“An observer was on the bank, and he was kinda picking at them. No matter where they go, or what they do, people pick at them.”
Isaac Payne was trusting me with inside information. As the full-time collegiate bass coach at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Payne lives and breathes youth competitive fishing.
“It upsets them” he continued. “They don’t want to feel like they’re any less of anglers. And, as a result, they work much harder.”
Life isn’t easy. And to succeed in any business – whether it be banking or bass fishing – college hopefuls have to learn to work hard. It appeared Payne was helping to instill such ethics. But closer examination is needed to understand his point; one I drug out of Payne with relentless questioning.
You see, Payne wasn’t describing youth anglers as a whole, he was differentiating between genders.
Not long ago, BassFan introduced us all to Isaac Payne and his fascinating story. He’s one of America’s only full-time college coaches working solely within the sport of competitive bass fishing. Even more interesting is the fact that Payne manages both a male and female team.
Such stats enthralled me, requiring a lengthy interview to get a behind-the scenes look into the difference between male and female bass-athletes. You see, our male-dominated sport need not be so. In fact, I predict we may see the beginning of a shift in the very near future, and I couldn’t be happier.
Let’s back up and address the possibilities. Unlike other sports, bass fishing requires no physical strength beyond what is quite within the capabilities of a physically fit woman. Mental strength is likely more important than anything, and technical skill development is merely a result of practice. Logically, there’s no reason women can’t compete with – or even surpass – men in our sport.
Such got me thinking. As a result of routinely fishing with my wife and other women, I see aspects within the gender (pardon my generalization) that lead me to believe many women would make incredible tournament bass “fishermen." For example, despite my frequent failure to locate redfish, my wife routinely makes suggestions of alternative methods or areas for us to try. Whether or not the ideas hold up is irrelevant; what’s important is how they are presented. You see, whether it’s 7:15 a.m. or 3 p.m., the general optimism in my wife’s approach and mood is apparent regardless of previous success, something I can’t also lay claim to. And – again, not trying to generalize – I frequently observe a similar tone with other female anglers.
To put such in tournament terms: What would be better than constantly starting with a clean slate?
Revisiting Payne’s example, by now you’ve probably guessed that he was speaking about female anglers when discussing life’s unfair treatment, and their burning desire as a result. With our society’s generalization of outdoor sports being a boys club, female competitors are constantly being met with sneering remarks and false judgment. Payne has seen that drive his women athletes further.
Both of his teams work and practice together. Both undergo the same initiation and trial period, most often for Payne to learn more about the anglers' focus and drive, as well as technical ability to that point. And day in and day out, Payne sees no difference in ability that can be equated to gender.
What Payne has observed, however, is advancement within the men for certain tangible talents. Dock skipping was mentioned. Navigation and boat driving was another. But while it may be easy to think of these as skills, I challenge they’re simply a matter of cultural history. Put a girl and boy in a boat, and usually the boy drives. Given the chance to teach a kid to skip docks, daddy usually chooses the son.
I further questioned Payne: “Given the same upbringing and time on the water, as well as the same amount of practice as a youth, do you see any difference between men and women on your team that can’t be equated to exposure or experience?”
In addition to burning desire, Payne noted a few other intangibles decidedly different in his women athletes.
“The women on my team have a tendency to use proven techniques for a longer period and attempt to master them, rather than trying new trends. For instance, they’ll turn to a worm instead of trying an Alabama Rig,” he mentioned.
“They also seem to focus on quantity over quality when it comes to getting bites.”
Interesting. Could this be due to the overall lack of fishing experience – as a whole – within 20-year-old women when compared to men? Often, new anglers like to rely on what works, rather than risking their success in unproven grounds.
Or is it a generalization: That women have more patience and like to explore more details of each technique, rather than chasing the proverbial carrot?
Payne also noted that the women on his team are, as a whole, more engaged in social media and concerned over personal exposure than the men. I wonder how that sounds to sponsors?
My conversation with Payne gave me the very real feel that women are becoming extremely competitive in the college fishing arena. Given what I know to be true when it comes to molding a tournament pro, as a generalization, many women fit the bill immediately. Given what I know as a marketing professional, the sky’s the limit.
I, for one, welcome women in the sport, and dream of a day when we see several each season in the Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup. At a time when inequalities have unfortunately risen back to the forefront, it’s just what we need for additional forward momentum.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)