A good day on the water indeed! That's Captain Skip Bradeen's Blue Chip Too in the background, docked at Whale Harbour.
Ladies, Lets Go Fishing exceeded my expectations this past weekend in Islamorada in the Florida Keys -- a sport fishing mecca for recreational and professional anglers.
Over the course of the weekend, we made new friends, networked and oh yeah, all the good fishing stuff – lectures from local captains, skill stations where we learned how to tie knots (the fishing kind, not marital ones), rig ballyhoo, cast a net for bait, gaff a fish, fly cast, how to position the body for landing large fish, plus conservation, rules and regulations from the Florida Wildlife Commission and so much more.
Our immersion culminated in a day of fishing on Sunday, where despite wind and chop on the water and a few unfortunate cases of seasickness, the offshore excursion ladies nailed bag limits of mahi. I chose to fish inshore, but more about that in another dispatch.
Move over guys, this woman knows her fishing. Lee Lavery is a licensed captain but she doesn't currently guide boats. However, she does support, promote and practice the art and science of fishing here in South Florida.
Captain Lee Lavery, who heads a South Florida chapter of Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing in Fort Lauderdale, started our beginner’s track with a basic demonstration of rod, reels, tackle and gear. She taught us about circle hooks being more fish-friendly than J hooks (you want to avoid gut hooking a fish) and how to properly handle a fish you intend to release (wet hands and always sideways). Fishing Basics also covered the differences between braided line and monofilament, what is reel drag and many additional technical details.
She also made recommendations on bait. “If all else fails, if you learn one thing today” Captain Lavery explained, “use squid.” She then also pointed out how you can be creative – one fellow angler once caught a sizable grouper on a piece of fried chicken.
The more experienced anglers followed an intermediate track in a different room, but all of us had a chance to work with all of the captains at the different skill stations.
Captain Rick Rodriguez of Sea Horse Charters sported a serious tattoo. The local air force veteran lectured on bottom fishing.
Each of us received a hardbound notebook chock full of information, including a section from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Conservation was a constant thread in our lectures and conversations – every good angler is also a steward of the environment. It's one of the things I love about this outdoor sport; it brings me closer to nature and the Everglades, a unique Florida ecosystem that is dear to my heart.
It may seem ironic to put conservation and fishing together in the same sentence, since we are, after all putting undue stress on the fish. But there are ways to fish that minimize damage to the animal and the old days of handling fish inhumanely and keeping every catch for bragging rights are long gone.
ABOUT THE LADIES
I finally invested in a microfiber shirt with zippered vents. The fabric dries quickly if you get wet out on the drink. Sylvia M is a familiar face in a small world. I met her during the St. Augustine Pirate Festival last year! Her husband is a fishing captain.
There were sixty women here ranging from ages 16 to 75 taking it all in and not all of them were local. Some hailed as far as Oregon, California and Quebec. One of two mother and daughter teams in attendance were originally from Michigan. They currently live in St. Petersburg. "I moved to Florida a couple of years ago," said the daughter. "I wanted to learn how to fish for real now that I'm a Floridian."
Another couple of gals came from Virginia. "We fish on the Potomac River and the beach for striped bass," one of them explained. "I thought I knew some things about fishing before, but I'm learning so much new information."
The educational value of LLGF was perfect for me, an inshore angler with some prior experience who needed a serious refresher course. But in addition to learning, I was moved by the incredible camaraderie of the group. Put a bunch of women in the same room with a desire for one thing – fishing – and you have beautiful empowering energy.
Many of the women showed up without there husbands, proving that you don't need a man to follow your passion for fishing. That being said, some husbands were present supporting their wives' love of the sport, including of course, Betty Bauman's other half, the inspiration behind it all.
Some single women were part of the scene as well. Lisa T from Pompano Beach confessed that it wasn't hard to meet guys, but definitely hard to meet one that is open to the idea of his woman fishing. "I miss fishing more than I miss my ex," she said. "I need a Plan B."
