Ladies' firsts in competitive bass fishing

In the 15th century, a book entitled The Boke of St. Albans was published in England, one edition of which contains a section called "Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle." It is generally regarded as the first book ever written on the subject of fishing, and Dame Juliana Berners —a woman —is most often credited as being the author, though it's a subject of little evidence and some controversy.

Despite such an auspicious start, women have played a relatively minor role in the history of fishing ... and especially the history of competitive bass fishing.

When Christiana Bradley posted her fourth place finish at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open on Douglas Lake last week, she made B.A.S.S. history. It was the best finish ever made by a woman in a co-ed B.A.S.S. event, eclipsing Dianna Clark's fifth place finish on the Red River at a 2010 Open.

Bradley's accomplishment was notable for a few reasons. First, it was the best ever by a woman. Second, it was part of a recent trend of improving performances by women in the Opens.

You probably know that women haven't always been allowed to fish B.A.S.S. events. And you may know that the first woman to compete in a co-ed B.A.S.S. tournament was Vojai Reed. She fished the 1991 Missouri Invitational and finished 58th — not bad, especially for such a historic first, but not anything to indicate that women were going to rewrite the record books, win a bunch of Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards or start taking home Bassmaster Classic trophies.

And they haven't.

Dame Juliana Berners, early outdoor writer ... or maybe "wrytyr."

In fact, when it comes to competing at the highest levels of the bass world, women haven't fared particularly well.

Here's a timeline of some of the landmark events.

May 1, 1991

Vojai Reed, wife of 1986 Bassmaster Classic champion Charlie Reed, breaks the gender barrier with B.A.S.S. She competes in the Missouri Invitational on Truman Lake, finishing 58th out of 244 anglers.

March 2, 1998

Wanda Rucker of Cocoa, Fla., wins a Red Man Gator Division qualifier on Lake Okeechobee with a five-bass limit weighing 16 pounds, 4 ounces to best 341 other anglers. For the win, she earns $4,438.

November 1, 2001

Renee Flesh (later Hensley) of Edwardsburg, Mich., becomes the first woman to win a co-ed national bass championship when she takes the co-angler division of the EverStart Series on Alabama's Pickwick Lake.

February 22, 2009

Kim Bain-Moore becomes the first woman to compete in the Bassmaster Classic. She qualifies by virtue of winning the 2008 Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year title. In the Classic, she finishes 47th out of 51 anglers.

February 21, 2010

Pam Martin-Wells becomes the second woman to fish the Classic. Like Bain-Moore, she qualified after winning the 2009 WBT AOY award. She finishes 22nd among 51 anglers in the Classic.

Pam Martin-Wells is easily the most accomplished female angler in B.A.S.S. history.

Martin-Wells ranks 123rd on the B.A.S.S. all-time prize money list with $308,321.14. Ninety-nine percent of that was earned through the WBT or in her lone Classic appearance.

After the dissolution of the WBT in early 2011 and the loss of the automatic berth in the Classic, no woman has come close to qualifying for the championship. And although several women in the bass fishing industry have been inducted into the various fishing halls of fame, they've paved their ways there by competing in women-only circuits, by guiding or through other business pursuits.

But the tide may be turning. In recent years, women have started posting better finishes in the Opens, culminating in Bradley's finish at Douglas Lake.

The going was tough at first. After Reed's 58th-place finish in 1991, it was six years before another woman did any better. That came at the 1997 Texas Invitational on Sam Rayburn Reservoir where Kathi Hurst was 48th out of 330 anglers.

A year later, Marcia Fann did much better, placing 13th out of 329 on Lake Okeechobee at the 1998 Florida Invitational. Her accomplishment, however, deserves a caveat in the eyes of many because Fann was a transsexual angler who earlier fished the tournament trail as Mark Fann. The finish would stand as the best by a woman until Clark eclipsed it in 2010.

The bright side of all of this for women anglers is that six of the top seven best finishes for women on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail have occurred since 2008, and the best three occurred in the last three seasons.

Will a woman ever win a co-ed B.A.S.S. event? It seems inevitable, but it could still be many years away. Winning a tournament isn't a progression. You don't get there by finishing 10th one year, 5th the next and then breaking through. Tournaments are not the war. They are the battles.

Will a woman ever qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series? That may be the bigger question and a better gauge of how women are performing in professional tournaments. After all, a tournament lasts just three or four days, but a season — even a season of only three events — is a better test of consistency and ability.

Janet Parker made a run at qualifying for the Elite Series in 2011.

Janet Parker came pretty close to qualifying for the Elites in 2011. After two good tournaments she bombed in the third and finished well outside the group of invited anglers.

This year, Christiana Bradley ranks 63rd in the Southern Opens points race, so even a spectacular finish in the finale would find her short of qualifying.

If winning an event is the battle, qualifying for the Elites is the war.