BEN LOMOND, Ark. - Standing five feet, four inches tall, and weighing just over 100 pounds, Arkansas' Melinda Mize doesn't look like the average professional bass angler. Yet, she listens to hip-hop, isn't plagued by five o'clock shadow, and no one calls her Bubba.
Nevertheless, the 22-year-old angler has a dream. She wants to be the first woman angler to qualify for the CITGO Bassmaster Tour and Bassmaster Classic.
"I can't remember NOT fishing," Melinda smiled. "In the summers, my family would fish, play and sleep. It was never something I was pushed to do. It was just something we did as a family."
Melinda is currently getting a marketing degree, which she hopes to use in her career as an angler. She plans to use her degree to market herself to potential sponsors, earn their support, and represent their products well.
"Having an education and taking courses such as public speaking will help me to represent myself better when I get sponsors," explained Melinda, emphasizing that her biggest education has come from her parents on the water.
"My parents taught me everything I know about life and fishing," explained Melinda. "It's always a learning experience in the boat, and I've been able to take something from each of them."
Her father is Tour pro Jimmy Mize, a former Classic qualifier who finished second at the recent Tour event on Clarks Hill Reservoir. Her mother is Bassmaster Open competitor Lucy Mize. They've instilled in Melinda both a desire to fish and a need to win.
Melinda began competing at a young age, fishing in small summer tournaments. She traveled with her parents to many tournaments, fishing at every opportunity. While attending a Central Open event at Table Rock Lake in Missouri, Melinda won the 11 to 14-year-old CastingKids competition.
"Winning the CastingKids event made me think a lot more about practicing, hitting my targets, and being more accurate with my presentations," Melinda said.
Since then, Melinda has continuously challenged herself by fishing as a non-boater in the Bassmaster Opens and on the Tour. She's competed in 14 BASS events, finishing in the top 50 twice, including a 22nd place at Santee-Cooper in 2003.
Melinda admits that while time spent on the water with her family is always fun, they still have healthy competition.
"There's a family rivalry," she laughed. "We push each other to perform better every time we go on the water. It helps us to become better anglers.
2005 brings a new set of challenges to Melinda, who will make her first attempt as a Bassmaster Western Open Division boater. She'll be traveling with her mother, who will also compete as a boater, making it the first mother-daughter pair on the circuit.
"I'm a little nervous about competing against my mom," said Melinda. " She joked, "She used to call me 'amateur,'" she joked, "but she can't call me that now. We're both competitive, and it just drives us to perform better. I'm looking forward to the friendly competition, and hopefully, we can make the cuts."
Born and raised in the South, Melinda is also looking forward to fishing the unfamiliar waters of the west to learn new techniques and styles of fishing.
"I'll be able to learn techniques out west that I hope to take to lakes all over. I know it'll be tough, but I want to make it in this sport and be taken seriously," she said.
Her gender and diminutive size may lead some anglers and tournament fans to think Melinda's not ready for the big time, but they may have a different view once they see her on the water.
"Melinda was my partner in a tournament a little while back," explained 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion Davy Hite. "It was a tough day out there and bad weather, but Melinda never missed a beat."
"It was great," said Melinda. "He treated me like he knew me his whole life and instructed me on new techniques and styles I had never fished. I learned a lot, and I had a great time competing."
Four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion and 28-time Classic qualifier Rick Clunn, another partner of Melinda's, stands by her passion for the sport, saying, "When I shared a day in the boat with Melinda, it was very tough, but Melinda did well.
"What impresses me with Melinda is her sense of awareness and consciousness. She has a lot more than males in this regard."
"I think that many women are scared and intimidated to compete against men," Melinda said, "but most of the guys I've fished with have been extremely supportive. It's amazing how receptive they are to women anglers. They want to see a woman do well in this sport."
Hite agreed, saying, "I've been noticing more and more women out in the crowds at tournaments. They're there to watch, not just to be there with their husbands.
"The TV exposure we're getting can only help present our sport to a more diverse audience," Hite added, "and women will certainly be exposed to fishing more so than in the past."
Clunn emphasized his support of Melinda's dream by saying, "I hope to see a woman one day become a world champion. It can happen."
Despite the talents of anglers like Melinda and Lucy Mize, big success on the BASS Tournament Trail has been the exclusive province of men. A woman has never earned a berth on the Tour nor qualified for the Bassmaster Classic.
"This is one of few sports where there's no physical disadvantage to being a woman," Melinda emphasized. "It's just us against the fish.
"Every time I'm on the water, I challenge myself trying to outperform my previous finishes. I have to remember that I'm human, and I'm not always going to win. I must keep fishing and not let it get me down."
Melinda hopes and expects to see a rise in women anglers in the next few years.
"I'm talking to many girls and encouraging them to get involved in the sport. Then, when one makes it, I know other women will follow."
Until that day, Melinda dreams of the Tour and a Classic berth.
"I'll support any woman who makes it, but I want to be the first."