On the hook with Samantha Gay

Find out how Samantha's solo fishing trip at age 12 led her to become a trailblazer for women in competitive bass fishing.

Introduction to Fishing

As a child, I can remember going fishing at a very young age. My paternal grandmother loved fishing and shared that joy with everyone in her family. She had always loved to fish, but after the death of her mother, she turned to fishing for peace. She instilled the love of the outdoors in her two sons, and my father has always been an avid outdoorsman. Growing up, I was a tomboy, essentially the son my father never had. He and I spent lots of time outdoors, fishing and hunting together.

One of my most vivid fishing memories was the day I caught my first largemouth bass. It was July of 1994, and I was twelve years old. On this day, I accompanied my dad to the hunting club that he was a member of in Scotland Neck. He was busy doing work around the hunting lodge, so I drove my four-wheeler, pulling a small aluminum boat fitted with a small hand-operated trolling motor to a secluded pond in the woods, several hundred yards away from the hunting lodge. I put the boat in the water, hooked up the trolling motor to the battery, and proceeded to fish for several hours, right by myself.

Shortly into that fishing trip, I caught my very first 13.5-inch largemouth bass. Excited to show my dad my catch, I started to make my way back across the pond to where I had parked my four-wheeler and noticed a large black bear drinking water right where I had slid the boat into the water. With no way of contacting my dad because there were no cell phones at the time, I chose to continue fishing until the bear left and had been gone for a while. Finally, the bear left, and I made my way back to the hunting lodge with my catch in tow. I was so proud of that bass. A few days later, I upgraded my tackle box with bass tackle and continued to try to develop my bass fishing skills.

Experiences and Challenges

I was a tomboy growing up, living in a very small, rural community, without any other little girls to play with, so I spent the majority of my time with my dad, my two male cousins, Mitch and Matt, and their male friends. I learned at a very early age that I could do anything and everything that they were doing, and the fact that I was a girl didn’t stop me from participating in hunting, fishing, and other activities that may be considered male-dominated. This mindset didn’t change as I grew older but instead gave me the courage to participate in activities such as tournament fishing.

I fished my first North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier on High Rock Lake in May of 2016. I was the only female participating out of ninety-eight. At the next NC B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier that I competed in, I had the pleasure of meeting Angela Mayo, an accomplished female tournament angler. Knowing that she was a successful lady angler gave me confidence as a woman pursuing tournament angling. Since then, there has been one more lady angler to join these competitions, and now there may be as many as three ladies competing against a male-dominated field in each tournament.

Support Systems

To begin with, there were very few support groups/networks for lady anglers and professionals. Over the years, as the participation of women in fishing grew, I was thankful to find more such support groups. The first group that comes to mind is TakeMeFishing.org and their “Women Making Waves” campaign. Other groups on social media, such as private groups aimed at women involved in the outdoors and girls fishing, have made a huge impact on the attitudes and perceptions of lady anglers. It means so much to have a supportive group of lady anglers that you can turn to for advice and encouragement. I believe it has also been instrumental in helping to address issues faced regularly by other ladies in the industry.

Over the years, at other fishing tournaments in North Carolina and abroad, I was blessed to meet other lady anglers who told me what an inspiration I had been to them and how seeing me compete against all guys had given them the courage to participate in bass fishing tournaments as well. My most memorable moment like this took place at Lake Hickory on May 4-5, 2018. After weighing in and returning my fish to the lake, I noticed a lady fishing from the bank, looking my way. She and I quickly started up a conversation about our mutual love for fishing, and she proceeded to ask me what kind of event I was participating in.

Growing up, she had been told that girls couldn’t do that kind of fishing and had been discouraged from participating in male-dominated events. I quickly told her otherwise and informed her of how she and her daughter could get involved in fishing competitively, as I was also coaching a Junior and High School fishing team at the time. We exchanged names and social media account handles, and I left the boat ramp that day feeling inspired and so grateful to have met another woman who shared a passion for fishing.

Personal Achievements

One thing I am the proudest of since I began bass fishing again in 2015 is starting my youth fishing non-charitable organization, the Fishers of Kids Anglers Academy, which provides free fishing experiences and gear to at-risk youth in my community, North Carolina, and the United States, to provide positive alternatives as they are faced with difficult situations as they grow older. Since 2015, with help from donations (money and gear) and others in the fishing industry, the organization has held fishing camps reaching hundreds of children and has provided funds and gear for youth anglers and their families to travel and compete in national youth fishing championships in places such as Tennessee and Idaho.

I love fishing, but I also love to share my experiences with the youth as they are the future of this sport we love. In 2017, after getting the okay from our school district’s superintendent and principals, I started a Bassmaster High School and Junior fishing team in the county where I attended school and worked as a teacher. At one point, we had forty-eight registered members competing in Bassmaster High School and Junior fishing tournaments.

I am very proud of the fact that I was the first female from North Carolina to advance to the B.A.S.S. Eastern Regional competition on the Chesapeake Bay in North Maryland, in June of 2017. Out of the three hundred-plus anglers, there were only three females competing, myself and two lady anglers competing with the New York B.A.S.S. Nation team. I am also proud to have made the 2019 state team and to have competed in the B.A.S.S. Eastern Regional competition on Sebago Lake in Maine in September of 2019. I believe that there were four or five women in total competing in that event.

Advice for Aspiring Female Anglers

My advice to any female that wants to pursue fishing as a hobby or career is to simply go for it! Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from doing what you love. We are just as capable as men. The fish do not know who is on the other end of the line.

You can follow Samantha on Instagram: @catchingfish_notfeelings