On the hook with Rhonda Pitts

Discover how a severe vitamin D deficiency turned a casual angler into a competitive bass fishing champion!

Introduction to Fishing

Like most of us, I began fishing with my dad when I was young. I was in a boat before I could walk. We would bream fish with poppin’ bugs and a fly rod. All other fishing for me was done mostly with a Zebco 33 or a spinning rod. We weren’t after size but anything that would bite. We always came home with an ice chest full.

When my husband, Joe, and I started fishing, it was due to a severe vitamin D deficiency I had developed working in an office with no windows for years. Joe is the one who got me hooked on catching big fish. Once I learned to use a bait caster, it was on. We started going down to Florida and fishing Stick Marsh 13, Headwaters, Lake Ida, and the canals of Miami after Peacock bass. We have taken a few trips over to Texas hunting the elusive double-digit trophy. We’ve made several pilgrimages to Mille Lacs, Erie, and the St. Lawrence River. Mille Lacs is where I fell in love with smallmouth bass fishing. There’s nothing like an angry smallie dogging your line and stripping drag.

Experiences and Challenges

Overall, my experience has been great. I have met some really great friends over the years while fishing. I’ve found the boaters I’ve been paired with during the MLF events have all been great. Even if they start out a little skeptical, they quickly change their tune once they see how serious you are. I think it helps when you meet the first time to let them know you have a little gas money for them and ask if there’s anything you need to bring. I also like to ask them what their plans are for the next day. What techniques do they plan to use so I can better refine my gear to suit their plans. To me, this shows that it’s not your first time and you’re there to fish and be competitive.

I have great sponsors. They are always there in a pinch to make sure I have what I need to compete. I try not to need things at the last minute, but things break or plans change at the last minute. It’s nice to know they are just an email or phone call away.

Perceptions and Attitudes

I can see a definite shift in perception recently. There are some ladies making big splashes in the industry, and I’m so glad to see their success. Ladies like Pam Martin-Wells, Michelle Jalaba, Stephanie Hemphill-Pellerin, Kristine Fischer, Melinda Mize, Anastasia Patterson, and Maggie Jo Carsello are just a few who are paving the way for future lady anglers. These ladies are fishing high-profile tournaments and are getting more press than I’ve ever seen.

I think the industry as a whole is seeing that they can no longer ignore the female angler. We are slowly gaining on the market share of boats, equipment, tackle, cold and wet weather gear, and apparel. I think they are learning that we are buying too and the numbers are growing.

As far as a viewing audience, I think they would love to see some ladies out whacking big ole bass all day. They could see firsthand that we aren’t complaining, unless we lose a fish, nor ready to go home. We love it as much as the next person, if not more. This will also help squash any negative stereotypes that are still lurking around.

Personal Achievements

My greatest achievement was winning a place on the USA Bass Team for 2024. My partner, Emily Freeman, and I won the ladies’ division of the ICast Cup in 2023. This September, we will be traveling to New Brunswick, Canada, to fish the St. Johns River in the PanAm Tournament. It is such an honor to be representing the USA against teams from all over the world.

Advice for Aspiring Female Anglers

Keep at it. Don’t look at what others are doing. Set your goals and work hard at them. Long hours and patience will eventually pay off. Remember, it’s you against the fish, not the other anglers in the tournament. This industry is hard to break into, but you can do it if you keep your integrity intact. Even when you think no one is looking, someone is always looking. Make sure you do the right thing even when no one is around.

You can follow Rhonda on Instagram: @rhondapittsfishing