It's not easy making your mark as a female in competitive fishing.
From NASCAR to competitive shooting, women have been making waves in typically male-dominated sports in recent years. The names are few and the wins might be seldom, but things are slowly shifting to become more female competitor-friendly -- including competitive fishing.
While more women than ever are now picking up rods, the fairer sex still faces several obstacles when attempting to take their love of fishing to the pro stage.
Though they aren't impossible to overcome, these roadblocks represent the work that's yet to be done in equal opportunity efforts. There's very few who would ever argue that more females in competitive fishing is a bad thing, so how are we supposed to improve the situation?
Making these obstacles more widely known is one step, and after that it's up to the decision makers to recognize the opportunity, and give women who dream of a stint on the pro fishing circuit a better shot.
1. A Numbers Game
Although women certainly face more obstacles trying to take their passion for fishing to the next level, it's tough for any angler -- man or woman -- to break into the realm of professional fishing.
Just as only a minute fraction of high school quarterbacks will ever don an NFL jersey, only a small percentage of avid anglers will ever make it to the pros -- and even fewer will generate real income from competitive fishing.
Only the best of the best with access to the resources required to compete will ever make it beyond the neighborhood honey hole. The Major League Fishing Bass Pro Roster for 2021 listed just 76 names, and only 39 anglers qualified for the Bassmaster Classic last year.
Saltwater and other species tournaments post similar figures, and women rarely fill more than a handful of these slots each year.
2. Participation Rates
Fewer women anglers overall will logically mean fewer reaching the competitive level of angling.
The American Sportfishing Association has estimated there are 60 million anglers in the United States, three-quarters of which are active in a given year. While the number of women participating in the sport has skyrocketed in recent years, men still represent the majority -- most stats indicate about two-thirds -- of those fishing participants.
Fortunately, bass pro Michelle Jalaba says the competitive fishing landscape is changing.
"It's really a lack of knowledge about the sport, because they only see men on a screen when watching the tournament coverage," she said. "Truth is, there are more women in the sport than is perceived, and more coming into it through the college ranks after they graduate."
3. Physical Demand
While women have successfully competed in pro tournaments, some of the more physically demanding forms of fishing can be extra tough on female anglers compared to big, burly men.
Women can absolutely stand up to the challenge, but it may require extra effort on their part to build more muscle and endurance than what naturally comes easier for men. But that just means women can truly relish the hard earned wins in the end, making victory that much sweeter.
4. Give and Take
This struggle is universal for all would be professional anglers, but investing time and money in honing fishing skills takes some of those resources away from family, friends, the home, and other hobbies.
It's a game of give and take, and women who aim to compete need to be prepared to make some sacrifices in other areas to fulfill their fishing dreams.
Working to Up the Odds
While several obstacles might stand between female anglers and the competitive fishing circuit, women can take a few steps to improve their odds.
Joining an organization such as the International Women's Fishing Association is a great way to connect with like-minded ladies, compete in women-only tournaments, grow your skill set, help educate new women anglers, and participate in important conservation efforts.
Choosing a wise, experienced mentor will also help women hone their skills and identify areas for improvement that could otherwise go unnoticed.
Pro Christie Bradley says most women anglers would love to help.
"Consider those of us who are serious about competing as a resource," she said. "It is truly gratifying to me to mentor other women and serve as a role model for younger anglers."
And while the bright lights and big checks of the star studded pro tournaments might seem like the ultimate dream, participating in amateur tournaments is a great way to break into the sport, gain some competitive experience, and have a lot of fun.
Because while a nice, fat check and some notoriety might sound exciting, fishing should stay fun and be about the enjoyment you get out of time on the water.
At the end of the day, despite the challenges and obstacles, women can be just as successful as men on the water.
"A fish doesn't know the difference between a man or a woman on the other end of the line," said Christie Bradley. "It's really just me and the fish, instead of me competing just against guys."
Michelle Jabala concurred. "I grew up the middle of five kids, boys included, and the thought never occurred to me that it really was just a sport for men," she said. "The reality is you are out there to catch bass; you aren't competing face to face with another man."
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