These days women anglers of all ages are baiting hooks, boarding boats, and sauntering down piers, tackle boxes in tow. It takes a certain natural spirit, determination, strength, and a love of the water to turn fishing into a sport, but any woman can experience the thrill of reeling in a catch. This month may be the perfect time to cast your line.
“When anyone asks me: ‘Why do you like to catch fish?’ I answer, ‘You’ve never caught one, have you?’”
That’s Dr. Julie Ball, a dentist with a private practice in Virginia Beach and one of the country’s most celebrated female anglers. Born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, Julie and her siblings learned to fish with their mom. She remembers cleaning fish as soon as she was old enough to handle a knife, sharing all they caught in family fish fry suppers. Surprisingly, she doesn’t eat much fish now, though she admits her favorites are golden tilefish and wahoo.
As a girl, Julie never got the message that fishing wasn’t for females. Throughout her adult life, she’s been fishing and winning trophies right alongside her brother anglers, excelling in a sport that is admittedly male dominated. Julie is the only person in the state, male or female, to earn a Level 7 Virginia Master Angler status. She has a web page, where she posts her fishing report, clips of stories about her awards, and her own articles on various aspects of fishing life, including how to deal with sea sickness and strategies for catching particular kinds of fish.
Julie admits to being very motivated to fish smarter, not harder. After many years, she is still thrilled by the chase and the catch and enjoys meeting her own goals, which she says others may describe as keenly competitve. As she won trophy after trophy, Julie not only caught thousands of pounds of fish for the record books—including 13 world records—she caught a huge amount of media attention. Her experience has led her to a new awareness of how to use her popularity.
“I discovered that because of the relationship I have with the public, not only can I teach people, I can inspire them to get out on the water and try something they’ve never tried before,” she said.
These days, you’ll find Julie giving talks to groups of women, men, and families—people of all generations. She’s very concerned about children today, tied to technology and indoor pursuits.
“I’m worried about the children not getting outside and experiencing the fresh air, what it’s like to be on the water and catch a fish,” she said. “How can they develop that love for the outdoors and those family memories that last forever when they’re sitting there playing with their iPods?”
She says that women of all builds and all levels of fitness need to know that they are capable of reeling in any size fish. In fact, she says that just being on a boat, adjusting and balancing with the roll of the sea, is a good workout. Even Julie’s mom, who’s in her 60s, was able to handle reeling in several Amberjack, fish so strong they can often make a person fall to their knees and get dragged along the deck. But women can handle these challenges, says the capable angler.
“Now, that’s what I call empowerment!” Julie said.
On her days off, Julie follows the fish, but she won’t keep all she catches. She’s learned to respect the balance of nature.
“Wherever the fish are, that’s where I am,” she said.
“A common misperception is that you go out anywhere, you put your stuff down, and you’re going to catch a fish. It doesn’t happen,” she explained. “The fish have the same patterns every year. They go the same place at the same time. They act the same way and respond to the same stimuli. They’re very predictable.”
Julie stresses that the thrill of fishing has to be balanced by being smart on the water.
“I think it’s a bad idea to fish alone on a boat. It doesn’t take much to go wrong on a boat, and you have to recover real fast,” she said. “People ask me if I fish alone, and I say yes, but not on a boat.”
In fact, fishing on one of our local piers is often the best way to start, says Julie. With an inexpensive rod and reel and a reasonable fee ($8), you can go out to the Lynnhaven Fishing Pier, where roundhead, croaker, and bluefish are currently being caught. Dr. Julie’s fishing report, updated every week on her website, is a lively piece of writing, which she hopes will encourage people to start a new hobby.
Julie says it’s smart to join a local anglers club. When she first moved to Tidewater, she joined several, such as the Virginia Beach Anglers. Fishing with friends can increase the fun.
PEACE & SERENITY
If you’re born with a love of the water and you grow up around boats, fishing becomes second nature. Two local USCG Master Captains—Anne Newbern and Bryce Thomas—have been sailing a beautiful, modern sailboat named “Boomerang” for the past two years, catching fish in tropical and local waters, taking out charters, and living the life. Anne absolutely loves to fish—in all kinds of places.
“Fishing is everything from being very soulful, very serene, as in fly fishing,” said Anne, sitting on her boat in Ocean View. “Then you get bass fishing, which is a little bit more exciting than that, on lakes and some rivers. Lastly, if you do deep sea fishing, it’s more intense with more people and it’s more involved.”
Taught to fish by her country doctor grandfather, Anne has always been an outdoors woman. She worked in the oil industry, for AT&T, and currently teaches geology at TCC. Anne recalled the peacefulness of fishing on the Soque River in the northwestern part of Georgia as she glanced through a series of photos on her laptop after a recent trip to the Bahamas. She and Bryce caught a yellow fin tuna and a marlin without expecting it, causing some flurries of excitement after hours of cruising.
“We heard the ‘zing” of the reel and everything came to life all at once!” Anne recalled. “We caught the tuna and gaffed it with a hook and put it in the net.” She admits that it’s hard to look a big fish like that in the eye, knowing you’re going to have it for many dinners.
