The early morning is still, and the bay is teeming with bait. A bass boat cuts the silence and slowly advances in my direction. The two men occupying the boat peer up at me from behind buffs and dark glasses, acknowledging me with a slight hand wave after I say good morning. They continue on to the kayak 40 yards down the bank, and proceed to ask him how the bite has been. My client shrugs his shoulders and replies, “Caught a few this morning, but she’d know more than I would, she’s the guide.” I feel that ever-too-familiar, perplexed set of eyes on me. Without looking up, I make a slight hand gesture towards them as I finish rigging a double fluke for my client to throw next.
A mile in my shoes-
That wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time I’m by passed on the water, or ignored in a tackle shop. It’s like having to adjust to a new school every other weekend. Feeling the weight of censorious eyes on you. Starting over, re-introducing and re-proving yourself each time you get on the water. Pulling out pictures and past experineces until you’re accepted and allowed in the group. And though I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, over the years these experiences have culminated into an on-going mental battle.
For instance, the days leading up to the Hobie Bass Open, I heavily debated whether or not to compete. Not for fear of failure, rather fear of having great success and having people question whether my success was a result of my boyfriend directing the tournament. This fear, though slightly outweighed by overwhelming excitement, still managed to share the stage with me as I was handed the 3rd place check.
Then there’s the growing pains of the fishing world, slowly adjusting to women entering an industry dominated by their male counterparts. I’ve seen tournaments and events where any female who catches a fish, despite the quality, is degradingly “rewarded” with a prize, similar to a participation ribbon. To add to that segregation, there have been comments made to anglers I placed ahead of in a tournament that they were “beat by a girl”, as if that is also degrading.
Now these issues only pertain to my peers in the fishing community, I also have to deal with the fact that I’m the girl who has grown up hanging out with the guys, which presents its own set of problems. I’ve dealt with false accusations, rumors and phone calls from girlfriends or wives concerned I’m out on the water or on the camping trip vying for attention from their partners, because it just isn’t possible that I would be out on the water on this sweltering hot summer day just because I like to fish, right? I have to think about this each time male friends ask to car pool to a tournament, share a cabin on a trip, or calls to simply talk about the bite lately. I have to consider each individual situation and deem whether or not its appropriate, despite the complete lack of ill intentions.
Sometimes I feel like I constantly have to defend myself and my intentions, to everyone… and that can be exhausting.
Though I’ve practiced certain tactics to prevent self destruction and negative thoughts, these things still manage to slide past the carefully placed barriers and frequent my mind whether I’m tournament fishing or recreational fishing.
The exception to the rule –
I feel like it’s getting more difficult to believe there indeed are anomalies in this sport. Women who defy the odds and load up their boats at 4 am each morning to beat the crowd. Women who can talk the talk and walk the walk. Women who desperately want to “fit in” and be accepted as talented anglers, and then there are others who saw this industry as an opportunity to gain fame.
I know I’ve heard many complaints from peers when another female gets a sponsorship or partnership, and I don’t discredit that frustration. Do the majority of them understand the product or even posses the skills necessary to effectively utilize it? Probably not, but it’s called PRO-motional staff for a reason, and we all know what sells in this industry. However, when you’re upset that another pond angler in a bikini took your spot or opportunity, think about what that means for me.
Because of that truth, any opportunity or sponsorship I get is automatically attributed to my gender or the fact that on occasion, I smile nice. Because of the majority, I have to work ten times harder than you do to be taken seriously. I’ve had people who have never shared the water with me rant about the opportunities I’ve had and discredit my talents.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the stereotype I’m trying to push past is daunting. Social media does an exceptional job of portraying female anglers one way. Then there’s YouTube lady angler sensations producing content consisting of guides putting them on fish, and ultimately giving the false impression that females can’t do this on their own. Marketing campaigns featuring females in unrealistic angling situations doesn’t help my case either. (I mean come on… what angler straddles boats, while awkwardly holding a fishing rod in clothing that isn’t functional?)
After its all said and done, I feel like this mountain I’m trying to climb makes Mt. Everest look like a cake walk.
Fortunately, I’ve always enjoyed climbing.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T Find out what it means to me –
Through the years I’ve learned to almost endure and anticipate these situations, but I’d by lying if I said I’m entirely immune to the ramifications. Just like everyone else, my pride is vulnerable. I would love nothing more than to sit here and tell you I’ve handled all of this with class and dignity, but for the sake of transparency, there have been many times I haven’t. There have been times I’ve lashed out, contemplated quitting the sport, or sat and complained to anyone who had the time to listen.
I cannot tell you how many times in the past I have sat in my garage, re spooling and rigging before a tournament thinking, “How many more top finishes will I have to have before it’s merely just “accepted” that I belong there?” “Will they stop thinking that I must have had help from somebody”, “How many times before the thought, “she got lucky”, vanishes?” “When will I be acknowledged as a skilled angler, not just an angler that is good… for a girl?”
I’ve been guilty of being my own worst enemy more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve allowed the comments and gossip act as hindrances to my own personal progress, but with more time in the game, strength and stoicism follows.
My disposition –
I often straddle the line of wanting to only be recognized as an angler, forfeiting the extra accreditation that comes with being a rarity, and then wanting to continue making strides and setting the bar as a female angler, proving that stereotypes don’t apply to all and odds can be defied.
Many know and try to understand this is a struggle I’ve been fighting for the entirety of my career, and I’ve had to learn to pick my battles and learn when to let things go. I’ve learned that it’s more important to silently lead by the example I want to set rather than voice my opinions and frustrations on certain matters.
I have learned patience and I have learned grace.
For the sake of assuring this isn’t a redundant pity party, I’m aware that this message doesn’t apply to everyone. I am beyond grateful to belong to a strong community of anglers and friends who know drive and recognize my authenticity and skill. I am forever thankful for each and every one of you.
To the rest of the world, I hope I shed some light on some of the aspects of these struggles, without conveying the wrong tone. With experiences, both good and bad, comes growth and wisdom. We all have individual conflicts we face whether they be in our hobbies or other areas of our lives. It’s easy to fall victim to the things that attempt to bind me to the stereotype of being a female in the outdoors world, but I know well that that isn’t my destiny. This is what I was born to do, and I’ll continue to push the worlds perceived limitations of what I’m capable of. Im here to stay.