Kristine Fischer has one foot in a kayak, the other in a bass boat. The multi-time national champion kayak pro is at a turning point in her career. Will she continue paddling or take the wheel of a bass boat? To find out, she is competing as a co-angler in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Opens series.
“It’s a tough decision because I am not wired to be a co-angler,” she said. “I thrive on making my own decisions, taking control of things, finding my own fish and living or dying by my decisions.”
That makes which direction to go a daunting task. After five years, Fischer’s success has followed a parallel path with her loyalty to the close-knit community of kayak anglers. Doing both is not an option, as she goes all-in on whatever goal comes next.
“The competition in the Opens is very tough, very challenging, and that appeals to me,” she said. “I want to get a better perspective, see what this world is about, and go from there.”
For now, Fischer, 33, is content on testing the waters from the back of a bass boat, while continuing to pursue success on a circuit of kayak tours in which she’ll compete in 25 events.
Growing up in rural Nebraska, Fischer was unimpeded by the restraints of a television, and she never adhered to societal norms. She grew up fishing farm ponds and small lakes, always drawn to the outdoors as a source of balance, a means of discovering herself. Fishing, hunting, backpacking, climbing and most of all, traveling became the fabric that clothed her identity.
Then she did what young, aspiring career pursuers do, going to work in the hunting and fishing department of a midwestern sporting goods store in Lincoln, the goal being to climb the corporate ladder, fund a 401k plan, own a house and everything else defining a successful life.
It only took five years for her restless soul to work out of the corporate world. The turning point came when she discovered a flyer in the store about a kayak tournament.
“I had kayak fished for a long time, never knowing that competing from one was a viable option,” she said.
She would soon discover the better of two worlds, combining her competitive spirit and connection to the outdoors through fishing. Both fit her adventurous, free-spirited lifestyle.
Fischer bought a used kayak and finished third in the tournament. She joined the kayak club, ditched the corporate job, choosing another occupation allowing her more time for tournaments. A risk taker, she spent $10,000 and spent the next nine months earning a Pilates certificate, even though she knew nothing about it. She taught clients on Monday and Tuesday, then spent the remainder of the week crisscrossing the country fishing kayak tournaments.
She soon traveled to 40 states, becoming a traveling nomad and loving every mile, every stroke of the paddle, every hookset. Somewhere along the way, her moment of epiphany occurred when she realized that way of life was her destiny. Weeping Water, Neb., would be in the rearview mirror as she pursued her passion for kayak angling, sharing her skills with others and learning more along the way.
So far in this story, there has been no mention of the stereotype about Fischer as anomaly in a man’s world. She never considered that as an oddity, although she faces it head on, and daily.
“One of the best parts of being a female in this sport is seeing the looks on people’s faces when I take off my cap at the ramp, and they see my blonde pigtails,” she said.
“I’ve been disrespected, and I’ve been praised. I have had obstacles because I am a female, and I’ve had opportunities because I’m a female. Sadly, most people fail to take me seriously at first, and I believe it is not only due to traditions, but largely because of social media and how most women in the outdoors are portrayed.”
Fischer ignores it all, choosing to fully live life on her terms.
“I have fought for many years to prove that I am truly passionate about the sport,” she said. “I have pushed myself well out of my comfort zone and faced adversity on many levels, while trying to tell the world I’m not just a blonde chick who likes to be outside.”
She has no ill feelings against men who stereotype her as just another female, trying to flaunt her gender and gain attention and sponsors in a man’s sport.
She once fished a nonstop 24-hour, run-and-gun style kayak event against 39 men, fishing nine different bodies of water. She caught 11 different species and came in second place, doing it alone. She is most often the first on the water, and last off at night.
Fischer also believes the true women of the sport shun gender-related attention. A tournament director once asked her to be interviewed on camera, as one of four women, and she politely declined. Her reply?
“If I win this tournament, heck yeah, give me that spotlight. Until then, I’m just a regular angler.”
The transition from kayak to bass boat is already a challenge after the first event at Pickwick Lake. Fischer packs 14 St. Croix rod and reel combos in her kayak on any given competition day. Two large bags are filled with soft plastics, and a crate is loaded up with terminal tackle and hard baits. On her first co-angler competition day with Joey Nania, she carried a trash bag filled with soft plastics, two utility boxes and six combos. She missed her first three fish, having to make adjustments by the limited casting range in the back of the boat.
“But it was cool, because it forced me to get good at things that I’m not,” she said. “The limited choices forced me to use only what I had to make good decisions.”
Fischer calls finding contention-winning fishing areas and making good decisions her two angling strengths.
“I break down water really well, and my decision making has improved,” she said. “I know when to stay, when to leave and when to switch tactics and lures.”
Kayak fishing has enabled her to develop that skill by being forced to dissect and micro-manage a smaller area. She does not have the ability to run-and-gun from end to end of a lake.
“I would be very tempted to do that in a bass boat, but I have realized it’s not always the best strategy, and that much time and effort is wasted just because you can do that,” she said. “I’ve seen so many times when bass boats come in my areas, cycle through the spot, leave and then I catch 25 pounds from there.”
Whatever she decides to do, expect the passion and commitment to be channeled in that direction. Fischer has already proven herself in one world, and the other awaits to challenge her even more. She wouldn’t have it any other way.