I had been fishing for a lot of years before BASS came along. I read about it in Field & Stream magazine, and I said, "I gotta get in on that. Anything that had to do with fishing, I wanted to be part of it."I have always loved fishing, ever since I was a little girl. Nobody else in my family fished, except my grandmother, and she was gone before I could remember. In the summer when I was a little girl, I'd visit an aunt who lived on the Wolf River off Dale Hollow. I'd slip off and go fishing. They'd find me down by the river. Nobody could figure out why I loved it so much.When I got older, I joined a BASS Club and began to fish tournaments. I can't say enough about the East Tennessee boys I've fished with. They have taught me so much.At first, I was a little afraid to venture out there because I didn't know how the men would feel about fishing with me. Not many women fished for bass 35 years ago, certainly not in tournaments. I'd always go to the tournament director beforehand and ask if you they had any objections. On applications, they would ask the fishermen if they would mind fishing with a female. I didn't have any problems.When I was paired with someone, I'd ask them first, "Does your wife or girlfriend object to your fishing with me?" If they did, I wouldn't fish with them. I never had a problem with the "bathroom issue." I'm from the old school — I believe if you act like a lady you'll be treated like a lady.I was about 25 or 30 when I first started fishing tournaments. I was married and had a son. My husband didn't fish, but he's my best sponsor. He's so open-minded and didn't mind that I fished so many tournaments, including night tournaments. He bought me three bass boats over the years! Sometimes, he would go out in the boat with me and read a book.My son was a good little fisherman. I would take him in the boat when he was still in diapers, and I'd put an umbrella over him. That was mistake. When he got up to about 13 years old, he let me know he wouldn't have anything more to do with it. I burned him out.I've had some fantastic fishing partners. Some of them still fish. Jack Wade was great, and so was Sonny Lee. At a Watts Bar tournament, I drew Jimmy Nolan (a tournament winner on the Bassmaster trails), and he won the tournament. We hit it off, and he said at the end, "You have another tournament here, so I'm going to tell you what to do." He did, and I won.I've won tournaments, but nothing major. The closest I came to winning a boat was 2 ounces. I don't think the important thing is whether you win or not — it's just being out with a group of people who enjoy doing the same thing you do.Some friends and I started a women's bass club one time. They were all gung ho … until it rained or it got too cold or fish didn't bite. Today I belong to guys and gals club — let me rephrase that — guys and a gal. I can go fishing and if I catch a fish, I've accomplished something. I've learned so much from all these boys.I'm glad to see the Women's Bassmaster Tour going well. I wanted to try that but never got to because of family problems.I almost got a chance to fish with BASS. I can't remember exactly when it was, but I got a letter from Harold Sharp (former BASS tournament director) inviting me to fish a tournament. I knew it was a mistake. (At the time, BASS didn't permit women to fish its circuit.) They just didn't notice that I was a woman when they invited to fish it. Our club was having a BASS Federation meeting about that time, and I took the letter with me to show off. I said, "Look here boys, I'm going to fish BASS."The president of the Federation and the other members thought I ought to be able to fish the tournament. They said, "We'll fight 'em!"I said, "No way." I respect anybody's rules and regulations.
I've owned three boats, all Rangers. I liked the first one so much I decided I wanted another one. I went to a marine dealer in the early '80s and decided I wanted a black boat with a silver metalflake stripe down the side. Then I bought a Ford Ranchero, black with a silver streak. I thought I was it. They were my pride and joy.My boat now is an '82 Ranger. Keep thinking it is so dilapidated, I ought to replace it. But at my age, I don't know if I want the expense. My motor runs and my boat floats, so I shouldn't complain. The older you get, the more attached you get to things.You don't know how I look forward to getting Bassmaster Magazine. And I love that BASS Times. I can't wait 'til it gets here.I still fish as often as I can, and I help out with tournaments. I turned 68 in October. I recently fished tournaments on Saturday and Sunday and decided I'm too old for this. But I can't wait to go again.
(Jane Kawakami, 68, lives in Knoxville, Tenn.)