We’re all familiar with the phrase “women drivers.” It’s frequently said in a chauvinistic tone, other times in jest.
For certain Bassmaster Elite Series pros, however, it can have an entirely different meaning. For many of the tour’s top fishermen, women drivers are a tremendous asset … specifically when it comes to trailering a boat.
The Bassmaster Elite Series is comprised of nine regular season and three postseason events. That’s a lot, especially when you consider their geographic range. Our tournaments are spread coast to coast, border to border, and that means many thousands of towing miles by season’s end.
Having a relief driver can make those treks a whole lot easier — especially on the backside of an event, when you’re physically beat from repeated days on the water. And it’s precisely why you see so many touring pros being chauffeured by their significant others.
Trailering a boat is no simple task, particularly when you consider the distances and many road hazards we encounter. Driver competence is essential. And it’s important to note that many Elite Series tow vehicles are essentially scaled-down versions of monster trucks, so handling them can be a little tricky.
These ladies are adept and true road warriors, however. Among them are Mark Davis’ wife Tilly, Mike Iaconelli’s wife Becky, Randy Howell’s wife Robin, Matt Lee’s wife Abby, Cliff Prince’s wife Kelley, Terry Scroggins’ girlfriend Phyllis Hagstrom and Adrian Avena’s girlfriend Brooke Finner.
Curious how some of them got their training, I asked for their stories.
Avena’s girlfriend, Brooke, says the process was slow and steady with lots of repetition.
“I grew up fishing with my dad, and when I entered my late teens and early 20s, he decided it was time I learned to back a truck and trailer,” Brooke explained. “So, we would go to a boat ramp where he made me practice the technique dozens of times. Practice makes perfect, right?”
“Fast forward a few years, I began driving Adrian’s truck and trailer, which brought about a new set of challenges … his truck has a lift kit which makes you feel as if you’re driving a semi. I was quite nervous at first, but much like my experience with Dad, practice paid off.”
Abby Lee says it was a steady process for her as well.
“Before I met Matt, I had never towed a boat … or anything for that matter. In his second year on the Elite Series, I started going with him to tournaments, and we would occasionally share the wheel. But I was only comfortable on the interstate, when it was straight and flat,” she laughed. “Last year, however, I got tired of holding up traffic on the boat ramp, watching Matt do everything himself … so after the tournament, I made him teach me. It took hours — mostly because I literally inched my way along — but I eventually got it.”
For Becky Iaconelli, it was more of a crash course. “Before I met Mike, I had never caught a fish much less backed a boat trailer,” she admitted. “My first lesson came at the boat ramp … a really long and steep boat ramp. He showed me the basics, then got out of the truck and said, ‘Figure it out!’”
And figure it out, she did. Becky has been trailering Mike’s rig for nearly a decade now, and only during the Bassmaster Classic does she get a little nervous.
“Backing him into the water in the dark, in front of so many spectators, is a bit intimidating,” she confided. “But I’ve managed to do it every year without incident.”
Phyllis Hagstrom’s lessons came at an early age on the family farm, driving a tractor while harvesting hay. She was far too young for a driver’s permit, but her dad insisted she learn. Later, she took up competitive barrel racing, where trailering horses was part of the drill. She said transitioning to a bass rig was simple. “They’re smaller, lighter and easier to maneuver. In fact, Terry says I do it better than him!”
The flip side
My wife Kim’s experience was much different. And I’m sorry to say, terribly unsuccessful.
Early in my career, before we were married, I had just completed two back-to-back tournaments. I won the first event and finished on top of my division in the second, and, as a result, I was completely drained physically, mentally and emotionally.
The morning of our departure, I got us on the interstate headed for home, then pulled over to let her take the wheel. I figured, since it was a four-lane highway with little to no traffic, she could manage to keep us between the lines for an hour or two.
Boy, was I wrong! No sooner did we get up to speed when things suddenly went south.
The trailer began to sway and, to correct it, she tried steering in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, that made matters worse. The trailer began to fishtail violently. Instinctively, I grabbed the wheel, hoping to stabilize things. Perhaps it was through divine intervention, but we somehow managed to regain control and get safely to the shoulder.
Looking back, I can only blame myself. I never taught her any of the skills necessary to trailer a rig. Nothing. Not a single lesson. So, to expect her to handle it wasn’t fair.
If you want a backup driver you can depend on, don’t make my mistake. Spend time with that person, teach them the rules of the road. That will help to prepare them for what lies ahead … or, in the case of a boat ramp, what lies behind.