Anne’s “crew” and friend Bryce Thomas—originally from New Jersey, where she fished on little lakes and caught lots of smaller fish—feels that the economics of catching vs. buying fish is an easy trade. She’s come up with some ingenious tricks for attracting the big fish, using items anyone would find: a party favor from the Dollar Store and even a potato chip bag, turned inside out, cut up, taped around a pink-headed plug. These shiny items attract curious creatures of the deep.
Anne adds another angling tip: apply WD40 anywhere on the fishing assemblage. It’s made with fish oil, and since fish catch scents from a great distance, it’s as if they smell another fish, and they get hungry.
“It’s like when we smell a pastry shop!” she said.
Catching a marlin off the back of their sailboat was a recent accomplishment for the women. With its long pointed, very dangerous spike, Anne was not inclined to keep it in the boat, even though it would have been a trophy fish. It was best to snap a picture, savor the catch, and then let it go.
The Boomerang, a 45-foot, center-cockpit Hunter, takes the women and their passengers to many kinds of waters. They’ve been out in the ocean, up to the Annapolis Boat Show, and over to Mobjack Bay on the Middle Peninsula. They’re thinking about joining an event called the Caribbean 1500—which Bryce describes as “a rally/cruising flotilla that leaves Hampton in November and goes all the way to Tortolla, in the British Virgin Islands. We’d be catching marlin, tuna and dorado, which is the same fish the East Coast anglers call dolphin, and the Hawaiians call Mahi-mahi.” Bryce too sings the praises of fishing off a sailboat.
“If we’re going out to the ocean, we’ll go about 50 miles out to hit the deep water, and then we’ll turn around and come back,” Bryce said. “But when you’re sailing, you’re not burning any fuel, and we’re going at the perfect rate of speed to catch fish: 5 to 7 knots.”
But Anne and Bryce don’t have to go far or take the big boat out just to fish.
“We often fish off our dinghy,” Anne said, “off Taylor’s Landing in Bay Point in a little lagoon area just for fun.” Once more, Captain Anne has her moment of peace and serenity, right around the corner from her weekend floating home.
One more way that women in Tidewater learn about fishing is through a yearly tournament called the Wine, Women, and Fishing Classic held each August, and sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation. The event features dozens of boats with male captains and crews carrying teams of six to eight female anglers and raising huge amounts of money for breast cancer research at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
One crew who is already planning for the event lives in the Shadowlawn area of Virginia Beach. They credit a fine man for inviting them to enter several years ago.
Dina Sawyer, Kember Kane, and Dina’s neighbor Jan Anderson, shared memories of their fishing experiences on the “Victory,” a luxury power boat owned by Dina’s father-in-law, Wayne. They laughed, recalling the adventure last August that began with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up signaling the start of the long, hot summer day. These friends don’t go fishing every weekend for pleasure; they’re more likely to be cleaning the fish that other family members bring home. The Wine, Women, and Fishing Classic gives them a chance to brag—in typical fishing tradition—about how many they caught and how big they really were! Based on the number and kind of fish they catch, the crew earns points that turn into a cash prize. Dina is pleased to say that Wayne Sawyer always gives his prize back to the organization each year.
The tournament starts with a long ride out to the ocean.
“Lines go in at a certain time, usually about eight in the morning, and they come out at three,” said Dina. The mate casts out the lines, and the women do the rest of the work.
“We actually reel the fish in. That’s the hard part,” said Kember.
Every woman gets a number, and when there’s a bite, each one in turn springs into action. The challenge is keeping the fish on the hook, reeling fast enough, and not being flustered when the male crew gives directions or when your line ends up in a tangled mess—a birdnest in fishing lingo.
“When you get a catch, the captain calls in what you think you’re hooked up to, and once you reel it in, you call it in,” said Dina. She adds that some boats carry observers, just to keep the crews honest. No matter what happens, the women of “Victory” have a superstition: they have to stroke a stuffed pig before they fish for good luck and just for fun.
Georgia Kurtz, who works for Dominion Distributors, is getting ready for her third year in the Wine, Women, and Fishing Classic. She’s is part of the crew of “Backlash,” captained by Steve Richardson. Georgia is grateful for the experience because she says fishing from ocean-going power boats is an expensive sport that not many people can afford easily. And she loves the chance to get stronger.
“It can take up to two hours to pull in some kind of fish, and the mates are always saying, ‘Keep going, keep going,’” she said. “You’re straining your muscles and really working it.”
All the women in the Wine, Women, and Fishing Classic agree the event is about the camaraderie with their teammates and a chance to give back to the community. Some crews even dress up and decorate their boats on the way back to the judging area, becoming “Crazy Crews” and winning extra accolades.
And no matter what their motivation, women anglers understand something: You may go out, prepared, and not catch anything. That’s just fine.
“They don’t call it catching; they call it fishing,” said Dina with a grin.
For more info:
• June 3, 4, 5 are “Free Fishing Days” in Virginia, and you don’t need a license. For licensing requirements and more, new anglers can visit the Virginia Marine Resources website at www.mrc.va.us/index.shtm. You can also get a license at a local tackle shop.
Kathleen Fogarty writes frequently for Tidewater Women.