Courtesy of the Sports and Outdoors Academy
What do you get when you get 16 women together to fish and socialize around new tackle, gear and clothing? A phenomenal fusion of joy, camaraderie and appreciation and a complete lack of rivalry and rush.
Women fish in their own way.
Sporting goods retailer Academy Sports and Outdoors brought together this group – which included media like me as well as influencers, professional staff and the company’s own roster of female marketing and PR specialists – for two offshore and inshore fishing days in early February out of Jacksonville, Florida. Academy introduced us to their H20 Xpress rods and reels, as well as their soft coolers and a variety of new-for-2022 apparel under the Magellan Outdoors Pro brand. Academy designs its internal lines to be technical yet approachable.
The week turned out to be nothing short of revealing. I never joined a sorority in college, but during those three days in a spacious Airbnb with 15 other women, I think I tasted something similar.
Our first night out, we visited a local Academy store and tried on some new tech t-shirts that seemed gracefully generous in fit (my pet peeve is women’s clothing that fits so tightly it compromises my goal of peach) while including features such as mesh panels, wipe down sunglasses; one came with a built-in neck warmer. The women’s Tidewater boat shoes were light as a feather, and the windbreaker quickly became my favorite layering piece. Both the Pro Angler Shorty and the Pro Pieced Leggings featured thoughtful designs, but for my age and small build, they didn’t quite work. (Petite is my middle name.)
The next morning we headed to the Mayport boat launch and boarded six bay boats and flat skiffs manned by local guides. I jumped on a Pathfinder 2500 with Captain Steve Mullen of Fish Hunter Charters and four women with varying degrees of fishing experience. With an unusually calm and mild February forecast, we raced offshore to fish a few scattered hard bottom spots for black bass.
Mullen baited H2O Express light outfits with dead bait. I asked to use a jig, and he pulled out a heavier rod and tied on a floating jig. We fell several times in about 70-80 feet of water; the lighter tackle raised cookie-cutter sized bass and grunts, and the jig caught slightly larger bass and tons of out of season red snapper.
The mood on board, one might say, was continually supportive and encouraging, but spiced up with gentle teasing. I know that various movies, reality shows, and social media posts often expose the ferocity of females, and while I’m sure that may be true, our experience — on welcoming seas with kind skies — brought out a kinder nature.
As the half day outing faded, we walked a line of buoys looking for early tripletail, which migrate north through this area in the spring.
Captain Steve Mullen
On my second day of fishing, I swapped offshore for inshore with Captain Buzz Brannon of Northeast Florida Angling aboard his 18-foot Beavertail Vengeance skiff. I was joined by Sophia Clarke from the Academy, a newcomer to the sport.
The morning delivered cloud cover and the tide was still a bit high. Inshore fisheries in this region, like those in my own home waters of South Georgia, are highly dependent on tidal phases. We picked out a few small drums and pup trout, tossing live shrimp and mud minnows, pinned to brightly colored jigheads, toward oyster spikes and reefs lining the Spartina Marsh.
As the day warmed up, the tide began to recede. Ironically, the green-brown water has become remarkably clear. Brannon staked us out at several spots where the rockfish increased in size as the day went on. He also provided a sort of sermon on the natural beauty and productivity of estuaries.
Captain Buzz Brannon
Clarke told us she was perfectly happy to fish once in a while and catch a couple of fish, while I busied myself with casting, my favorite practice. Obviously, we women fit a variety of molds. We don’t demand excellence from each other, and we don’t need to grab a full cooler to enjoy the day. I could get used to it.
Don’t get me wrong: everyone should enjoy fishing their way. Competing can be fun, and there’s nothing wrong with excelling at a sport or bringing home some fish. But watching these anglers step out of the usual confines of fishing convention was pretty refreshing.
Read more : More women in fishing
At the end of the day, we retired to the Airbnb for a surf-and-turf dinner and s’mores on the patio fire pit. Did I say sorority or summer camp?
Courtesy of the Sports and Outdoors Academy