On the hook with La’Tonya Blanding

Discover how pushing past boundaries in a male-dominated sport and career can lead to unexpected friendships and profound personal growth.

Introduction to Fishing

My first memory of going fishing is with my grandparents and my dad, and from day one, I was hooked. The truck couldn’t start without me! Imagine, loading up the truck — siblings and cousins — heading to the honey hole we called the Millpond and Six Bridges was a day in the life for us.

We ventured into the woods to dig for our worms because those were the best ones. We caught everything from bream to eel, which terrified me because I swore it was a snake. My dad also took me deep sea fishing when I was about 12. I got seasick, and he never took me again, but it’s something I still want to experience. Before I met Freddie, my entire fishing experience was from roadside ditches, banks, bridges and local ponds.

He introduced me to the Big Water and a competitive side of bass fishing that I didn’t know exists. And now, I’m competing in tournaments and driving the boat.

Experiences and challenges

Spending an entire day on the boat makes me wonder about a few things: food, and how do I use the bathroom? The food part was easy, but the bathroom — that was a bit harder to figure out. With Freddie, I could just hang IT off the side of the boat, but I had to find a more discrete way fishing tournaments with others. So, loose bottoms and a Ninja cup did the trick for me. I’m so quick you won’t even notice.

But seriously, as a woman, I have to mentally prepare myself for every trip to the lake in my boat and every tournament I fish. The men always stare, and it sometimes gives you a feeling of not belonging. Yes, the sport is dominated by men, but I have to believe that every day I’m out there is an opportunity for me to grow and prove, not only to them but most importantly to myself, that I am exactly where I need to be. Who am I kidding, I hardly ever choose the path of least resistance.

I became an electrical engineer because we lack women in STEM fields, and this is no different. I always felt and believed that I would be a difference maker and a game changer. And doing so on this platform—my God, it gives me goosebumps thinking about the possibilities and what’s to come. Since joining the tournament scene, I have met a lot of great people and created new friendships. Every boater I’ve had has been so beneficial to my development as an angler, and I’m learning so much. The women have all accepted me with open arms. It’s like a fishing sisterhood, and I love it.

Support Systems

Listen, the stage I was most intimidated by has been the platform that has been the most supportive. The men I’ve had the opportunity to fish with have been top-tier, and the industry should be proud to have them representing the majority. And my mentor, who is always encouraging me and teaching me everything he can when I listen—you know how we get sometimes with people we’re comfortable with.

The #girlfishinggang, LBAA, Kristine Fischer, Anastasia Patterson, Sarah Kozlowski, Patricia Clement, Tiffany Risch, Kay Fishing, Myeishia Renee (Glitter and Gills), and we can’t forget Vojai Reed and Pam Martin-Wells, etc., have been so influential to me. I don’t think they even understand the impact they’ve had on my life in this industry.

To sum it up, I’m going to say that I’ve been blessed because I have heard stories of gender and racial discrimination against my counterparts on the tournament level. And I stand ten toes down with those women because it could happen to any of us at any time.

Personal Achievements

This is my second year in tournament fishing as a co-angler. Our first tournament was on Lake Hartwell (one of my favorite places), and I came to scale with my first five-fish limit. We were boat number two, and I held first place for about five minutes, and it felt GREAT!

Advice for Aspiring Female Anglers

A fish doesn’t care about your race, gender, or physical disparities. And fishing has no limits, it can be your safe place or you can change the world with it. The choice is yours. FYI: If we always stick to what was, we will never know what could be.

You can follow La’Tonya in Instagram: @latfishingfit