If you haven’t been paying close attention, you may not have noticed that fishing is becoming more diverse than ever. It’s becoming especially popular among women. From professional bass anglers to ice fisherwomen, there are more women than ever out there winning tournaments, hunting down huge stripers, or teaching their kids how to fly-fish. Here are five ladies actively working to change the face of the sport.
Melinda Mize Hays
Bass Community Leader for Costa Sunglasses
Hometown: Sheridan, Arkansas
Her Fish Story: If bass fishing has royalty, Hays is it. Her parents both fished professionally, and she first started competing in tournaments at age seven. After graduating from college in 2011 she became the first woman to win a coed Bassmaster fishing tournament, a multi-day contest in which the person who catches the most fish, in total pounds, wins. After fishing on the tour for several years, and also in team events, Hays started doing marketing for fishing gear companies, which led to her current job as the Bass Community Leader for Costa Sunglasses. She also served on the Collegiate Bass Fishing advisory board, where she was instrumental in developing what is now the College Fishing Program, which allows students to compete and win scholarship money. This past year, she helped set up a summer camp for high schoolers that is basically Professional Fishing 101. “They’ll learn everything from boating safety to ethics on the water to résumé building to social media—all paired, of course, with fishing skills,” says Hays. In between all that, she’s already getting out on the water with the next generation of Hays anglers: three-year-old Henley and 22-month-old Harbor.
Her advice: If you have kids of any age who want to fish, urge them to see if their school would be willing to start a club. Or head over to TakeMeFishing.org to learn more.
Outdoor journalist, freshwater and saltwater angler
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Her Fish Story: When she’s not traveling the world writing and fishing, Bastone is often on the river with her seven-year-old daughter, Simone, casting for browns and rainbows. The Yampa River runs through the center of their town, just a half mile from their house. Kelly watched her husband, Ben, fish for 15 years—she was “always that girl knitting or reading a book on the riverbank”—before deciding she wanted to fish, too. She quickly became hooked—buying her own gear and watching videos on how to cast. Ten years later, “fishing is what I want to do in my free time,” she says, “and a great way to spend quality time with Simone.” Of course, it’s about more than just fishing. While wading or casting, she teaches Simone about conservation. “Fishing teaches us to understand and care about our rivers and water sources, and I can already tell that Simone is going to be passionate about protecting the environment.”
Her advice: Bring friends. “It’s interesting, because kids either need to be catching fish or playing burglar—they’re not that patient if there’s a lull in action.” Find more tips and stories here.
Kimberly C. Lee
Manhattan president of the Brooklyn Fishing Club
Hometown: New York, New York
Her Fish Story: How does someone living in a city of 8.5 million people fish? Lee loves to explain. “I say, 'Let me tell you. We live on an island. We’re surrounded by water.' I’m always happy to talk people’s ears off about it,” she says with a laugh. On any given day, you can find her either on a pier, fishing for striped bass, or in Central Park, lake-fishing for big mouths And when she wants to go big, for a photo-worthy fish, she takes a charter out into the Atlantic or one of New York’s harbors or bays for more bass. “I mean, who doesn't want to catch a huge-ass striped bass?” she asks.
It’s a hobby that pairs well with her other passion: cooking. “I caught a 38-inch striped bass once, and I had friends from my fishing club over. I made homemade ramen with broth in which I cooked down the head and bones. I seared the fillet and served that over made-from-scratch noodles.” Lee also likes to make ceviche, roast fish whole, or bread them with panko. But the best part, she says, is telling her friends the story of how she actually caught the fish.
Her Advice: If you live in New York and want to fish, the Brooklyn Fishing Club has chapters in each of the city’s five boroughs. “Come on out,” says Lee. “We’re always looking for new people.” Or head to takemefishing.org for more places to fish around the country.
Avid fly fisher
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Her Fish Story: Fishing is a central part of many Native American cultures, especially in the Northwest. As a Navajo woman, Sims, who's also known as @navajoflyfisher, grew up fishing the waters of Puget Sound with her dad and three sisters. But she didn't fall in love with fly-fishing until college, when a friend introduced her to the sport. She immediately started scouting all the rivers within a two-hour radius of her Seattle home. She started tying her own flies and catching fish, but there was just one problem: she had no fishing buddies. Instagram provided the fix. She found a women’s fly-fishing retreat in eastern Washington and now spends nearly all of her free time fishing with a wide network of friends.
Two years ago, she also became foster mom to her nephew Niko, 10. “When he came to live with me, I was like, ‘You’re gonna fish, kid—here are some waders.’” They hit a local stocked pond and he netted a 12-pound trout, which Sims says is key. “Give kids a winning first fishing experience and they’re way more likely to want to go again.” So far it’s worked: Since Niko’s first catch, he’s learned to tie flies, just like Sims did.
Her advice: Use fishing to see the world. When Sims has time off, she takes fishing vacations to remote places like the Amazon jungle and Kiritimati Island (south of Hawaii, in the middle of the South Pacific), and she just attained her first sponsored trip to South America. And use social media. “Let it be known if you’re looking for fishing partners. You’ll be surprised how many women anglers are out there, probably in your area.”
Professional ice angler, founder of Wisconsin Women Fish and the Women Ice Angler Project
Hometown: Oxford, Wisconsin
Her Fish Story: Carey entered her first ice-fishing contest at age six, but she didn't get back into the sport until an injury allowed her to retire early, after decades as a nurse and police officer. “I couldn't believe I never saw any women out there,” she says. “It was so much fun that I thought they must not know about it.” So she made it her mission to introduce more women to the sport. She held her first all-female fishing camp in 2006; today her club, Wisconsin Women Fish, has some 300 members in seven states and Canada.
One of the things Carey loves about ice fishing is that, contrary to the stereotype, it’s actually an adventurous sport. Avid anglers move around, drill multiple holes in the ice with lightweight augers, and use pull-behind shacks. It’s perfect for families with children, too, because “now the gear is so good. You can pitch a six-person tent that stays warm with a little heater. Everyone camps out in there, and the kids make snow forts or fly kites on the ice.”
Her advice: Carey takes a “top-down” family approach to teaching kids to fish. “You can hand a kid a rod and reel, but if Mom isn’t taking them fishing, they’re not going. My theory is you get the moms and grandmas involved, they’ll take the kids.” Moms can find more information on keeping kids warm and happy during winter fishing months here.
Learn more at TakeMeFishing.org, your go-to resource for all things fishing and boating.