Short.
"All she wants them to do is get the hell out of the way."
That sounds familiar.
Mike Iaconelli feels the same way about his wife, Becky.
"Rebecca is better than 75 percent of the dudes I know," Iaconelli said. "That's how good she is."
"I would put that closer to 85 or 90 percent," said Becky, upon hearing her husband's answer.
When Becky and Mike met seven years ago, she hadn't even held a fishing rod in her hands, much less backed a boat trailer.
"That's one of the first things she wanted to know," Mike said. "She wanted to learn how to back a boat. She jumped right in and practiced until she got it.
"We travel together, and the saying is: The boat's mine, but the truck and trailer are hers."
Becky has a slightly different version of how she learned the boat-backing craft: "He stuck me on a big ol' empty ramp and said, 'Figure it out.'"
She added, "You have to figure it out or you're going to get embarrassed pretty quickly."
In an unscientific survey of Elite Series anglers, Kerry Short, Becky Iaconelli, Julia Kennedy and Le Ann Swindle were generally ranked among the best boat-backers. Also receiving votes were Bobbi Chapman (wife of Brent), Julie Roumbanis (wife of Fred), Lesley Martens (wife of Aaron) and Kelley Prince.
"I would put up my wife against any other woman on the tour — all the women, for sure, and probably half the men," said Gerald Swindle. "I ain't kidding you; she can back it up in all situations.
"If she ever has trouble with a ramp, she'll come back the next day and do it over and over and over."
Le Ann confirmed that. She recalls her sanity being questioned while practicing.
"If I go to a ramp and mess up, I'll spend at least an hour the next day practicing," she said. "Up-and-down, up-and-down. People look at me like, 'Is she confused?'"
If you've never backed a boat trailer, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. It's one of those counter-intuitive things in life — it looks easy, but in practice the trailer often acts like an untamed colt. You want one thing; it does the opposite.
Another point needs to be clarified: These women aren't turning around and watching the trailer through the back glass. There's at least a big tool box in the pickup truck bed, as is the case with the Kennedys, and often it's a camper shell of some kind blocking the rear view. So it's all done with mirrors, which compounds the intricacies of trailer-backing.
There are also those pickup trucks "with hips," as Kerry Short calls them. Dual-wheeled rear axles further obscure your view.
"It makes a difference," Short added.
Someday there needs to be a competition within the competition that is a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament: Best boat trailer-backer. It would make for an interesting show, and one that would shame most bass boat Bubbas.
But in order to become so accomplished, everyone must experience failure. Stacy McClelland remains scarred by an experience she had in 2007 at Little Rock. Fortunately, there wasn't a large audience for this one. She had come to the wide boat ramp below the Interstate 30 bridge to pick up Mike after he'd examined the "hole course" on the Arkansas River at the Bassmaster Legends tournament.
"The ramp is big enough for six people, but I couldn't get it," she said. "I kept backing down and pulling up, backing down and pulling up. Finally, I was so mad I just got out of the truck.
"I'd left it in reverse. The door was open. The trailer was jack-knifed enough that it didn't roll very fast. I got out and the door knocked me down.
"My flip-flops are flying off. I tried to get back in the truck to stop it, and the door knocked me down again. I finally reached in and pushed the emergency brake with my hand.
"Michael was white as a ghost.
"My 10-year-old was at the top of the ramp. He said, 'Good show, mom.' I'm like, 'Good show? I almost died!
"I was black-and-blue for a month. I didn't back another boat trailer for at least another year and a half. I was mortified."
McClelland seemed to have no trouble with the boat ramps in Green Bay. Obviously, she has learned from experience and recovered from near-fatal mortification.
My favorite uncle, whenever he put a vehicle in reverse, always uttered a phrase that supposedly came from a Little Rock bus driver: "Just back up until you hear glass shatter and smell s***."
When the wives of the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers back a boat trailer, glass never shatters and the air always smells fresh.
Check out photos of Elite Series angler wives in action at the launch.