Somewhere in the middle of an unknown numbered cast, the water explodes, disrupting the morning calmness. As the angler heaves back against the pressure, a bass is on its way to the boat. The angler gently unhooks the fish and places it in the livewell. The angler’s confidence is reinforced as the morning progresses with a likely repeat.
It has been said fish show no partiality. In the world of fishing, all anglers are considered equal, at least by the fish. Young or old, little or big, male or female, the fish really don’t care. That is why fishing is equal among the sexes. However, in the world of competitive bass fishing, it is still a man’s world. But there are changes on the horizon.
A few decades ago, women anglers were few among the male-dominated tournament rosters. Women had their own tours like the Bass’n Gal and Women’s Bassmaster Tour (WBT). As these tours folded, women anglers realized their talents were as good — or in some cases better — than their male counterparts. Female anglers began to compete on the men’s circuit.
“My brother got me started fishing around 18 years ago,” said Christiana Bradley, B.A.S.S. pro from Virginia. “We started fishing a few local tournaments and won a couple.”
Bradley started fishing the WBT with some success. After the WBT was cancelled in 2011, she began fishing the B.A.S.S. Opens. Recently Bradley made history when she finished fourth on the pro side at Douglas Lake. Her goal is to make it to the Elite Tour. The top five pro anglers in the points standings on the Open receive an invitation to step up.
When asked if she wanted to make it to the Elite Tour, Bradley stated, “Absolutely. Before the last tournament (Douglas Lake), I didn’t think it was an attainable goal, but it is.”
Bradley is not the first woman angler to set records in bass tournaments. In 1991, Voja Reed of Missouri was the first female to fish a B.A.S.S. event. She finished 58th out of 344 anglers. On Lake Okeechobee in 1998, Wanda Rucker won the Red Man Gator Division.
B.A.S.S. senior editor Ken Duke passed along an interesting fact. Back in 1998 at the Florida Invitational, Marcia Fann — in a field of 329 anglers — finished 13th. However, there is an asterisk for this entry. Fann was a transsexual and competed on the tournament trail as Mark Fann two years prior. The highest finish up to that point would hold until 2010 when Diana Clark tied down the fifth-place spot on the Red River at Shreveport, La.
A couple of ladies did make it to the Bassmaster Classic by way of the WBT. In 2008 the AOY on the WBY received an automatic berth to the Classic. Kim Bain-More of Alabaster was the first female in 39 Classics. The next year Pam Martin-Wells followed suit going to the Classic from the WBT AOY points. She finished a respectable 22nd out of 51 anglers.
For any angler — male or female — wanting to move up, the tournament scale experience is the key. One method of gaining that experience is fishing with other anglers. The Open tournaments are a perfect way for weekend anglers to gain insight into the ins and outs of professional angling. Co-anglers fish from the rear deck and only compete with other co-anglers in the event.
Competing and earning a good finish in a tournament is a confidence builder among women anglers. Kim Giddens of Alpine has been fishing since 2000 and began her tournament career in 2006, competing in couples events. A few weeks back she finished second on the co-angler side at the Red River.
Giddens said she has fished the Ladies Bass Anglers Association (LBAA) events as a co-angler. On that tour, she won the AOY for co-anglers two consecutive years. With the AOY come automatic entry fees by the LBAA. After the second year, Giddens moved up to the boater class on the LBAA.
“It is much tougher fishing as a boater, Giddens said. “There is much more to think about and decisions to make as a boater.”
Giddens says it is much easier for her to adapt to the pro or boater. The pro will usually give some pointers or clues to the co-angler on the type of fishing they plan on doing for a particular day.
Some female anglers have fished or been around fishing for several years but may have not considered hitting the tournament trail. Beth Atkins from Tifton, Ga., only began fishing last July. Her husband has fished as a pro angler in the opens. Her first tournament was this past week on Logan Martin as a co-angler.
“It has been amazing and lots of fun,” said Atkins after the day two weigh-in. “All of fishermen have been so helpful with lure recommendations and colors.”
For her first big tournament, Atkins placed 51st among 164 fellow anglers. She plans to get into more events in the coming months.
Future for women anglers
In recent years more and more women are getting into various forms of angling. It is not always about tournament fishing, but many female anglers enjoy the competition and fellowship among the contestants. Also, since 2008 six of the top seven finishes among have occurred. And three of those have happened in the past three seasons.
As women gain experience and confidence, expect to see a lady angler on the Elite tour in the next few years. In the 2011 season, Texas pro Janet Parker made it close for an Elite slot but had a bad third tournament that dropped her down in the points.
Bradley had one good event on the Southern Open tour this year but did not do well enough in the other two tournaments to garner enough points. She plans on fishing the Eastern Opens, which begin in June.
It’s my guess that Bradley has the best shot to make it to the Elites. She is a little disappointed that some of the more prominent lady pro anglers are not fishing the Open tournaments. She feels that they could be competitive.
The question is not if, but when, a lady angler will make it to the Elite tournaments. And in the next few years there will be at least one woman angler making history.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com