BRANSON, Mo. — In the 14th century, a nun and outdoor sports addict named Dame Juliana Berners wrote a book that’s now generally accepted as the oldest known work on fishing by a woman.
Centuries later, Janet Parker of Little Elm, Texas, is poised to be the next pioneer of women in bass fishing. She’s second in points in the Bassmaster Central Open circuit, a prime position to close on an invitation issued to the season’s top five to move up to the Bassmaster Elite Series. The 2012 Elite qualifiers from the Central Open will be determined when the season wraps up Saturday on Table Rock Lake out of Branson.
Parker figures she’ll have to finish at least 50th in the tournament to secure the coveted invite. She’s said that if offered the opportunity, she’ll take it. She’s not in the least concerned about how she’d be treated by the Elite field, to date, 100 percent male.
“All the guys I’ve met fishing tournaments over the years have always treated me with nothing but respect,” she said.
None other than longtime Elite pro Rick Clunn, she said, even has asked her for advice. He wanted to know her secret for keeping a ponytail untangled while running at 70 mph. This is now a good joke between two people who often wear their hair tied back.
Clunn said he supports Parker in her bid to turn Elite, as he would any woman.
“I’ve been consistent my entire career on this topic,” said Clunn in his 374th Bassmaster event this week. “I’ve always said it would be one of the best things for the sport to have women in tournaments. To me, that’s the beauty of fishing; anyone can participate and compete.”
Clunn was quick to add that, man or woman, qualifying is one thing, but being a successful Elite pro is another.
“It will be a test,” he said. “In the Elite Series, you’re going up against the best, no matter who you are.”
James Niggemeyer, another Elite pro in this week’s Open, likes the media attention Parker’s generating for the sport.
“She’ll help grow the sport,” he said. “She’s performed well in the first two (Central Open) tournaments and gotten herself in line to qualify, so good on her.”
Like Parker, Jan Heavener of Sherwood, Ark., competes as a pro in the Central Open trail. But, like Niggemeyer, Heavener sees Parker’s success as a plus for the sport.
“I’m happy to see a woman up there, doing well,” Heavener said.
Parker’s biggest fans drove from their home in Gore, Okla., to see their daughter off at the docks at dawn Thursday. Paula and Larry Tharp plan to stay all week to cheer her on.
“Whatever she does, she succeeds in,” said Paula Tharp. “Janet has determination. She’ll make it to the Elite Series.”