What do you get when you gather 16 women to fish and socialize over new tackle, gear, and apparel? A phenomenal fusion of joy, camaraderie, and appreciation and a total lack of rivalry and hurry.
Women do fishing their own way.
Sporting goods retailer Academy Sports and Outdoors brought together this group—which included media like me as well as influencers, pro staff and the company’s own roster of female marketing and public relations specialists — for two days of offshore and inshore fishing in early February out of Jacksonville, Florida. Academy introduced us to its H20 Xpress rods and reels, as well as to its soft-side coolers and a variety of new-for-2022 apparel under the Magellan Outdoors Pro brand. Academy designs its inhouse lines to be technical yet affordable.
The week proved nothing short of revelatory. I never joined a sorority in college, but for those three days in a spacious Airbnb with 15 other females, I think I sampled something similar.
Our first evening, we toured a local Academy store and tried on new technical tees that felt graciously generous in fit (my pet peeve is women’s clothing that fits so tightly that it jeopardizes my fishing focus) yet included features such as mesh paneling, a sunglass wipe; one came with a built-in neck gaiter. The women’s Tidewater boat shoes felt light as a feather, and the Windbreaker quickly became my favorite layering piece. The Pro Angler Shorty shorts and the Pro Pieced Leggings featured thoughtful designs, but for my age and short height, they didn’t quite work. (Petite is my middle name.)
The next morning, we headed to the Mayport boat ramp and boarded six bay boats and flats skiffs captained by local guides. I jumped aboard a Pathfinder 2500 with Capt. Steve Mullen from Fish Hunter Charters and four women with varying degrees of fishing experience. With an unusually calm and mild February forecast, we ran offshore to fish some scattered hard-bottom spots for black sea bass.
Mullen baited up some light H2O Express outfits with dead bait. I asked to use a jig, and he hauled out a heavier rod and tied on a flutter jig. We dropped repeatedly in about 70 to 80 feet of water; the lighter tackle hauled up cookie-cutter-size seabass and grunts, and the jig attracted slightly bigger seabass and loads of out-of-season red snapper.
The mood aboard, you might say, was continually supportive and encouraging yet spiced by gentle teasing. I know various movies, reality shows and social-media posts often expose the cattiness of females, and while I’m sure that can be true, our experience — on a welcoming sea with a kind sky — brought out a more congenial nature.
As the half-day outing waned, we ran a line of buoys looking for early tripletail, which migrate north through this region in spring.
On my second fishing day, I traded offshore for inshore with Capt. Buzz Brannon of Northeast Florida Angling aboard his 18-foot Beavertail Vengeance skiff. I was joined by Academy’s Sophia Clarke, a relative newcomer to the sport.
The morning delivered some cloud cover, and the tide was still a bit high. This region’s inshore fisheries, like those in my own home waters of south Georgia, depend heavily on tide phases. We picked at a few small puppy drum and trout, casting live shrimp and mud minnows, pinned to brightly colored jigheads, toward points and oyster reefs lining the Spartina marsh.
As the day warmed, the tide started dropping. Ironically, the green-brown water grew remarkably clear. Brannon staked us out on multiple spots where the size of the redfish increased as the day progressed. He also provided a sermon of sorts on the natural beauty and productivity of the estuaries.
Clarke told us she was perfectly happy fishing occasionally, and catching two or three fish, while I kept busy casting, my favorite practice. Clearly, we women fit a variety of molds. We don’t demand excellence of each other, and we don’t have to catch a cooler full to enjoy the day. I could get used to this.
Don’t get me wrong: Everyone should enjoy fishing as he or she chooses. Competition can be fun, and there’s nothing wrong with excelling at a sport or bringing home some fish. But watching these female anglers step outside the usual boundaries of fishing convention proved quite refreshing.
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At the end of the day, we retired to the Airbnb for a surf-and-turf supper and s’mores over the patio firepit. Did I say sorority or summer camp?