Fear factor

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Christiana Bradley could pull off a first for female anglers at this week’s Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #2. To do it, she must climb nine places over the next two days.

No female has won a coed B.A.S.S. event, but Bradley put herself in prime position with a Day One bag of 19 pounds, 11 ounces, less than five back of the leader. Even if she can’t pull off that feat, Bradley could become the highest finishing female angler. That distinction is held by Diana Clark, who finished fifth at a 2010 event.

Either will be tough, but Bradley is qualified to make it happen at Douglas Lake.

Her B.A.S.S. career started in 2005 with the launch of the Women’s Bassmaster Tour. Bradley competed all four years on the tour until it was dissolved. She didn’t let that stop her quest to compete at the pro level. Bradley just shifted her efforts to the Open tour, where she’s competed mostly against men over the past three years.

Bradley is not at all intimidated by competing in the middle of what is oftentimes perceived as a man’s sport.

“It’s more about respect,” she said. “It’s one of the things I think about all the time. When you’re out there you want to feel like you’re respected. That they think you belong out here.”

However, she does speak of an intimidation factor. Yet it has nothing to do with gender.

“There is a factor of intimidation and it’s not because I’m a woman,” she added. “It’s because the competition is so fierce.”

“When you’re fishing against anglers at the level of Davy Hite and Rick Clunn in these Opens, there’s a bigger intimidation factor. That’s not to say it was tough on the women’s tour but this really is a different level.”

Bradley is uniquely qualified to make such a statement. She’s 40 years old and has competed since the age of 20. That’s also when Bradley held a rod-and-reel for the first time.

Her brother, Gary Schembs, talked his sister into entering a coed team tournament in their home state of Virginia. They won the event and Schembs made his sister a permanent partner for the circuit. Success eventually inspired her to move to the next level of tournament competition.

Bradley is an IT systems engineer for Geico Insurance. She wasted no time in approaching her employer for a sponsorship package shortly after B.A.S.S. announced the women-only WBT circuit.

“The tournament sites and areas where Geico wanted to build market share back then overlapped,” she explained. “I told them about the obvious demographic fit. Boat owners also likely own an ATV or multiple vehicles and it seemed obvious they’d agree.”

It was a tough sell at first. The company’s gecko lizard is a marketing icon with high brand name recognition by consumers. Then came the added challenge of pitching a sponsorship for a woman in a man’s sport. Bradley also had to work through a potential conflict of interest with her employer. In the end she won the sponsorship and has been on board ever since 2005.

“I was their first sponsor,” she said. “I’m proud to say that I brought Geico into the sport of bass fishing.”

Bradley speaks like she’s a skilled marketing guru even though her brain is wired to be analytical, serving her well in her IT career.

“That’s not really true,” she countered when the question was posed. “You have to have a sales and marketing attitude in this sport to gain sponsorships. It’s very competitive and you must do all your homework.”

Whether or not she succeeds at breaking the mark is personally insignificant. Bradley has five top 20 and 10 top ten finishes in B.A.S.S. tournaments. Success is measured otherwise.

“I just want to do the best I can, continue gaining confidence and earn the respect of all the anglers,” she said.

There’s nothing intimidating about that. 

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