Women Anglers Grow in Numbers
Many of my happiest childhood memories took place out of doors. I reminisce about fishing with my mother, catching sheepshead from a dock. Saltwater runs in my veins; I recall my first "big" fish was a baby bonnet head shark. I also remember being about five years old and crying because my parents made me return my "prize" remora to the water. My mother exposed me to the pastime of angling, which developed into a passionate interest in the water, conservation and of course, fishing. She remains my #1 fishing buddy. The spirit runs deeply, for it was my grandmother that inspired the foundation for my mother, as she spent countless hours of her childhood fishing and playing on the banks of Lake Erie.
However, I don't know many other women that fish. Statistically, this seems to be changing. According to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF), 41 percent of the nation's first-time fishing participants are female, and 46 percent of women are interested in trying the sport.
I believe many women simply aren't exposed to the sport or perhaps they are intimidated. Various interest-specific clubs, tournaments and events are making the sport more accessible and encouraging females to join their male counterparts in this intriguing sport.
The International Women's Fishing Association was organized in 1955 by four female anglers during the International Light Tackle Tournament in Palm Beach, FL. Many of the wives accompanied their husbands to the tournaments from all over the United States. Their only chance to fish was on the designated "Ladies Day."
Frustrated by their limited opportunities, the four founding women telephoned their friends, and two weeks later, with 16 members present, they held their first IWFA meeting. By June of 1955, 100 women had joined, and in December of that year the first IWFA Annual Sailfish Tournament was held. In 1957, the IWFA participated in the Hemingway Marlin Tournament in Havana, Cuba. This was the first women's team ever to compete against men in a fishing tournament. (The team made headlines when they brought the championship trophy home!). In 1966 the members of the IWFA established a scholarship trust to aid qualified students seeking advanced degrees in the field of Marine Sciences. To date over 150 scholarships have been awarded. In present day, the club still remains strong, and includes women anglers from around the world.
The Lady Bass Anglers Association (LBAA) are a group of women who group together for their mission to provide women with an opportunity to fish professionally, to grow the sport of bass fishing and to build a program that will allow future generations of young ladies with more opportunities to compete in the sport of bass fishing. These women compete in a series of high-stakes, professional level tournaments branded with top-level sponsors, boats and gear.
Closer to home, the Nature Coast Lady Anglers meet as "a casual, low-key fishing club for the adventure-loving women of Florida's beautiful nature coast." Delores Belanger serves as the club's founder and president and explained that she views the club as a way to empower women to try fishing in a non-intimidating, low key and fun environment. She organized the club in March of 2013, with a focus on education. Belanger explained that many women want to learn more about fishing, such as how to tie knots, the best way to hook a live shrimp or other fishing basics -- but lack a comfortable, non-competitive and friendly environment in which to be taught.
Their organization offers an avenue for female anglers to meet, socialize and gain knowledge on the sport. Women of all ages and skill levels come together once a month with guest speakers giving instruction on all aspects of fishing. This unpretentious and fun-loving group welcomes all like-minded females. They venture out frequently to fish the eco-rich coastline, and catch their very respectable share of local species. Some of their group excursions have included Matlacha, Cedar Key and Steinhatchee. There are about 15 core members.
Many women seek the experience of being amidst nature and pick up fishing as an added bonus. For some, it presents an opportunity to spend quality time with the men in their lives. In an era where social media, cell phones and technology rule all, fishing allows a simple and edifying way for human beings to spend time together. Daughters, sons, husbands and wives - and everyone - could benefit from a few hours on the water.
In closing ...
The angler forgets most of the fish he catches, but he does not forget the streams and lakes in which they are caught." –Charles K. Fox
As citizens of the fishing community, perhaps we should all make it our goal to expose someone to the culture.