"Operation Bass has gone out of its way to include us," boasts Mary Ann Martin of Clewiston, Fla., the first woman to ever fish in a men's tournament. "It is exciting to witness the increase in female participation over the last decade."
This statement comes from a woman who can clearly recall a gender-breaking moment that occurred more than 30 years ago in the sport. It was back in 1970 when Martin, accompanied by her father, a bass competitor, sat on the dock, next to the registration desk, asking each male-competitor if she could join the ranks. "I needed to receive approval from every participant, which I did," Martin recalls. "Some even stated that they were hoping to draw me as their partner."
This inclusive attitude by the male competitors has had a direct impact on the increase of women in the sport of bass fishing. "Almost every women I know in the sport either got started by their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, or male friends encouraging them," says Wanda Rucker of Cocoa, Fla., the first woman to ever win a men's bass tournament (Red Man Tournament Trail) in 1998.
Rucker and Martin are not alone in their pioneering efforts. This year alone, three women have had high finishes in the co-angler division of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. Tammy Muse of North Little Rock, Ark., and Rucker finished ninth and 10th respectfully at the season opener. And Beverly Little of Greensboro, N.C., had the best finish ever for a woman on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour with a third place showing at the second event of the year. It's Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., however, who ranks as the all-time leading money winner for women in Operation Bass tournaments after placing fourth at the EverStart Series event on Lake Eufaula earlier this season.
"None of these accomplishments have come easy," Israel explains. "I am very competitive and constantly seeking to learn from other participants, male or female." One of her competitors, Rucker, agrees. "If you have a great passion to become one with nature, then this is your sport."
According to the National Sporting Goods Association's 1999 Sports Participation Report, 12.9 million women (7 and older) fish. That is more than the number who participate in jogging, basketball, volleyball, softball, golf or tennis. With this growth comes additional equipment expenditures, which are more than $3 billion per year (1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife- associated Recreation), and increased booking of fishing-related adventure travel packages, "...which rate in our top, five as requests by women," says Dave Wiggins, vice president of travel for Gorp Travel, a 30-year-old, Colorado-based adventure-travel company.
With participation and interest on the rise, this equal opportunity sport is fast becoming an equal participation sport. No one believes this more than Dorothy Schramm, an avid angler. "More women are getting involved because the equipment and gear is becoming more female-friendly, men are freely sharing their knowledge with us, women are enjoying the learning process, and lastly, it provides a venue for women to work hard and have fun at the same time."
According to these ladies, women have more of what it takes, naturally, to be excellent competitors. They are innovative, willing to try different things, seeking to be one with nature, sensitive, multi-task oriented, observant, and above all, persistent.
Watch out men, here we come!
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors