Until I was forced to do so, I never really considered the issue of women in fishing. I guess I bought into the whole “the fish don’t know who is on the other end of the line” mumbo jumbo. Then my wife Hanna was tasked with setting up an all-female trip to fish for bass in Mexico. At first glance, that didn’t seem problematic. She’s been down there nine or ten times, and it’s where she really fell in love with bass fishing. Our friend Amber goes quite often, too, with the same feelings. Our friend Sandy Phillips, who is generally a lukewarm participant in the sport and who only went because her husband Mike pretty much dragged her, went down last January and immediately planned a return. Based on those examples I figured that the all-female trip would be an easy sell.
The lodge put together a brochure, offering $500 off the normal price of the trip. They set the dates for January, when more than half the country is dealing with either hard water or terrible bass fishing. Hanna publicized it on all of the major bass fishing sites.
The response? We had lots of men indicate that they were ready to immediately write a check for a discounted trip to the best public bass lake on earth. The ladies? Well, let’s just say they were a little bit less enthusiastic.
It wasn’t the fact that it took so long to fill the spots that bothered me. I understand that not every woman wants to travel to a new place outside the country alone. I understand that not everyone wants to spend their precious vacation time on a fishing trip, especially if they have husbands or boyfriends or families. I understand that not everyone has the money – even at $500 bucks off – to make the trip. I understand that the pool of serious female anglers is much smaller than the pool of serious male anglers. What bothered me was the types of responses that we received, not just to entreaties to join the trip, but to requests that they spread the news to their friends. While some of the leaders of female and couples’ fishing groups were enthusiastic and helpful, others were just plain ornery or odd. Several asked for free trips (umm, no). Others asked if they could be on our pro staff, whatever the hell that means. The few who signed up did so for the right reasons, and I’m sure there are several who will not be going who wanted to do so – so why did we get so few responses asking about fishing itself?
My subsequent unscientific survey of the female bass fishing world (at least as it’s portrayed via the members’ Facebook pages), presents a small snapshot of hope and a wall-sized portrait that causes me heartburn. The good news is that there is a small subset of female anglers who are really doing things the right way. They’re obsessed with tackle, run their own boats, spend lots of time prefishing, and don’t expect any special favors. At the other end, there’s a sizeable percentage who care mostly about what they can get out of the sport – whether that be attention or free stuff. That’s not necessarily different than the men’s side, where there’s a bell curve with a small group of people who are involved solely for love of the game at one end, a small group of master patch pirates at the other, and a large middle class in between. What is different, it seems, is the percentage of women who occupy the wrong end of the spectrum. The middle class is being squeezed out. Someone is teaching many of them the wrong lesson, and it might be us. Let’s be clear – if I looked hot in a bikini, I’d use that to my advantage. At the same time, if I was a serious female angler (whether or not I looked good in said bikini), I’d be upset with the fact that so much of the sport is diluted and consumed by people and images that have nothing to do with why we got into the sport in the first place. Let me reiterate: I’m definitely pro-bikini, but that fades, and without something behind it it’s just our version of the emperor’s new clothes.
I hate the term “grow the sport” as much as the next guy (or girl), but behind the cliché is a truth. If we don’t get more people involved, and doing it the right way, we’ll never be taken seriously and those of us who remain will see our opportunities diminish. But growth doesn’t just entail numbers. It’s not a purely quantitative measure – it should include qualitative benchmarks, too. Indeed, I think we’d all rather have a hundred new passionate, well-intentioned anglers doing things the right way than a thousand who will be gone the first moment that things get tough or less than perfect.
If you love the sport, introduce it to your wife, your sister, your daughter, your neighbor or your best friend. Explain what is good about it and then give her a taste of that. Then, if that girl learns to love the sport – or shows any inkling that she might potentially learn to love the sport – encourage her to take the trip of a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be Mexico, in fact, it could be just to your local lake, but it should be all about the steak, and not at all about the sizzle.