There was amazing mentorship from the more experienced anglers and just a general sense of mutual support. According to one angler, women fishing with women is definitely a cordial activity. "Women don't compete with each other like men do," she said. "We rally and support each other."
THE SKILL STATIONS
After lectures, we had lunch, saw a fashion show and moved on to the skill stations, where we received hands-on practice. My first skill station was passive -- simply sleeping under a fiberglass image of a tarpon mounted over my bed at Holiday Isle's Postcard Inn. Tarpon weren't available for us this time of year. Megalops atlanticus is a migratory fish and many have moved on to the Gulf of Mexico to winter while enjoying a few margaritas. They'll be back full-force in the spring though.
Talk about immersion, I even got to sleep with a tarpon at the beautifully remodeled Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle. I'll catch you again someday, you wily fish you.
Can a petite, slim woman catch a big fish while standing up? You betcha, especially if you balance your body correctly. Betty Bauman would later "attach" a human diver to her rod to demonstrate the technique in the pool. "Reel down, pull up," she kept repeating.
Pat K of Clearwater practicing a fly cast with world-record holder fly fisherman Captain Jim Anson, who can show you some secret Peacock Bass grounds in Miami. Pat had come a day early and landed a 35 pound cobia during an offshore fishing trip with Captain Skip Bradeen of Blue Chip Too Charters.
Elizabeth B from the gulf coast was filming a TV pilot show. Seen here practicing casting a net for bait with the "teeth" technique. Captain Bob Jones was leading this skill station.
Theresa M gaffs a grapefruit for practice. A gaff is a large hook attached to a pole used to bring a fish on board. It's not as easy as it looks. Theresa helps run an invitational fishing tournament called Fishing for Dreams in St. Augustine to help children with life threatening medical conditions.
Susan O from Miami has been fishing since she was a little girl. "I started fishing at a young age with a pole and bread," she said. "I've learned so much this weekend. No guys ever took the time to show me a better way to cast."
Tying knots is an essential skill for anglers. Seen here, the hands of Captain Bruce Pollock demonstrating a "uni" knot.
On Sunday, most of us chose to go fishing either inshore or offshore. Everyone had a successful day out on the water.
These ladies went fishing out of Whale Harbour and caught their limits of dolphin (mahi). Other anglers caught tuna, yellowtail snapper, pompano, redfish, mangrove snapper and more.
The reward, besides the experience itself: a delicious meal among new friends.
WHO LIKES TO FISH?
Charlotte U from Sebring was an absolute beginner but also an absolute darling. This grandma was determined to catch a fish she could eat no matter what. And she did! I interviewed her during our Saturday night social hour at Pasta Pantaleo's art gallery in Islamorada. Pantaleo paints beautiful canvases of marine life and fishing scenes.
RESOURCES AND INFO
Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, the "no yelling" school of fishing for women, holds similar workshops and experiences four times a year throughout Florida. The 2012 seminar schedule includes Southwest Florida/Naples: March 16-18, South Florida/Ft. Lauderdale: April 20-22, Treasure Coast/Stuart: May 18-20 and Keys/Islamorada: Nov. 9-11.
To learn more, check out a video a video interview of Betty Bauman I shot while fishing with this legendary lady angler about the inspiration behind the school. (In a nutshell, she got sick and tired of her husband yelling at her while fishing.)
Whether you are new to fishing or an experienced angler, these workshops are a great way to acquire much knowledge and practice skills in a fun, stress-free environment while networking with others who have similar interests. Keep in mind you can't learn everything about fishing in just one day though. Fishing is a lifestyle and lifetime passion with plenty of room for growth. Just like most else in life, practice is key. Workshops like this reinforce the practice.
I was also told that the paperback Baits, Rigs and Tackle by Florida Sportsman king Vic Dunaway contains everything you could ever possibly want to know about fishing in Florida.
And don't forget to understand and practice your conservation regulations. Learn fish identification and keep your fishing license current. More information at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
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